Currently, I am not working and enjoying some time away from the day-to-day responsibilities of leading a legal team. I joined Intercom in 2019 as the first legal hire, responsible for building out the legal function. I had been at a couple of other public SaaS/software companies, focusing mostly on commercial work. When presented with an opportunity to build a legal department, I jumped at the chance to be provided a blank canvas and build a department based upon my vision. My first hire was someone that worked for me at a previous company, someone I could trust and I knew was just as excited for the opportunity to be a “builder”. Within a number of months, I realized where we needed additional resources, and was able to hire some very talented and experienced attorneys who had been involved in building legal teams at previous companies. Within a year, I had a small team who supported our commercial contracting requirements, guided on governance around privacy regulations, supported our product team and began working on other corporate compliance initiatives. As the company continued to grow, the legal team identified other types of initiatives that needed legal support such as building an IP program, building a trade compliance program, creating remote work policies.
Some background on Intercom—it is an enterprise SaaS company based in San Francisco, a market leader that provides a chat messaging platform used by enterprises or small businesses to communicate with their customers. Intercom customers use the platform to support their existing customers, as well as lead gen, market or acquire new customers. The platform can be used across all verticals for multiple use cases.
As GC’s, we are always evaluating the regulatory landscape, and balancing our growth vs. the ability to comply with the massive amounts of regulatory requirements to run our business. Other than adhering to general legal compliance initiatives, the nature of Intercom’s business is it processes large amounts of customer and end user data, so adherence to global data protection laws is paramount to Intercom’s growth and success. As global data protection laws are either modified or enacted, it is critical for Intercom to have robust security measures to protect all of the data residing on its platform. Enterprise customers spend a great deal of time reviewing Intercom’s security and data privacy programs to ensure that the data shared with Intercom is secure, and processed in accordance with data protection regulations.
Coming in and building a team from the ground up, it was critical for me to illustrate that the mission of the legal department was to assist in facilitating the growth initiatives of the business, as opposed to a department that took the approach of “lets always reduce risk”. Many employees at Intercom had never worked with an internal legal department, so it was very important for me to help people understand our thought process with respect to the legal advice and articulate some of the analysis for our recommendations. Earning their trust so that they considered the legal department to be a strategic business partner was paramount to our team’s success.
With respect to corporate culture, Intercom has a very strong culture of focusing on employee well-being and inclusiveness---really focusing on how to enable the employees to be successful in their roles. Staying true to those values, I felt it was important that our employees were not intimidated by the legal department, and felt comfortable coming to us for advice, guidance and consultation, just like any other business unit in the company.
I have been practicing law for over twenty years. Working for various legal departments and supporting different types of businesses, I know that I have so much more to offer my next company, and could not imagine transitioning into another discipline. From starting as a junior level commercial attorney to building and managing a legal department in a fast-growing company, and having exposure to so many legal and business issues I’ve encountered over the years, I believe that I am just hitting my “sweet spot” with respect to the value I can bring to a company. But there is still so much growth to encounter---becoming a better strategist and leader for a legal department is a major focus of mine moving forward!
As an aspiring lawyer, don’t be afraid to take on new responsibilities within your legal department. When a manager or a senior level attorney offers you a chance to learn new subject matter, take advantage of the ability to learn new areas of law to further enhance your substantive knowledge and marketability.
Additionally, your business is interested in the legal department solving problems and coming up with creative solutions that allow the business to move forward---while still being compliant or managing risk. Understand that your legal analysis is rarely black or white, we live in shades of gray, and we must advise on how to move forward in the “gray zone”. If you can enable your business to move forward with its growth initiatives while still adhering to relevant laws or taking on reasonable amounts of risk, your partners will praise your efforts, and you will be recognized as a trusted legal advisor. If you have a reputation as a trusted legal advisor, your manager and executive team will be well aware of the value you are adding to the company!