The role of a corporate counsel has changed dramatically during the past decade, and it continues to evolve. Beyond making sure all the I’s are dotted and T’s are crossed, in-house lawyers now have involvement in defining a company’s strategies, unearthing business opportunities, and avoiding potential high-dollar pitfalls. 

These challenges are compelling more attorneys to trade in the courtroom for the boardroom. Gary Kennedy, senior vice president, general counsel, and chief compliance officer at American Airlines, practiced at two law firms before going the corporate route. “I really wanted to see how things worked from inside a company, and I was fascinated by the mix of legal and business problems faced by inside counsel,” he says.

Rob Walters was a trial and antitrust lawyer at Vinson & Elkins for nearly 25  years before joining Energy Future Holdings Corp., where he now serves as executive vice president and general counsel. “I did so because it represented a new professional challenge in a fascinating industry,” he says. Earlier this year, Walters led a legal team that prevailed in a case that could have cost his company more than $1 billion.

Kennedy and Walters are two of 17 honorees in this year’s Corporate Counsel Awards, a partnership between the Dallas-Fort Worth chapter of the Association of Corporate Counsel and D CEO. They’re being honored for their outstanding business success—and for giving back to the community.

Take, for example, Shauna Martin, who leads a five-member legal team at Genband. On board since 2000, Martin been instrumental in helping the company grow from a handful of workers to its current size—$800 million in annual revenue and 2,200 employees. A breast cancer survivor, she also has been a statewide advocate for those afflicted by the disease.

And then there’s PJ Putnam, general counsel at Gearbox Software LLC, whose life reads like a script for one of the videogames his company makes. A former special ops pilot for the U.S. Air Force, his career was cut short after he broke his neck in a car crash. After recovering he earned his MBA, graduated cum laude from SMU’s Dedman School of Law, and studied at Oxford. At Gearbox he not only negotiates high-dollar deals, he also launched a business incubator within the company. In June, Putnam, with great danger to himself, rushed into a burning home to save a Dallas family.

This year’s winners and finalists were selected by an expert panel of judges: Jay Allison, chairman, president and CEO, Comstock Resources; Gregg Engles, chairman and CEO, Dean Foods Co.; Larry Johnson, CEO, Fogo de Chao; Nathan Moore, general counsel, Mary Kay Inc.; Constantine Konstans, executive director of the Institute for Excellence in Corporate Governance at the University of Texas at Dallas School of Management; and Todd Martin, Dallas-Fort Worth chapter president, Association of Corporate Counsel. --Christine Perez

SEE THE YEAR'S WINNERS HERE.

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