VOL. 128 | NO. 149 | Thursday, August 1, 2013
Memphis Law Talk
Bjorklund Helps AutoZone Meet Compliance Laws
RICHARD J. ALLEY | Special to The Daily News
When Susan Bjorklund, policy and procedure attorney for AutoZone, left Houston High School for the University of Mississippi, it was with only an inkling that she might want to be a lawyer one day.
Others were more certain.
“My parents would say that they knew I was going to be an attorney from the moment that I argued with them about everything as a small child,” she said.
The idea didn’t completely click with her, however, until she became more entrenched in political science and constitutional law as an undergraduate. One professor in particular, John Winkle, proved inspirational and helped “spark that fire” for her to eventually seek out the legal profession.
Bjorklund graduated from Ole Miss in 2005 and entered Mississippi College School of Law in Jackson, Miss., where, she said, “I wasn’t the best law student, but I worked hard, and I was really good about getting real-life experience there.”
It was experience that came in the form of summer clerkships with FedEx’s labor relations department and both plaintiff- and defense-side law firms in Jackson, and as an active member of the Student Bar Association’s governing council.
With plaintiff’s attorney Louis H. Watson, she worked on discriminatory and civil rights violation cases.
“Being down in Jackson, Miss., was a little bit of a new world for me,” she said. “Watching and working alongside Louis … really being an effective advocate for people that wouldn’t have otherwise had a voice was really inspiring.”
Though she enjoyed her time in Mississippi, there was never any doubt in her mind that she would return to Memphis to begin her career.
“It is the city that I love and it is my city of choice,” she said.
Upon her return, she did some temporary work, including a fortuitous gig with AutoZone Inc. as a contract attorney, working for several months in its employee relations department. Despite her positive experience there, she never considered in-house counsel as a career move.
“As a newly practicing attorney, you go out and work with a smaller firm or a larger firm for a good number of years before you even consider something like that,” she said. “Going in and doing that contract work was a really great opportunity to get experience working in a corporation.”
She took the knowledge from that first tango with AutoZone to Lawrence & Russell PLC, where she dove headlong into employment law, Employee Retirement Income Security Act benefits litigation, and Medicare Secondary Payer litigation.
“That’s where I got to do a lot of the meat of being an actual practicing attorney,” she said.
Employment law, for the most part, will keep an attorney out of the courtroom, with the majority of cases being resolved out of court. This is fine with Bjorklund, a self-described briefs writer by nature.
“I enjoy court, I enjoy working with other attorneys, but I really like being able to research and study various laws. I found federal acts like ERISA and the Medicare Secondary Payer statute to be really fascinating – the ways that they’re written, the ways that they’re intentionally precise or intentionally vague. … That’s where you can play around with arguments in the law.”
After three years with Lawrence & Russell, Bjorklund says she hit a period of life evaluation and took a good, hard look at her 10-year plan. She discovered that the compliance area of law was a growing field and one she had enjoyed over the years. When a permanent position presented itself at AutoZone, she leaped at the opportunity.
As a policy and procedure specialist, Bjorklund is responsible for developing and administering procedures and policies for AutoZone.
“Basically, anything that we do by way of corporate documentation for compliance needs, I’m responsible for overseeing the drafting of it, some of the research with regard to it, making sure on a day-to-day basis that we’re staying compliant with developing laws and that we are being protective of AutoZone resources.”
She enjoys working with other attorneys as well as non-attorneys, subject matter experts who she says help her to become a more well-rounded lawyer.
Bjorklund admires and appreciates those over her, especially the women she sees as mentors, for their inspiration and helping her to “tangibly see the fact that I’ve helped people on a daily basis. For me, that makes all the difference.”
Bjorklund has served in the past on the board of MPACT Memphis and as coach for the St. Agnes Academy mock trial team. She is currently the provisional chair of the Junior League of Memphis, working to recruit women to the organization.