Hilary Krane, '89: Levi's Top Lawyer

Hilary Krane, ’89, journeys to the Law School from her home in California to participate in meetings of the Visiting Committee. Passing through the Green Lounge, Krane may have even more reason to be pleased with what she sees than do her fellow committee members. After all, how many of them can look around and see a large percentage of students happily making use of products produced by companies they lead?

Krane is senior vice president and general counsel of Levi Strauss and Company, a position she assumed in January of this year. She is one of the twelve members of the company’s managerial governing body, its Worldwide Leadership Team. “It’s gratifying to be allowed to play an important role at an iconic American company with an enormous global footprint, the largest apparel company in the world,” she said. “Not to mention that Levi Strauss is a great organization with admirable values—and my kids think my job is cool.”

In addition to heading up the vast network of lawyers required by a Fortune 500 company that does business in 130 countries, Krane advises the Levi Strauss board and the company’s executives. Among her top priorities is protecting the company’s brand, particularly from rampant counterfeiting. “Our brand is really the heart of our business,” she said. “Maintaining its integrity requires constant vigilance, often against the shadiest of characters in the most far-flung places. It’s an even more consuming task than I had expected.” So inculcated has brand protection become in her own life, she said, that she finds herself scrutinizing the backsides of passersby to assure herself that the Levi Strauss-labeled jeans they are wearing are the genuine article.

There are reasons beyond corporate pride for Krane to enjoy returning to Chicago. For one thing, it’s her home town. She was born and raised on Dearborn Street. Her father, Howard Krane, ’57, a partner at Kirkland & Ellis, chaired the University of Chicago Board of Trustees from 1992 to 1997. It was also in Chicago that Krane spent her formative years as an attorney. After graduation she clerked for Judge Milton Shadur, ’49, of the District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. It was an experience she describes as “one of the all-time great learning experiences anyone could have.” Then she worked for four years in the Chicago office of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher and Flom, where a combination of committed mentoring and challenging assignments further propelled her learning. “I was often boxing above my weight class, but I was always supported and taught, so the experience was tremendously valuable,” she recalled.

In 1994, a teaching opportunity for her husband, George Bulkeley, required a family move and led her to transfer to Skadden’s San Francisco office. Not long afterward she joined PriceWaterhouse (now PricewaterhouseCoopers) as an in-house litigation attorney. When PricewaterhouseCoopers outsourced litigation a couple of years after she arrived there, she was kept on as assistant general counsel, advising the firm and its partners with respect to a broad range of legal issues. Soon she was tapped to head up the legal arm of the company’s worldwide advisory practice, a four-billion-dollar enterprise. She was named a PricewaterhouseCoopers partner in 2000.

The exhaustive nationwide search that Levi Strauss conducted for the ideal replacement for its previous general counsel, who had held that position for many years, led to her hiring. She says, “Considering my lack of direct apparel-industry experience in my relative youth, Levi’s made a gutsy call in hiring me," she said. "I’m determined to rise to the challenge.”

Discussing the Law School from her Visiting Committee perspective, Krane sees a thematic consistency with her other endeavors. “Knowing your brand and sticking to your values are essential for building a great franchise,” she said. “Just as PriceWaterhouse and Levi’s do, the Law School under Dean Levmore’s able leadership continues to be true to what it stands for. I’m proud to be a graduate and pleased to contribute to furthering the mission of such a vital institution.”