In this fireside chat, Maureen Frangopoulos, Global Sr. Legal Director at Uber, talks about building her in-house career at Uber, leading teams, and the legal challenges of an IPO.

How did you end up at Uber? What career path led you there?

I graduated at the height of the recession in 2009, which was really the most difficult time to graduate, because we had already started to see a downturn in the legal market with hiring. Even if you were lucky enough to obtain a summer clerkship, job offers were scarce and many firms pulled back from hiring their summer associates.  

I decided to move to Chicago in 2009, with no contacts or job leads to speak of, with the money I made from selling my car. I decided to really network and give myself a year deadline where if I didn’t get a job, I would go back to Ohio. I waited tables for a long time and landed a few small clerkships, but those didn’t lead to much.

I actually ended up networking with people that I was waiting on, and I had my two minute sales pitch when I talked to folks since a lot of people that came through were either at law firms or knew lawyers or had connections. 

I ended up getting an interview through somebody that I waited on, and that was the first trial firm that I landed. That job gave me experience that really changed my career path, because I was in the courtroom every day. I tried more than 40 cases my first year and a half out of law school. This is really unheard of unless you join the public defender’s office or prosecutor’s office, where you’re stepping up every day on the state side of the house. I learned how to talk to juries and judges at 25, shaping my executive presence, so it was a big benefit in terms of steering my in-house lawyer career path.

I then moved on to a larger firm in the Chicago area where I represented clients in the insurance and transportation sectors. Our clients included those involved in the supply chain, like rail companies, motor carriers and truck drivers. At that time in my life, I was also pregnant with my first child. I started to think about what the end goal for me might be at a career in-house and what that could look like.

I thought it would make sense for me to end up in-house at Walmart or a company like FedEx that I had come into contact with from my freight experience. However, I had been an early follower of Uber and had a lot of friends from college that had joined Uber in its early stages, so I knew a lot about the company. Landing a tech job was my dream but I just never thought that something would open up that would align with my experience, from a litigation perspective and also be centered around Chicago, where I was based. After I had my son, I was on maternity leave and saw a job opening for Uber pop-up in Chicago. The role was was focused on litigation and insurance and seemed directly tailored to my work experience. When I applied I thought, “I’m a small fish in a big ocean. What are the chances?”

I’ve been at Uber for almost 8 years and the way I look at it, I’ve worked at two different companies. When I joined, it was still a startup with completely different leadership. Ultimately, wee had to evolve and go through a culture shakeup, right as we launched into our IPO process. Now we’re a public company with completely different leadership and cultural makeup. At this point in my career, I’ve had the benefit and experience of seeing this evolution firsthand and getting to support Uber through its hyper-growth focus. 

How can GC be seen as leaders and carve out an in-house career path within their company?

There’s the obvious side, good legal sense and expertise. The less obvious, and often more difficult component is being an excellent collaborator. You have to be somebody that builds relationships and focuses on the human element. At the end of the day, this is another way of influencing and persuading those around you. If you’re delivering legal advice or trying to help the business move an idea forward, there are different and competing viewpoints of how to do things, so your ability to influence really matters.

Your ability to influence and persuade becomes incredibly crucial, and one side of that is credibility and solid legal advice. But the other side is the human element. You need to be able to establish relationships and build bridges within your company. As GC, you should be someone who isn’t just welcomed into the conversation but also actively solicited. 

quote from lawyer about building their in-house lawyer career path

There are many things to think about to move the business forward, and this is especially true for a high-growth company like Uber that’s going to take on a lot of risk. You always have to be very structured in how you deliver feedback and advice to the business. 

Another important aspect of communication is the lingo. If you’re communicating with too much legalese, you probably won’t influence others. On my team, we talk about smart writing, brevity, and clarity in our communications. Sometimes people don’t need extraneous context – they need to know, “here’s how we’re thinking about solving the problem, and here’s the level of risk involved.”

Being very deliberate and concise is a super critical skill on the legal advice side of the house.

What are the biggest challenges of an IPO?

The challenges of an IPO are less about getting there, though that’s obviously an important part of the process. But by the time you’re approaching IPO day, you’ve done your risk assessments, you’re getting everything in line, and you’ve done your roadshow to investors.

I think one of the biggest challenges involving an IPO is actually “where are we on day one as a public company?” So you need to think really hard about governance and compliance, because that’s a quick switch across your operations. There’s also a lot that goes into an IPO from the litigation side. What messy litigation can you put to rest to put investors at peace? 

I think a significant piece of the puzzle is figuring out how to be set up for success in being able to meet all your reporting guidelines and having your board set up in a way that makes success likely. The real work of an IPO is learning how to operate successfully from day one as a public company.  

What are the management challenges you’ve dealt with during your in-house lawyer career path?

One of the challenges I faced was how quickly we grew. I got thrown into management without much experience other than mentoring other attorneys at my law firm. My first year, I had a team of four or five and now manage a global team of 70. 

Setting up your team for growth is one of the biggest management challenges. And so I think some of the ways I deal with that challenge of how fast we’ve grown is trying to keep first principles in mind, focusing on the human factor and leading with empathy.

When I’m delegating or handing out a project, I try to make sure that I’m taking people along for the ride and giving them context. I’m also not forgetting how challenging it was for me to do the things I’m asking them to do. When I’m coaching, I try to tell them “You know, I know what you’re doing is not easy, and I know because it wasn’t so long ago that I had to do it myself.”

When you work at a place with constant changes and challenges, you can feel isolated or like somebody doesn’t have your back if something turns out wrong. A finger-pointing culture isn’t a safe or inclusive place for anyone to work at, so that’s something I always remember when interacting with my broader team.

As GCs, I think we get thrown into the management side of the business and a lot of it is learned on the job. You’ll constantly have to step back to the drawing board and come up with creative solutions to management given how the company operates, so you always want to approach your challenges in the most effective way possible, and that’s even more true for leadership challenges.

What skills do you look for when hiring junior lawyers onto your team?

I think the number one skill I look for – and it’s a valuable skill for anyone in a high-growth company to have – is adaptability. Priorities shift quickly both within the legal organization and across the business as a whole, so being able to adapt to new challenges is extremely important. 

I also look for people who are resilient. We’ve been through so many changes as a company, and at every high-growth company, you’ll need to be able to weather the storm and keep moving forward despite big changes. 

Finally, people who want to feel a sense of ownership will be a good fit at a place like Uber. If you want to hit the ground running and build things, improve processes, and see the company grow, you’ll do well. 

How has TechGC helped you in your career?

The farther you get into your career, the more you realize how much connections with others matter. 

One thing that’s really moved the needle for me is the 1:1 matching program. You fill out a brief survey about yourself and your area of focus, then TechGC matches you with somebody for a 30 minute coffee meetup where you can exchange ideas and talk about your backgrounds. I’ve done a couple of those already, and every single time I gained a fresh perspective or outlook on something I was working on.

You can’t overstate the value of networking and connections as a GC. You really need them to solve problems in your current role and move forward in your career in the long run.

Do you want access to the best resources and network for building your legal career and tackling the unique challenges of being a GC? Apply for membership at TechGC today. 

Maureen Frangopoulos is a Sr. Legal Director on Uber’s Safety & Core Services Legal team and has been with Uber since 2015. In her current role, she leads a diverse global team of 70, oversees a global portfolio of complex litigation matters, and counsels Uber on risk and product advice across all lines of business. Prior to her time at Uber, she worked in private practice representing clients in the insurance and transportation sectors.