Every in-house lawyer understands the tension between the fast pace of business development and the relatively slower pace of legal decision-making. This challenge is particularly daunting in the context of legal departments serving rapidly growing and changing companies. So how can a legal department operate most effectively in a fast growing company?
To answer these questions, Priori convened a lunch panel featuring Chester Te (Assistant General Counsel at Silicon Valley Bank), Kate Karas (Associate General Counsel at Lending Club), Steve Siger (Managing Counsel at Thumbtack and former Policy and Senior Regulatory Counsel at Uber), and Vince Cogan (former Corporate Counsel at Stripe and Senior Counsel at Silicon Valley Bank). We will incorporate their perspectives into our In-House Voices interview series in the coming weeks, but key themes from the conversation are below:
- Build strong business-side relationships. Building strong relationships with business-side team members helps keep the legal team in-sync with the business side, especially when the company is growing quickly, and projects and priorities are changing along with it. When you’re new to the team, look for opportunities to connect with business-side people, whether through existing projects or via coffee or lunch. When new business people arrive, make a point of going to them early to explain how legal supports their work and how you can help them get things done. From a product development standpoint, having strong relationships helps ensure that a legal perspective is included early, providing the opportunity to ask questions, flag concerns and resolve problems in real-time as the product is designed. Finally, strong business-side relationships can also facilitate work prioritization. There is often more work than can actually get done, and relationships allow you to have frank conversations with managers about where their issues fall in the prioritization, when they can realistically expect the requested work and how you can both make sure they ultimately get what they need on a timeline that doesn’t hurt their ability to move forward.
- Speak clearly about risk. Business leaders hate surprises and love information, so in fast-moving business environments it’s important to communicate clearly and talk about risk in a way that makes sense to non-lawyers. In addition to explaining legal concepts, rules and practices, consider framing risk more concretely – for example, some risks can be boiled down to a dollar amount while other risks are best understood in terms of your company’s relationship with its customers and, if applicable, regulators. Keeping up with business news can help too – recent stories about how similar business decisions impacted another company’s bottom line or reputation may also help effectively illustrate risk.
- Step back and consider team architecture and processes. Even when there is pressure to scale capacity quickly, be thoughtful and careful as you build and manage your internal team. While the architecture of the team will evolve as the business grows and changes, in order to successfully hire and manage resources, it’s crucial to have an idea of the rough legal needs of the business for the next year and then to decide how your legal department plans to meet each of those needs. For each existing team member, periodically take the time to consider their portfolio of matters and overall workload. As the company grows, an in-house lawyer who was supporting a sales team of 10 people might suddenly be supporting a sales team of 100 people – which could require load-balancing with other lawyers on the team and/or exploring whether the legal department needs to build new processes and structures for supporting that sales team.
Strategies for Optimizing Legal at Fast-Growing Companies is part of Priori’s event series for in-house counsel. Check out our upcoming events here and be sure to keep an eye out for more interviews with in-house counsel through the In-House Voices section of our blog.