Patricia Jorge, Leverage Agency's General Counsel, on thinking business as an in-house counsel and what she wish she'd known during her first 100 days on the job…
Tell us about a bit about the Leverage Agency.
The Leverage Agency is a marketing firm focused on a range of sports and music clients (which we call “properties”). Leverage Agency helps partner their client sports properties with sponsoring brands. We currently have 13-15 employees and work with approximately 40 independent contractors.
Tell us about your role at the Leverage Agency.
I serve as General Counsel. I’m the only in-house lawyer, though I generally try to have a legal intern for assistance. My role as General Counsel is very business-focused. As General Counsel I have to understand every element of the business side so I can anticipate when and where problems might arise.
Internally, I'm in charge of human resources, including hiring (and, if necessary, terminating) employees, contractors and interns; employment contracts; and independent contractor agreements. I also participate in our internal finance and budgeting processes. Externally, I work on client agreements, immigration and litigation (if any).
Is it ever difficult to wear both law and business hats?
Yes. It’s very very challenging – but also extremely rewarding when things go well. I manage the tension by stepping back, thinking through the problem myself, and then convening a meeting with only the relevant decision makers to discuss next steps (I intentionally keep it small—usually no more than two people). I also try to remind myself that my role is to protect the company, not any individual person or their strategy.
How did you decide to make the transition in-house?
I started at a very small firm and then I moved to Wilmer Hale with a partner I was working for. When he moved to Milbank three years later, I transferred again with him. At Milbank, I focused on securities regulation, representing financial institutions in government investigations. After five years though it started to feel like I wasn’t learning as much as I wanted to and wasn’t doing as much client-facing work as I would have liked.
One of my clients was the CEO of the Leverage Agency. I reached out to him on behalf of a friend who was looking for a marketing job. He didn’t have any marketing openings, but immediately said he wanted to hire an in-house lawyer and asked if I was interested. I considered it for two months, and then decided to make the move.
What was exciting, challenging and surprising about your first 100 days in-house?
One exciting thing was also the challenging thing: When I moved in-house, I immediately became involved in business decisions – which was exciting but also challenging. Suddenly, in addition to legal considerations, I was thinking about everything from whether we had the capacity to take on a new client to financial risk management.
In terms of surprises, even though I come from a government litigation background – which I liked doing in private practice – I was surprised to learn in the first 100 days that litigating as the client was significantly more complicated. As the client, I was suddenly concerned with a wider range of potential issues instead of just thinking about legal strategy. For example, as an in-house lawyer, I think about how certain non-monetary elements of settlements can hurt the company in ways I didn’t see while I was working in private practice.
More generally, I was surprised at how different practicing law felt in-house. I had been a mid-level associate at my law firm, so I always had partners and other associates I could rely on if I had questions or wanted additional thoughts or judgment. In-house as a solo General Counsel, it was just me handling a whole range of new issues with a team of people looking to me for reliable answers quickly.
What do you wish you'd known during your first 100 days in-house?
- Manage expectations. When you're at a law firm, you're working with other lawyers who understand what is on your plate and what you’re doing (even if they expect too much from you). Business people don't necessarily know what is involved with your job and so you have to manage their expectations entirely differently – you need to explain what you’re doing and why it’s important to get it done in the way you’re doing it.
- Focus on understanding the company. Everyone says “understand the company” but really understanding the structure, affiliated entities, the relationships between the owners and exactly where your role fits in takes significant work. It’s crucially important to do this work as early as possible once you join the company.
- Trust your gut and relay advice with confidence. You can always follow-up, but you need to be able to speak confidently about each piece of advice you’re giving.