GC Fireside

Building a High-Performing Legal Team

Seth Weissman
August 17, 2020

What are you currently working on?

It’s been so fun to get back to work after 2 years on the beach!  Well, not exactly on the beach... as I went back to school and became an executive coach, but not being part of an operating company was getting a bit lonely!  I’m really focused on learning a new space.  Fintech is a whole new industry for me. I had my arms around solar after 8.5 years at SCTY and now its all new acronyms, new jargon, new regulatory etc.  The ecosystem of payments is fascinating!

How did you build a legal culture at Solar City?

I loved my time at SolarCity.  For my team, I wanted it to be the best position of their career.  I wanted them to feel valued every day and to know that I needed them way more than they needed me.  If you think about leadership and measuring the value of a leader, it’s not about you, it’s about the team and how they perform.  If your team is crushing it, you are.  If they are not crushing it, you are not either.  You are never better than your team.  One of the keys to putting people in a position to succeed is the idea that everyone could bring their authentic selves to work every day.  To feel safe and to feel trusted.  Let great people do their best work and then mentor and support their growth.

How do you hire people for your legal team?

In short, I triangulate on three things when I am hiring someone:  1) IQ:  What are their knowledge, skills and abilities relative to the job position and if they don’t have all of the “like to have” skills can they learn them?  Silicon valley and the legal profession over-indexes on IQ massively.  One of the smartest guys in my law school class could not make mac and cheese (true story).  Brilliant IQ often doesn’t always mean great lawyer. 2) Fit:  Fit is not values, it’s not culture, it’s the consistent behavioral traits the team expresses and if you don’t subscribe to you wont be able to be an integral team member.  We so often talk about “fit” in interview panels and it can be an unintentional path to hiring in your own image.  Hire in the image of the high performing team.  Fit for my teams usually involves humility, kindness, flexibility, backbone, resourcefulness--things like that.  You have to find the right fit for you and your team.  3. EQ:  EQ is where it all comes together.  High EQ folks just out perform mediocre EQ folks regardless of law school pedigree, IQ etc.  Emotional intelligence is well-documented to be the greatest indicator of workplace success.   If readers are interested in learning more here they should start with any Daniel Goleman article and/or read “What got you here won’t get you there” by Marshall Goldsmith.  Great starting points.

What are common red flags for legal candidates?

My interview style is unusual and it’s hard to practice for.  The biggest red flag for me is when I hear candidates trying to give me the answer that they think I want to hear rather than the answer that is most resonant for them.  Why would you want to work someplace where your natural inclination and natural responses to questions were not consistent with the culture and fit we are looking for?   Candidates should be as authentic as possible in interviews, not casual mind you, but authentic.  Be yourself.  If it’s not the right fit, don’t try and force it.  The quality of your work will suffer if it’s not the right place for you and then you put yourself in a very difficult place.

What do you look for in legal talent?

I’m fairly flexible on everything except Fit and EQ.   If you have spent at least three years working on commercial contracts and either have payments experience or an adjacent space, that works.  If you have payments experience from a product standpoint, that works too.

Great chatting with you, Chris.  Keep up the great work at TechGC!

Seth Weissman
Seth is an experienced General Counsel and senior executive as well as a certified executive coach. He is currently the Chief Legal Officer at Marqeta where he leads Marqeta’s Legal, Risk, Compliance and Regulatory functions. Prior to joining Marqeta he was SolarCity's EVP, General Counsel and Secretary. Seth was responsible for SolarCity's Legal, Compliance, and Risk functions and led the Company's 2012 IPO. Seth was also SolarCity's first VP of HR, building the function as the Company scaled from 200 to 1200 employees. Seth is focused on delivering business oriented results while building top performing, diverse teams with high EQ and a commitment to culture. While at SolarCity, Seth’s diverse team led to him being recognized as a “Diversity Champion” by the Silicon Valley Business Journal.

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