David Pashman speaking at Priori Legal's How to Build a Successful Legal Department breakfast panel in New York.
As the solo General Counsel of Meetup, David Pashman handles everything from corporate transactions to operating agreements to trust and safety matters. As part of our ongoing in-house breakfast series, we sat down with David to discuss how he measures departmental success and other key elements of his approach to his job.
Priori: Let’s jump right into it: how do you measure success?
David: I love that question. The way I think about it is so different from the way someone at the head of a large legal function would. I view my success as whether or not I’m facilitating the success of the business.
In terms of metrics, none of mine are quantifiable. I’ve thought a lot about metrics, but many metrics focus on legal spend. This makes sense for a larger legal department. But legal is not a compliance function at Meetup; it’s part of the growth strategy–so legal spend is not the right way to think about it.
While I don’t have quantitative metrics, I do monthly, quarterly, and semi-annual plans for the legal function the same way the product teams and other business units do. I measure success based on my ability to execute my plan and hit my KPIs. These are not quantitative metrics-based; they are project-based.
Another barometer I have for success is whether people are coming to me for non-legal matters in addition to legal matters and contracts. When that happens, it shows you’ve proven your value as a partner and that employees value your critical thinking and judgment.
Priori: Can you elaborate on what you mean by legal being a part of the growth strategy, practically speaking?
David: My role very much encompasses non-legal responsibilities. I lead business development, and I am focused on new revenue lines. We’ve launched an enterprise product called Meetup Pro, and I manage that business team. Separately, I also direct the trust and safety team, which is a unique function at web services and platforms with user-generated content. It’s very policy-driven, and although it’s a non-legal department, it’s also clearly aligned with legal. But even to the exclusion of those things, just within my purview as a “lawyer,” I work closely with the CFO, and I’m on the executive team so there’s a lot of non-legal business strategy management.
Priori: You have a tremendous breadth of responsibility. What time management strategies have been effective (or not)?
David: That’s something I think about often. I think of the legal function as a business unit, which means managing projects and priorities and handling planning the same way you would if it were a project team.
Part of this is learning how to say no. I have to prioritize my projects, and I will never be able to get to the significant ones if I’m always dealing with the insignificant, smaller, immediate tasks. I also think that doing project planning and setting goals are really important. If you don’t do that, you get into the habit of doing whatever is most recent in your inbox, and that’s a great way to be a reactive lawyer, but you’re not going to have significant business impact that way.
It’s also important to set expectations. The reality is you can’t get everything done as quickly as everyone wants. You need to prioritize; but you need to do it in a way that doesn’t make people feel like they’re being ignored. Setting expectations and learning what people’s real timelines are is especially important when you’re the first lawyer at a company and need to market yourself by showing the value a lawyer brings and that you’re not just there to keep people from doing everything.
Priori: If you were able to add one additional lawyer or staff member to your legal team, who would that be? What would you look for in that person’s background?
David: I’d like to add a generalist (basically a more junior version of me). There’s no one specific area with a high enough volume of work for it to make sense to hire a specialist. In addition to a generalist skillset, I look for lawyers with very good business judgment, which I define as knowing what you know and what you don’t know and whether what you don’t know matters. Because we are a small team, we need to be focused on what matters.
Priori: Would you hire directly from a firm or do you prefer a lawyer with in-house experience?
David: I’m open to either. There are significant benefits to both. My ideal candidate would be someone that has spent a couple of years at a large law firm and then a few years in-house. I think large law firms provide great training on being a professional–and you don’t learn how to be a real world professional in law school. The potential problem with someone that has only worked at a firm is they don’t necessarily develop good business judgment if their only role has been a corporate or transactional associate. They’re really good technical lawyers, but they might not necessarily see the forest from the trees.
Priori: Let’s talk about outside counsel. How do you decide what to handle yourself and what to outsource?
There are certain discrete transactional or project matters that are either outside my areas of expertise or require a lot of resources in a short period of time. For instance, I’m a corporate attorney, I can read a contract and understand it, but when it comes to negotiating a large commercial real estate contract, I don’t know what market is, and I can’t devote three straight days to doing markups. In situations like that, outside counsel with experience and resources is vital.
And then, of course, if someone sues us, anytime it gets to court filing, I’m going to have outside counsel deal with that.
David Pashman is in his seventh year as general counsel at Meetup, an online network of local groups. He is based in New York City.