Nikki Adame-Winningham always knew she wanted to become a lawyer. Growing up in El Paso, Texas, she watched countless episodes of Night Court, a sitcom centered on a municipal court in New York City, and LA Law, a drama following a high-powered law firm in Los Angeles. Today, she works to support environmental, health, safety, and sustainability efforts at Pfizer—and she has found a far greater motivation for her work than a television show.
As corporate counsel in environmental and sustainability law, Adame-Winningham’s role involves a lot of moving parts. “There are four attorneys and two legal professionals in the [environmental and sustainability law] group, and together we provide regulatory compliance counselling, transactional support, and enforcement defense for our facilities globally, including manufacturing, research and development, and commercial sites,” she explains. “We also support the company on environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) issues, which includes both shaping the strategy and providing legal support for disclosures.”
Attaining an in-house position at a prominent biopharmaceutical corporation like Pfizer requires years of hard work. But Adame-Winningham’s success can also be credited to her clear passion for the environment, sustainability, and doing her part to better the community.
Adame-Winningham’s interest in the environment began in high school. “When I was on the debate team, one of our topics was about worldwide pollution, which really opened my eyes to the importance of both the environment and sustainability,” she says. “Another thing that really resonated with me was the fact that my grandmother recycled and reused everything.”
Although law school was always on the agenda, Adame-Winningham chose to study environmental engineering at Cornell University when it came time to choose an undergrad major. “Most colleges don’t have a defined pre-law curriculum, so when I saw environmental engineering as a major, I figured it would give me a solid background to later pursue a career in environmental law,” she explains.
Adame-Winningham went on to attend Tulane Law School: she obtained her JD in 2004, officially marking the start of her journey as an environmental lawyer.
Adame-Winningham spent the next fourteen years working for various private practice firms in Texas, New York, and New Jersey. “The foundational practice between each firm was regulatory compliance counselling,” she says, “and answering the clients’ questions about environmental laws in the US.”
In March 2018, she made the jump to Pfizer. Headquartered in New York City, the company operates on a global level—a scope of work that was very attractive to Adame-Winningham. She adds that the opportunity to work on sustainability issues—an area of environmental, health, and safety law she hadn’t previously tackled professionally—was very enticing.
Since joining the company, however, Adame-Winningham has expanded the breadth of her role beyond traditional environmental issues. In fact, she’s currently working on Pfizer’s response to evolving modern slavery statutes.
“I’m truly proud to be part of a company that works to improve people’s health, which is linked to sustainability and the positive impact we can have on health through environmental protection.”
“Pfizer is committed to human rights and environmental protection. In providing legal counsel on these important issues, I have the opportunity to help the company enhance its programs and governance processes to address emerging diligence and disclosure requirements,” she says. “The statutes have evolved over the past few years to require deeper dives into the risks across more jurisdictions. My role is to help evaluate the new laws and work with our business leaders to implement the requirements and communicate our performance to our stakeholders.”
Adame-Winningham also serves on two of the Legal Division’s three committees, the Development and Equity Committee and the Community Committee. The Development and Equity Committee’s goal is to approach diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) from a development perspective: committee members are divided into five smaller teams that approach that goal from different angles. As a member of the metrics and communications team, Adame-Winningham helps determine specific metrics to measure the Legal Division’s progress on reaching its DEI goals.
She is also deeply committed to the Community Committee’s work to inspire pro bono service. As part of her work with that committee, she and another colleague spent a year developing criteria for an award the division created to honor a colleague who passed away in 2019. “She was devoted to service, both in the pro bono area as well as within the division, so we created a yearly award to not only honor and memorialize her work but also honor colleagues who are working hard to make a difference,” Adame-Winningham explains.
While her days are certainly busy, Adame-Winningham is grateful to have strong outside partners with whom she works on EHS [environment, health, and safety] and ESG matters, and grateful in general to have the opportunity to work on these issues.
“I’m truly proud to be part of a company that works to improve people’s health, which is linked to sustainability, and the positive impact we can have on health through environmental protection,” she says. “I’m also grateful that I get to pull in other issues that I really care about such as [DEI]; ESG creates the space to work on climate action and DEI to protect our communities.”
As she sees it, Pfizer’s future is bright. “In addition to working toward our new generation of sustainability goals—being carbon neutral across all internal operations by 2030—we’re really focusing on our purpose, which is ‘Breakthroughs that change patients’ lives,’” she says. “It’s going to be exciting to see what those new breakthroughs turn out to be.”
A Can-Do Attitude
In addition to both her in-house and committee duties, Nikki Adame-Winningham also volunteers for the National Association of Women Lawyers. In fact, in 2021, she was named vice chair of the General Counsel Institute—which positions her to become chair in 2022. But Adame-Winningham isn’t focused on the title. “I don’t necessarily think of myself as a leader,” she says. “I’m definitely more of a ‘do-er’ and a firm believer in always doing your best.”
Baker McKenzie congratulates Nikki Adame-Winningham from Pfizer on her well-deserved recognition as a dynamic changemaker in the legal community. As a leader in the ESG legal field, Baker McKenzie is proud to partner with Pfizer’s team to further its strategic initiatives and to advance the company’s sustainability goals.