Laura Hammargen ’08 J.D. is senior in-house counsel at 3M, where she provides legal and strategic business advice and oversees complex litigation and investigations. She was recently named to the 2020 Benchmark Litigation 40 & Under Hot List – Midwest.
We recently caught up with Hammargren to learn about 3M’s global effort amid the pandemic to investigate more than 4,000 suspected cases of fraud, counterfeiting and price gouging connected to its N95 masks. This has led to 18 lawsuits in 10 states and Canada. As of July, 3M has won six temporary restraining orders and four injunction orders which halted the defendants’ actions.
Tell us about your journey from law school to in-house counsel at 3M. What drew you to 3M?
I started my legal career in Minnesota, clerking first for Justice Helen Meyer on the Minnesota Supreme Court and then moving to Dorsey & Whitney. In 2012, I moved to Mayer Brown in Chicago, taking an opportunity to try a new adventure in a new city. I loved Mayer Brown and Chicago, but did miss many things about Minnesota, including family, friends, the Twin Cities legal community and Pizza Lucé. In 2018, Mayer Brown was hired by 3M and by 2019 I was working full time on the company’s legal matters. When a position opened up at 3M managing the complex litigation I was already working on, with an in-house team I knew and already loved, in a state that I’ve always called home, the opportunity was just too good to pass up.
Describe your work at 3M.
I manage a significant portion of 3M’s litigation related to per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances or PFAS, which are synthetic chemicals. This litigation portfolio includes complex emerging environmental and product liability claim issues and is most of my day job. I also manage lawsuits involving 3M’s fall protection products, and then a variety of other investigations and litigation matters.
What has been your role in 3M’s lawsuits regarding the fraud, counterfeiting and price gouging of N95 respirators?
I am one of a few of us who have been tasked with bringing civil lawsuits against the fraudsters, together with our outside counsel teams. One of my cases involving a third-party seller on Amazon recently settled, with an agreement that they would stop selling 3M’s products, would give us all the information they had related to these fraud issues, and pay more than $192,000, which 3M is donating to a COVID-related charity. The fact that people are trying to profit off the pandemic is just terrible, and I’m so proud to be part of the team stopping that. And, admittedly, it is some fun work.
What are the greatest differences you have observed between private practice and in-house counsel (aside from billable hours, of course)?
Although I sometimes miss doing the actual drafting or arguing, I love that my job is to think about big picture strategy and planning for all my cases. I feel so lucky to discuss that strategy with top-notch outside counsel frequently, and then advise our management as to the issues. Minute to minute, I never know what to expect, especially at a company with tens of thousands of products.
What’s something you learned at St. Thomas, in class or out, that you carry with you even today as a legal professional?
I worked closely with Professor Neil Hamilton on some of his projects related to servant leadership. Although not always consciously done, I think the priorities from that concept continue to influence my work style. For many of my projects, I try to put the various stakeholders impacted, whether it is my teammates, my supervisor, the law firm professionals with whom I am working, my nonlegal colleagues, and the broader community, all in my field of vision in trying to use foresight to make decisions.
What do you do to manage your stress, prioritize wellness and maintain your overall health?
One important thing I’ve tried to do for my well-being is just be easier on myself. There’s so much we always could be doing at all times, and it’s easy to feel the pressure to try and be everything to everyone, and then beat yourself up when that proves impossible. And if you think about it, you don’t really expect that of anyone else in your life, so why do you expect it of yourself? So, I’ve really tried to just be kinder to myself, and I so hope others can do the same!
Is there anything else you would like to share?
The Minnesota Twins rule, and if they win the World Series this year, I refuse to consider it an asterisk.