For almost 10 years I was at eBay - based in San Jose, California - in the heart of Silicon Valley. I started at eBay as a consultant via Axiom - and was hired as an FTE to support the eBay Classifieds Group (“eCG”) business. At that point eCG was a collection of relatively small national online classifieds platforms with very limited in-house legal support.
Over ten years I had the fantastic opportunity to scale the legal function for eCG as the business grew from ~$200mil to over a $1bil in revenue. I built and led a team of 25 legal professionals along with an engine room of innovative technology, systems and processes that allowed us to be integrated, high-context business partners - while moving at the rapid pace of the business.
Classifieds is a freemium business model where we monetized very high levels of user engagement with programmatic ads, B2C subscriptions and premium user features.
We successfully sold the eCG business to Adevinta for $9.2bil - closing the deal in mid-2021. After a period of transitioning the eCG Legal function to Adevinta I decided to take on a new challenge and I am now exploring opportunities at high-growth businesses where my expertise can have real impact - building, leading and optimizing world class in-house legal functions, leading legal and business teams through business/cultural transformation at scale, and acting as a co-leader of those businesses as they experience rapid growth.
One of the best and most challenging elements of working in the online classifieds industry is its global nature. At eBay Classifieds we had anywhere from 11 to 17 national business units in countries as diverse as South Africa, Australia, Mexico, Canada, Germany, The Netherlands, Denmark, Singapore and the United States. The legal team acts as general counsel to the managers and leadership teams of those businesses - and my role was general counsel to the eCG Leadership Team - with members based all over the world and headquartered in Amsterdam.
Working across all of these jurisdictions is challenging and exciting from both a substantive legal perspective and a cultural perspective. On any day we could be dealing with a security issue somewhere in Europe, the new privacy regime in South Africa, competition issues in Brussels and London, M&A in Australia and the roll out of innovative online products in multiple countries. All this along with a high volume of commercial agreements that were managed by our highly effective commercial contract function in Salt Lake City and Berlin.
As a Third Culture Kid and life long expat I truly enjoy working with international teams, cultures and legal systems and eCG gave me the opportunity to really grow and excel by applying my innate cultural intelligence to solving complex multi-jurisdictional challenges.
I was very fortunate to have a mentor-leader at eBay Legal, Karin Schwab, who put me on the path to building and implementing a vision for an Outstanding Modern Effective In-House function. I was doubly fortunate to have highly sophisticated business partners, including our CEO Alessandro Coppo, and CFO Alex Green, who trusted me to implement my vision.
The leadership of eBay Classifieds gave me the opportunity to prove my value, and eventually get my seat at the table of the eCG Leadership Team. There I was able to take off my legal hat and own my seat at the table as a business co-leader.
I believe that a Modern Effective In-house Legal Function can and should be a strategic advantage to the business. Legal should be highly integrated, on the team, building deep context, celebrating wins and learning from losses, while driving strategy and growth.
A highly integrated and engaged legal function can drive product and strategy innovation, accelerate the business with innovative contracting solutions, and provide a unique, creative and highly valuable perspective to problem solving. Solving really complex and challenging problems creatively is what we do - creating a management framework and leading high performers towards this vision is my passion.
I’ve always considered myself a business person with legal skills. I worked in consulting before going to law school and then spent only one year at a law firm - after having already been the GC of a fin-tech startup in London. I think that’s why I’ve always run the legal function like a business unit; mentored my teams to speak, present and operate in the language of the business, and drive business strategy in everything we do.
I’ve been told by VP level clients that my senior team members acted as business co-leaders - who own their seat at the table, contribute to business development/strategy while challenging and improving on business initiatives. To me this is one of the best compliments an in-house legal leader can receive.
As a business co-leader I do see an opportunity for further expanding my role - and the role of my team into areas including operations, business unit management, customer support, etc. I have seen this type of role extension occur on my team as my leaders were asked to take on business management and operations roles.
Collect multiple qualifications early - MBA, JD, LLM - and qualify internationally - UK, AU, USA, etc.
Network - reach out to business and legal leaders early in law school or early in your career - get their advice/insights on where to focus your efforts and ask for their relevant contacts also. Many senior in-house lawyers welcome the opportunity to mentor junior professionals whose goal is in-house legal leadership.
Join industry organizations and volunteer to participate.
Build up your social media presence, create valuable content on an area where you have expertise and publish it - then leverage that for additional connections/conversations.
Prove your value - work hard to show your value to your business clients - not just by getting a ton done but by sitting with the business, learning the product and strategy, building context and connections.
Get your seat at the table - once you have proved your value make sure you ask for your seat - on the leadership team of your function or business unit. It can be nerve wracking to take this step - ask your mentors for advice on the right time/approach.
Keep learning - unfortunately there is still very little in-house legal practice taught at US law schools. Read Building an Outstanding Legal Team by Bjarne Tellman - the best written and most practical book on setting up an in-house legal function - it may be advanced for your current position but it will make you a thought leader in your team/function.