Q&A: Cassie Fortin ’08, Legal Counsel at Volvo Group in Sweden
After following a fairly typical career path of corporate law firms and an in-house position in the Twin Cities in her first decade of practice, Cassie Fortin ’08 packed up and moved to Gothenburg, Sweden, where she became legal counsel for Volvo Group Truck Purchasing Legal and Compliance. She says she loves life and working in Sweden, where she’s building a career in the cutting-edge legal area of electromobility, helping to redefine the transportation industry. In this special online extra, Fortin reflects on her career path and time at Minnesota Law.
you describe what you do in your current position as legal counsel for
Volvo Group (e.g., What might a typical day look like)?
I work for Volvo Group, which consists of trucks, buses, construction equipment, and power solutions for marine and industrial applications. Volvo Cars now operates as a separate company with different ownership from Volvo Group, first bought by Ford in the 90s and then more recently by Geely.
In my position as legal counsel for Volvo Group Truck Purchasing Legal and Compliance (“GTP Legal”) I support the purchase of components and services for Volvo. I often work cross-functionally with other legal counsels and businesses within Volvo. I am lead counsel for electromobility. Emob is an exciting legal area to work in, as it is redefining the transport industry and society through energy efficiency and lowering CO2 emissions. A typical day involves assisting the business in contract negotiations with suppliers. One main project I am working on involves negotiating with Samsung SDI, a key leader in battery technology, to develop energy-optimized battery packs for Volvo’s electric trucks.
What motivated you to leave law firm life in Minneapolis to pursue this opportunity abroad?
I moved to Sweden for a relationship, but stayed because I enjoyed my position at Volvo. There are 12 legal counsels on my team in the U.S., France, Sweden, and China. I have never been in a more supportive, collaborative environment of lawyers, where truly everyone desires to work together and help one another.
The American legal community, particularly law firms, can learn from the Swedish concept of lagom meaning “just the right amount” or “in moderation.” There is a better work/life balance here meaning that there actually is a balance. Swedes really respect time when one is not at work, whether that be after hours or vacation. Perhaps it's more of European mentality. In the U.S. at the firms I worked at, it was not uncommon for me to eat my lunch hunched over my keyboard. Here, we eat lunch together every day and typically enjoy a coffee after. It is also not usual to take a coffee break or as they say “fika” in the morning or afternoon with coworkers. As an American it was an adjustment. I'd find myself walking into work thinking “why are those people already taking a break,” but if anything I think it makes for a more productive environment. That and after 10 years in law I have a supportive boss that is a champion rather than just a mentor.
How do you like living and working in Gothenburg, Sweden?
enjoy living and working in Gothenburg. Let’s just say: six weeks
vacation; job security (if you get let go you get to keep your job for
1-3 months); work-life balance; free health care; paternal leave,
including a year for women and six months for men; free daycare; and
time off when your children are sick are all pretty great.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your work and life?
I started working from home in March. Then Volvo made the decision in
collaboration with the Unions to have its employees work 40 percent from
March through September and receive about 90% percent of one’s salary. I
was furloughed for about six weeks starting in March, but began working
full time until Sweden’s summer break in mid July. Industrisemester
occurs every year during the summer months for four weeks—a vacation
most major manufacturing industries in Sweden take every year—and is
something that’s extremely difficult for Americans to understand. This
year, however, it was mandatory that employees take four weeks off.
Sweden never had a formal lockdown. Instead, the country’s COVID model relied on personal responsibility and encouraged citizens to stay home when sick and maintain social distancing in public. Businesses, restaurants, and schools (daycare, elementary, and middle schools) remained open, though gatherings of more than 50 people were banned in late March. The government recommendations are that employees work from home when possible. Thus, I’ve spent most of this period working from home and taking Skype calls. Some businesses within Volvo have encouraged employees to work in the office, so there are still people who go in everyday. There are signs everywhere reminding people to socially distance themselves and hand sanitizer for all. I look forward to going back into the office, but only when I feel comfortable.
You have been involved in some volunteer work relating to mask making. Could you talk about that a bit?
During the first six weeks of being furloughed Volvo began making masks and aprons for hospitals around Sweden. As a very social person, who had been at home for a few weeks, I was excited for the opportunity to interact with my colleagues as well as help my community during COVID-19. I helped produce over 10,000 masks and 6,000 aprons in one day.
These are stressful times. What do you do to maintain wellness?
brought my dog, Gus, with me from the U.S. We go for many walks in
nearby parks, nature reserves, and near the ocean. I also do yoga, am
learning Swedish, and have become obsessed with plants. It’s been
challenging to be in Sweden so far away, especially with the murder of
George Floyd and everything that has happened in the U.S. I’ve been
doing a lot of reading, including How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X.
Kendi and The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of
Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander, as well as trying to broaden my
scope of reading diverse authors, including Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi
Dangarembga. I’ve also been reading self-improvement books such as
Untamed: Stop Pleasing, Start Living by Glennon Doyle.
What do you like to do with your free time?
Take Gus for walks, read, work on my Swedish, paint, explore Sweden and hopefully more of Europe soon.
What was your favorite experience as a student at Minnesota Law?
thoroughly enjoyed Business Associations with Professor Matheson.
During the first few classes he stressed that if you had questions about
the course or generally about your legal career that his office was
always open. He truly meant it and has been a mentor of mine since. He
also had a way of making learning fun.
What advice would you offer a law student today looking to work abroad for a global corporation such as Volvo?
better or worse things rarely, if ever, go as planned in life and
that’s not always a bad thing. With that in mind, and as you begin your
legal career, keep an open mind to the type of work that you are open to
doing and experiences you take on. I think a lot of people go to law
school because they want to change the world, and then realize that law
school is really expensive. Try to come up with a financial plan after
graduation so that you can get your student debt under control. It is
horrible to have to stay in a job that you dislike because you cannot
afford to leave. Also, sometimes your own mental health is more
important than staying in a job you dislike. You’ll find a way.
Are there any interesting decorations or personal items one might see in your office or on your desk?
recently converted to an activity-based work environment, which means
we aren’t allowed to have any personal items on the desk and one could
have a different desk everyday or multiple times per day. It’s not my
preferred way to work. When I did have a permanent desk I had a coaster
that said “Keep Calm and Carry On,” a picture of my family, flowers, and
the University of Minnesota name card holder I received at my law
Anything else that you would like to share?
let anyone tell you or make you feel inferior or that you cannot do
your job well. Cultivate relationships with coworkers and peers where
you are supportive and can be supportive for one another. Help one
another. Do not stay in a negative work situation. You may have to try
on many different firms, organizations, or legal specialties, but you
will eventually find your people and the right fit.