What skills are important to thrive in today's in-house legal environment?
As the tech industry continues to boom and business moves faster than ever, legal teams now need more than just legal expertise.
With over two decades of working in-house at tech companies, as well as experience as outside counsel, we were delighted to speak with the highly experienced Pierre Landy.
Pierre is an executive mentor to legal leaders and ex-GC at the likes of Yahoo, Ledger, and The Walt Disney Company. In this spotlight, he shares his experience, insights on the profession, and thoughts on legal's role within the business.
Sure. I'll need to go quite far back to give you the context. After I graduated from high school in France, I spent a year studying in the US basically to learn English. Back in France, I went to University where I studied both French and US law. Four years later, I went back to the US to complete an internship with a law firm as part of my curriculum.
After this, I had always wanted to work at Disney (I'm a Disney enthusiast!), but the only job I could find was selling tickets in the theme park at Disneyland Paris. So, despite my five-year law degree, I started selling tickets. Thankfully, after one year of doing various things within the Park, I had the opportunity to transfer from Operations to Legal and I ended up staying at Disney for around seven years.
In 1999, I moved to Yahoo. At first, I had no idea about this space! I didn't know anything about startups and seeing people wearing shorts and sandals at work was unusual to me! I ended up staying here for 15 years and I absolutely loved it. It was an amazing experience and I got promoted from Head of France to Deputy General Counsel in charge of the EMEA region. This meant I went from managing 3 people to managing 50 people, basically overnight, which was a big stretch at the time.
As I stepped into this role, I was offered an executive mentor to help me through this period of growth. So, I started working with a woman called Sue Moore and she was simply amazing. This is where my passion for mentorship began.
I stayed at Yahoo for nearly 16 years when I, along with some of my colleagues, decided to set up AndCo Law with the aim of offering external counsel services with an in-house counsel approach. We had many tech clients, one of which then asked me to join them to set up their legal team. This is when I joined Ledger.
When I felt I had built an effective legal team (or some might call it the "50 crisis"), I decided to finally do what I had wanted to do for a long time - become an executive mentor to the younger generation of lawyers.
Yes. Audrey Déléris, a wonderful legal headhunter, and I co-founded the FLIT Network (French Lawyers in Tech) which is a network for in-house counsel. We've grown to over 300 members, from startups to big companies, in around two years.
First of all, I think it's important for anyone to have a network, no matter what field you're in. Having a network broadens your horizons and helps you make contracts. It helps enrich you and presents opportunities. It's key that you have a network and that you nurture it.
Especially in the tech industry, in-house lawyers are often working alone and don't necessarily have anyone to talk to about legal matters. A network is a way for them to exchange ideas, recommendations, best practices, and resources. It's a community of like-minded people.
Well, when I started out, there wasn't even email! We would communicate back and forth over fax! It's all a bit surreal to think about now. There are two main shifts that I've seen over the years.
The first, technology. The first big opportunity here is of course legal tech. There is now an array of tools that legal departments can use for various reasons; from contract management to budget management.
You have solutions like Simple Legal to manage your budget and Leeway to manage contracts. These are amazing tools that make your life as a lawyer so much easier. Yes, adopting tech is a big change and it will take time, but it will simplify legal for the better.
On that, the second big change is simplifying legal; your approach, your jargon, and the way you present things. This is legal design. It's really important to understand that when you present things to the business, you need to make them easy to understand.
So, along with the usual things that you hear in terms of legal becoming trusted advisors to their CEOs and being more business-oriented, legal tech and simplifying legal are the two main shifts I've seen.
In the tech industry, and in France in particular, the line of reporting and the business group to which the legal department 'belongs' is a challenge. For instance, the French tech industry still has a very unfortunate tendency to think that General Counsel is something that you must have because maybe the investors have requested it. Often, they don't really see the business advantage that it offers.
And so, there's a tendency to believe, wrongly, that it makes sense for the GC to report to the CFO. I have nothing against CFOs (on the contrary!), but they usually know very little about the law and so there is no value to Legal being grouped with Finance. The US and UK are more mature in this sense.
Another challenge is that often, while HR and Finance are often part of the leadership team, Legal is not. The meetings where business and strategy are being decided don't include the GC. This doesn't make any sense especially when CEOs express their desire that they want their lawyers to be far more business-minded.
Being able to give input at the right level and at the right time is how I see lawyers becoming trusted advisors. They need to be close to the CEO to do this. I think it's absolutely key that GCs report to the CEO and are part of the leadership team.
I do think, however, that lawyers have often shot themselves in the foot by being overly administrative, overly cautious, and overly complicated (and sometimes a little obnoxious).
If you want a seat at the table, you have to be simple, practical, and business-oriented. I’m sure that tech lawyers will eventually get there, in the same fashion as we see this trend happen in CAC40 companies where more and more General Counsels are now reporting to the CEOs and are members of the Leadership Team.
Being part of strategy conversations from the very beginning makes a huge difference. To quote a song from Hamilton, you have to be “in the room where it happens”. You can hear about initiatives or projects and prepare accordingly, shaping the priorities of the legal department. It'll help you focus where you'll invest your energy based on a clearer understanding of information.
It also means that Legal can offer very vital input before something goes too far. It helps prevent the business from wasting time as Legal can stop initiatives that are a major risk before resources are wasted.
You have to remain agile. Again, adopting legal tech will definitely help. You should also have a network that you can learn from - we don't always have to reinvent the wheel. And, if you have the budget, hiring more clever, experienced people always helps.
You can do what I call "drive, ditch, delegate". You can't do everything so what are the things Legal should drive? What are the things they should ditch? And what are the things they should delegate? Either to outside counsel, vendors, legal tech, or to other departments.
It's so important to do this so you don't waste time on things that are ultimately not very important to the success of the company.
Exactly. It's complex. When you only have one lawyer, you have to focus on what's super important. You can't address everything and you'd be crazy to try.
You need to be part of the leadership team and be involved in those strategic discussions to understand what the key priorities are so you can focus on those. With this, you can drive, ditch, and delegate more easily.
I love Leeway and the concept. My passion is leadership so I'd like to focus on this. We study law which is very technical but I strongly believe when you lead a team, the legal skills are key of course, but the leadership skills are equally important. For instance, how to lead, how to manage a negative individual in the team, how you define success and create a vision for your team - all of these things are crucial.
Also, I have experience on both sides of the fence (in-house and outside counsel), so there's a lot I can share around the likes of alternative fee arrangements and other external support matters.
Please feel free to reach out on LinkedIn.