TITLE: Executive VP, Deputy General Counsel, Discovery Communications
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Sims oversees Discovery’s global litigation, intellectual property, compliance and securities matters, which she initially handled as outside counsel at D.C. law firm Arent Fox.
QUOTE: “Working for [District Court] Judge Lee was my first opportunity to encounter litigation in a real-world environment, and I just loved it.”
— Savalle Sims
Flexibility marks much of the education and career of Wonder Woman Savalle Sims, executive vice president and deputy general counsel for Discovery Communications.
For example, Sims wanted to be a physician from a very young age, but let’s just say math and science weren’t her best subjects in high school in Maryland.
As an undergraduate at Syracuse University, she thought she might pursue a career in finance, but switched to a double major of marketing, as well as transportation and logistics.
Sims’s father, a general manager of a major insurance company, wasn’t too keen on his daughter working in marketing, which he considered “soft.” But he supported her decision to become a lawyer, and she went to Notre Dame University’s law school right after graduating from Syracuse.
Once a lawyer, Sims originally thought she’d go into mergers and acquisitions work, but switched her focus to regulatory and interned at the Food & Drug Administration after her first year of law school. It was a busy summer; she split her time between the FDA and working for a Fairfax County Circuit Court judge, for whom she clerked two years after graduating law school.
Her next job opportunity presented itself at downtown Washington, D.C., firm Feldesman Tucker, where she came under the wing of partner and divorce law specialist Rita Bank, a principal and co-founder of Ain & Bank. “Although I didn’t start out to be a domestic relations practitioner, it was a wonderful experience for me,” Sims said.
“Savalle worked harder than just about anyone else,” Bank recalled. “Even as a new attorney, Savalle provided invaluable assistance because she stuck with every assignment until she understood the issues completely and then applied that knowledge to the next case. It was clear from the start that Savalle was going to be a star at whatever she chose to do. She was tenacious, inquisitive and thoughtful.”
HARD WORK REWARDED
After practicing at Feldesman Tucker for three years, Sims had a yearning for commercial litigation and it was time to make the transition “because I was becoming more senior.” She joined Arent Fox as an associate, and later became a partner in its commercial litigation group.
Most of her Arent Fox cases initially were employment disputes. She typically represented companies and educational institutions against discrimination claims. She then handled breach of contract disputes in fashion, manufacturing and media, most notably a few cases for Discovery.
Sims was recognized among the “40 Top Lawyers Under 40” by Washingtonian magazine and in Washington Business Journal’s “Young Guns.”
A search to bolster Discovery’s in-house legal team identified Sims as a strong candidate after her work for the company and several Discovery executives. “The feedback across the board was that she was a top-notch litigator,” said Bruce Campbell, Discovery’s chief development, distribution and legal officer. “It was immediately apparent to me that she was an absolute professional and terrific [legal] partner for me.”
Campbell noted that Arent Fox still handles most of Discovery’s intellectual property protection work, so it wasn’t an awkward transition.
“At a law firm it always goes down a little easier when one of your partners transitions to working for one of your beloved clients than going from one law firm to another,” Sims agreed.
Working in-house, Sims learned “you have to have a deeper understanding of how the business works, the challenges, the industry. There’s also a greater need for practical legal advice that works in the real-world commercial environment.”
She said she also appreciates the international challenges her current job brings, considering Discovery’s global reach.
MENTORING THE NEXT GENERATION
Most of Discovery’s lawyers are women, according to Campbell, and Sims serves as an adviser to Discovery Women’s Leadership Network, an employee resource group dedicated to professional development and fostering female leadership. She also mentors a multiethnic group of attorneys within Discovery and throughout the cable industry.
“From my perspective, diversity and inclusion are very important in problem solving,” she said. “As a lawyer and a professional it’s important to have an environment that prides itself in being diverse and inclusive.”
Sims also places importance in balancing her professional and personal lives, especially raising three children with her husband Turnell Sims, an assistant principal at a middle school. They met at Syracuse, and married after her second year of law school; they will celebrate their 22nd wedding anniversary this July.
“I live vicariously through my kids (Justin, 11; Caitlin, 9; and Ryan, 7). It’s exciting to see them play sports and excel in areas that I never could,” Sims said.
Sims said she doesn’t have a problem working late or early during the week, but she devotes her weekends to the family “so I could be a more engaged and present parent. Weekends are precious to me.”
Her favorite TV show is Law & Order. “I watch a lot of [Discovery’s] ID,” she said, adding she’s a big fan of its show A Crime to Remember. Whereas her two younger kids and husband prefer to watch programming on mobile devices or laptops, Sims and Justin prefer viewing on the box.
When she first told her kids she was leaving Arent Fox for Discovery, “Justin asked, ‘So you’re not going to be a real lawyer anymore?’”
But when Justin realized Discovery owned the Military Channel (now known as American Heroes Channel), for which he wanted to narrate a show after he watched a program on the Civil War, he approved of his mom’s new job.
“Justin is a big fan of [The Discovery Channel’s] Alaskan Bush People.”
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Larry Jaffee was a Multichannel News senior editor and Washington bureau chief in the late 1980s and then managing editor of rival CableVision magazIne. Focusing on other aspects of the media business, Larry was the editor-in-chief of Mediacentral.com, Medialine magazine and Promo magazine. A widely published freelance writer and adjunct college professor, Larry is the author of the new book, Record Store Day: The Most Improbable Comeback of the 21st Century. Larry lives in Washington Heights, Manhattan.