Welcome to another recap of what you missed on the Evisort podcast!
Meeting of the Minds is back with more real stories from leaders driving innovation in the legal industry. The delightful Sarah Feingold and JP Son grace for episodes three and four, respectively. Our guests both explore what it really means to be a lawyer and the unique career intersections — such as computer science, business, and art — that fall within the identity.
You’ll also hear about Sarah’s production Legal Madness, which turns anonymous corporate tech counsel horror stories into monologues performed by professional actors. Who says lawyers don’t have a sense of humor?
Read our recap of episodes one and two, featuring Anheusuer Busch’s Craig Katerberg and CLOC Co-founder Connie Brenton, here.
Sarah Feingold, former GC at Etsy and Vroom explains how working in-house at an early stage startup is like being a firefighter and a ping pong player. In the following exchange, Sarah describes how she grew from Etsy’s 17th employee into its General Counsel role as it went public. Sarah is currently an NYU Fellow and co-founder of The Fourth Floor, an initiative to empower women to join corporate boards and create entrepreneurship opportunities.
What was it like to be a lawyer working at such an early stage company?
I think a lot of lawyers have these glamorous views of startups and all the perks and how fun they’re going to be. When you’re employee number 17 at an early stage startup, it’s not glamorous. There are no perks. It’s not for the faint of heart. I didn’t even have a desk! I had to bring my own laptop to work. I didn’t really have onboarding or a mentor or network. It was really just all hands on deck and everyone’s working together to build a rocket ship. But, because I was working with a very talented, passionate, intelligent group of people, slowly but surely we put in the foundation for scale.
So you were hired as Etsy’s first lawyer. What percentage of your time was spent on legal matters and what percentage was spent doing other work?
What’s the difference between legal and business when you’re in-house? I’m not sure, but when you’re at a small startup, you need to take appropriate risks that you can’t take when you’re at a bigger company. Really what I was doing was looking at the business, our priorities, our projects and tweaking them in a way that is appropriate for a company of our size.
I like to say that I was a cross between a firefighter and a ping pong player. As a firefighter, I would stomp out all the little flares that came up all the time. And as a ping pong player, issues would come to me and I would quickly have to send them back and say, “okay, your turn,” or “nope, not me!” I was just trying to keep everything alive.
Do you have hilarious and horrible stories from working in-house at a tech company? Don’t let your confidentiality agreements take those secrets to the grave — anonymize them and submit to Legal Madness!
JP Son, VP and Legal Counsel at Vonage, joins us to talk about the similarities between lawyers and computer scientists. He’s the perfect person to do so — JP pursued a B.S. in Computer Science before becoming a BigLaw IP litigator lawyer and later moving in-house JP discusses his “do not harm” philosophy when it comes to leveraging legal tech to help the business.
What are your principles for leveraging technology in your practice? What have you found works well for you and your department?
A huge focus of my time is seeking efficient ways to deliver our legal support. My first principle is, you always want to push the lowest cost work to automation. Automate to the greatest extent that you can.
Also, always try to push self service when possible and always try to work within the existing business processes. It’s not our colleagues’ job to learn how to work with legal. They have their own jobs, and those jobs are hard enough.
As a company we use JIRA. So if my legal team picked up a contract management system and forced the sales team to submit contracts through a whole new system, that would take sales out of their native environment.
Instead we rely on integration platforms that tie together services and APIs in the background to create workflows. For example, there are services that allow you to define templates and generate based on deterministic inputs. That way, business teams can use JIRA to open legal requests, and they don’t have to do anything out-of-the-ordinary. You want to be unobtrusive. Legal should always try to do the least harm.
That’s it for this round of recaps! Be sure to subscribe to the podcast for future episodes. We also invite you to join Meeting of the Minds Live for The EU-US Privacy Shield Has Been Invalidated. What Does This Mean For Your Contracts? on December 8th, 2pm EST.