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#CovBlackHistory Spotlight: Janine Slade and Brian Sylvester

February 17, 2021

In commemoration of Black History Month, we spoke with Janine Slade and Brian Sylvester about what drew them to Covington and how the legal industry can better address the needs of incoming Black lawyers.

Janine Slade is a Special Counsel in the Washington office. Drawing upon her experience at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Janine advises clients on the U.S. national security review process administered by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) and related reviews conducted by the interagency working group known as “Team Telecom.”

Janine served in a number of roles during her nearly 10-year tenure at DHS, including as Deputy Director, Foreign Investment Risk Management, and as an Attorney Advisor in the Office of the General Counsel. She advised Department leadership and component offices on matters relating to CFIUS and Team Telecom, assisted with compliance oversight of CFIUS national security agreements, and negotiated national security risk mitigation measures with corporate counsel for companies under review and investigation by CFIUS and Team Telecom. She also provided technical assistance to congressional staff and the CFIUS chair on Foreign Investment Risk Reduction & Modernization Act (FIRRMA) statutory reform and accompanying regulatory reform efforts.

What was it about Covington that drew you to the firm?

During my government service I had the opportunity to work with several firms that regularly represent clients appearing before the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States and Team Telecom.  Among that group, Covington's reputation for professionalism, forthrightness, and problem solving is unmatched.  I was excited to work with such a highly regarded group of attorneys.

How has your cultural background influenced your approach to work as a lawyer, either with your commercial or pro bono clients?

Because of my experience of not always feeling heard or "seen" I make an effort to ensure that  my clients know that I am listening to and understand their concerns and opinions. I think this is something that my clients appreciate.

How can the legal industry better address the needs of incoming Black lawyers?

I think the industry can do a better job of listening to diverse members within the field and acting in meaningful and visible ways on the input received. The industry should also be intentional about ensuring that demonstrating competency in leading and working in diverse teams is a skillset that is valued and required for advancement.

How are you building community with Covington colleagues during this period of "virtual work"? Any tips or learnings to share?

I am making an effort to prioritize virtual happy hours and meetings not related to work to connect with colleagues. We trade recommendations for TV shows, movies, books and podcasts as a way to connect.

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Brian Sylvester is a Special Counsel in the Washington office. Brian advises food, dietary supplement, cosmetic, OTC drug, veterinary pharmaceutical, and animal feed clients on a broad range of regulatory, legislative, and compliance issues before FDA, USDA, and analogous food and drug regulatory bodies. His practice spans enforcement actions, audits and investigations, regulatory compliance, advertising, import/export, due diligence, consumer litigation, comment preparation, shaping policy at the federal and state levels, and new product development.

Brian has specific expertise in developing regulatory strategies to commercialize alternative proteins using plant, microbial and animal cell-based technologies. Drawing on his tenure as a regulatory lawyer with USDA, he has particular experience counseling clients on strategic considerations around engagement with and advocacy before USDA and FDA on a range of complex issues, including those of first impression. He is a prolific author and frequent speaker at industry-leading events in the U.S. and around the world, and is regularly called upon to offer insights on trending legal issues by publications such as The Wall Street JournalForbes, and Food Navigator-USA, among others.

What was it about Covington that drew you to the firm?

The people and the unparalleled opportunities to engage in some of the world's most complex life science matters.

A core aspect of my practice centers on food tech, particularly start-ups and life science companies focused on commercializing alternative proteins using plant, microbial and animal cell-based technologies. I feel fortunate to be part of Covington's internationally leading Food, Drug and Device practice that offers cross-disciplinary capabilities that few firms can match across multiple continents. Equally as important to me are the people-- I feel fortunate to be a member of a firm comprised of kind, diverse, and collegial lawyers who are at the very top of their game professionally and at the same time place an emphasis on giving back to the communities in which we live and work. 

How has your cultural background influenced your approach to work as a lawyer, either with your commercial or pro bono clients?

Born to working class immigrants from the Caribbean islands of Grenada and Jamaica, I was raised with a strong work ethic, a passion for learning and, perhaps most critically, I was taught to always persevere no matter how daunting the challenge.  These values propelled me to where I am today and guide my approach to the practice of law which invariably involves tackling complex, and in many cases first impression questions requiring great care, creativity and diligence. 

As a senior black lawyer in the life sciences at an internationally leading firm, I am aware that I inhabit a unique position, rare air some might say. As a Covington lawyer, I'm thrilled to have myriad opportunities to bring my unique perspectives to bear on cutting edge issues for some of the world's greatest companies.  I'm especially cognizant of the fact that diversity has historically lagged at regulatory life science law practices across firms and at the corporations globally, and I'm eager to use my role to effectuate change to bring a broader array of diverse backgrounds to the table.

How can the legal industry better address the needs of incoming Black lawyers?

Structured and unstructured mentoring programs within law firms and corporations are essential to nurture and retain talent. Many of my best mentors were obtained in an ad hoc, unstructured manner, through collaborating on a one-off client project or on pro bono matters.

Firms and companies that soundly support incoming black lawyers are those where senior lawyers are eager to be as helpful as they can to their junior lawyers, regardless of background. As human beings, it's easy for unconscious biases to inform which incoming lawyers we may feel most comfortable connecting with and formally or informally mentoring. This is why diversity training for current lawyers remains key in allowing us to recognize such unconscious biases to the extent they exist and to be purposeful in cultivating and retaining incoming black and other diverse lawyers.

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