CORPORATE COUNSEL: What is the No. 1 quality tech companies want in a GC?
NICOLE LIPMAN: They want their GCs to be business partners and to be commercial. The days of a lawyer saying, "No, no, you can't do that." are over. They want someone to figure out how to solve the business problem while appropriately protecting the company. And the best lawyers understand that. That can often be a hard transition coming from a law firm, but I think that is the No. 1 thing that all of our clients are asking for. They're also asking for "roll up your sleeves" lawyers. A lot of smaller companies need someone who can be a player-coach-you can't manage big teams and not get in the weeds on stuff.
CC: How has the rise of small but quickly growing startups changed the GC search in tech?
NL: You have to really make sure there is an alignment [between] the CEO'S vision and appetite for risk and where the GC is comfortable operating. I think for a long-term fit that is really critical. We've seen some mismatches with that, and you really have to get that right for it to be a successful relationship.
And again, there's a lot of uncertainty in startups. It takes a certain type of person that's comfortable with that, with business models changing, with funding and financing, you need someone who's been there before and is comfortable guiding the company through that risk. There's a good reason people keep taking leaps of faith to go work at startups.
CC: What should a young lawyer who wants to be a GC in tech someday start doing now to prep for the future?
NL: Really broaden your skill set to try to check as many boxes as you can. You want to get some management [experience] under your belt. And I think training in one of Silicon Valley's top law firms is always a great building block. Building your network is really important. l've seen lots of GCs with deep networks have very successful career paths due to their investment in the relationships they're building along the way. And also knowing venture capitalists is super helpful, because they make a lot of introductions to the portfolio companies. Get to know them, It can really help.
Think about what business excites you the most and move toward it. If you're interested in regulatory, there's not enough lawyers to go around. So that's where l'd advise someone to focus their energy. And health care. We still don't see as many in-house opportunities in litigation, so I would advise maybe moving away from that and toward transactional work.
CC: A lot of tech companies are entering markets where certain regulatory frameworks have not yet been made clear. How does that impact their search for a GC?
NL: I think being creative and being flexible and helping solve interesting business problems through the law and at the frontier of the law I think that's interesting for the lawyers in that they can add a huge amount of value. ... That's super exciting for a lawyer to be able to do that. That's a huge contribution they can make.
Nicole Lipmanis a Partner in our In-House Practice Group, based in the San Francisco office. She conducts searches for general counsel and other senior in-house attorneys for Fortune 1000 companies as well as fast-growing technology companies looking to add their first general counsel and/or scale their legal departments. She has deep industry expertise in technology, financial sponsors/venture capital, financial services and retail/consumer products.