In a high-growth in-house environment, when time becomes such a blocker that you need to expand your legal team, what kind of hire should you go for? In this series, we look at the different options, and share the insights of real-life tech GCs on why they chose the role profile they did.
Specialist data/IP lawyer
a qualified lawyer with specialised knowledge and experience in data and IP matters, usually gained at a private practice firm.
Ned Staple, General Counsel, Cazoo
What are the specific skills and qualities that they bring to the business?
In a digital media or technology business, it’s important to have the ability to work across all commercial contracts including all the data and IP ownership considerations that the business faces. Talented specialists can do all of this and are adept at working with technical teams.
If you’re in a technology-focused business, then this kind of role should be an early hire. The difficulty is that they’re in short supply. Private practice is providing a lot of opportunities for those lawyers at the moment. GDPR alone has kept teams busy. And I have the impression that more Data/IP roles are available in-house at media, technology and internet businesses at the moment, so candidates are in really high demand.
The other option is to try and train a generalist in data or IP, but that’s making a lot of work for you, and there isn’t usually time to do it in a fast-growing business. If you can find the right person without having to do this training, so much the better.
Are there any potential disadvantages to this kind of hire?
You have to keep them interested. In my experience, individuals develop a Data/IP specialism because they are really interested in this kind of work, so if you get through a big swathe of it and then there’s no more for a while, you will need to think carefully about how to keep them enthused. Whether it’s large transactions or litigation, it’s about finding interesting work for them. They won’t want to do commercial contracts day in and day out. There is a career benefit for them developing more general expertise. As their in-house career develops, they will need to expand their skills to have the best options. Otherwise to progress, they may have to find very large companies that can support their expertise in a senior capacity.
Where do you go to find good candidates, and what do you ask them at interview?
First I go to my network; and then my network’s network. Those are the most reliable sources of talent. I also work with a couple of recruiters who have a good understanding of the market. If after that I still haven’t found the right person, I look wider on LinkedIn and all the other public sources. At interview I ask a mix of technical and aptitude questions, but the focus would be on a candidate’s ability to solve difficult technical problems with a real commercial focus. Data/IP lawyers are technicians, so you need to ensure they’re won’t get stuck in the detail when there are revenue considerations to prioritise.
“What do you learn from interview 9 and 10 that you didn’t learn from interviews 1 and 2?!”
I think interview processes have become absurdly long. I have never seen the value in ten-stage interviews. Both parties benefit from a short and intense interview. What do you learn from interview 9 and 10 that you didn’t learn from interviews 1 and 2?!
How did you benchmark the candidates?
First I look at academics; then I would look for quality private practice training. PQE is a helpful steer but doesn’t give you a complete picture. I’d look at the specific experience they’ve gained since qualifying, meaning, what commercial influences they’ve been exposed to. That’s one of the most important questions: exploring the extent to which they’ve learnt good commercial practices. Secondment to a media or technology company would be helpful but as someone who did one, I recognise that it’s not a prerequisite for success in a role like this. My experience on secondment was very good, but I know lots of people who didn’t have a great experience, and didn’t learn a great deal. Ultimately it’s much more about the actual work they’ve done than where they did it.
What kind of approach do you take to training and development if you opt for this kind of hire?
I would push for as much training and development as is possible in their working week. Training is essential to confer benefits to the business, but also to advance their career. The moment you stop learning in your legal role is the moment you stop progressing. Make sure the person has a good mixture of training with law firms and specific legal training providers, and that they have the opportunity to share know-how internally within the legal team and the wider business.