Whistler’s Head of In-House Kathleen Mon moderated TechGC’s “Build Your Team” virtual panel with panelists Julia Shullman (General Counsel & Chief Privacy Officer of Triplelift), Devang Shah (General Counsel of Wish) and Stephanie Dominy (General Counsel of Snyk).
While the full panel is only available for TechGC members, we are able to share some nuggets of insight for in-house attorneys looking to build and scale their company’s legal function.
Help! I need somebody.
So you’ve built an in-house legal team (of 1), and the demands are no longer feasible to manage at your high-growth start up. For starters, you’ll need to make your case to leadership. Create a list of priorities to help visualize the tasks that are feasible to do with your time and expertise, and, perhaps more importantly, the tasks that will fall by the wayside. Advocate for cross-functional teams to do the same, so legal can focus on the highest priority tasks at hand. Depending on the budget, you may want to consider temporary help to give you the space and time you need to figure out who the right person is to hire.
Who will get the first rose?
Odds are, as you begin to build out the legal function at your company, you’ll only be given one spot to fill to start. While your company may not be eager to allocate a ton of budget towards your hire, it’s crucial to hire as senior as possible early on. At high growth companies it often takes too long to get junior attorneys up to speed. Hire for where you want to be in a year’s time and the person who can help you get there.
Less money, mo problems
A seemingly endless mountain of work, and limited resources to complete it – welcome to life as the leader of an in-house legal team at a startup. If you’re not given the budget to bring someone on full time, look for ways to reduce friction across your organization and help simplify commonly used contracts (there’s a ton of great contract softwares out there). Offer training to other teams to streamline processes and allow your limited team to focus on the heavier lifts.
The certain “je ne sais quoi” of an in-house attorney
Assessing whether someone’s a “culture fit” can sometimes rely on quick judgements that can leave your workforce looking pretty homogenous (just say “no” to hiring based on schools and sports teams allegiances). Create processes that help eliminate biases, and focus on looking for someone who takes initiative, is collaborative and an excellent team player, has excellent project management and strategic thinking skills, and is excited about nerding out about the business. Hire attorneys with varying skill sets and perspectives (including attorneys coming straight from firms) to fill the gaps on your existing team.
The problem of “more”
You can buy all the management self-help books in the world, but let’s be honest, you probably won’t have time to read them. Retaining talent as you grow comes down to giving your internal people the chance to develop. Keep an open line of communication to identify the areas they need to work on to help them reach the next level. When a senior position opens up, consider who internally could fill it, and if there isn’t someone, communicate clearly which new skill sets the external hire will need that don’t align with your current team.
All in all, recognition goes a long way. As you build your team, find a way to show the rest of the company that “yes we have a legal department, no we don’t just say “no” to everything, and here are some of our recent wins.”