I’m currently running the legal department of Domestika, a venture-backed online community of and for creative individuals or anyone who just desires to learn a new skill. Whether you want to learn how to watercolor or build concrete furniture, we probably have a course for you. I’d consider us to be in the ed-tech industry, but with a specific focus!
Well, being in the startup world for years now, I was (and still am) excited to tackle all the challenges that come with one. But like any company, so much of the work of a lawyer and legal department depends on the strategy and sophistication of the business and its employees. I’ve also spent considerable time working and living in Europe which has been very helpful. Domestika has its roots in Spain and now we are a global company, so deepening my expertise in all relevant legal matters not just from a US perspective is something I focus on.
We have a large user base spread across the world so of course data privacy and data protection is something I think about often. Additionally, we produce and shoot our own content, so intellectual property concerns are always paramount. Like any lawyer, I have to manage risk and mitigate where possible while pushing the business forward, so I often look for and prefer a solution that, while often not perfect, adequately covers any risk that may flow from such a solution. That involves being strategic as a lawyer, so I try to think a few steps ahead and “game plan” possible scenarios where possible so little may come as a surprise.
Ed tech has been in our lives for years, but the pandemic has certainly increased consumer appetite for alternative approaches to the delivery of educational content. I think a big question that will have to be answered from a legal standpoint is whether or not governments and regulatory agencies will continue to treat ed-tech providers differently from traditional sources of education, or if the distinction will continue to be blurred. It’s an important question to think about because it will certainly inform how for-profit educational companies can operate successfully in a new world where opportunities to learn are not solely restricted to those who can afford or have access to traditional sources of education.
Generalists, generalists, generalists! Obviously there is a time and place for specialists along a startup’s growth curve, especially if the company is in a regulated space or has needs that require a securities lawyer or the like. What I love about startups is the “all hands on deck” approach. And for lawyers to truly be a partner in the business, we need to be willing and able to tackle anything that comes across our desk (or Slack channels), even if it means helping to install locks on doors in the new office building, like I have done! I think it is common for employees to look at in-house lawyers with a bit of hesitation, so I try to create an environment where the legal team is truly a partner.
As far as hiring and team building, I know this is something lawyers spend a lot of time thinking about, but I have always looked at it in simple terms: hire good people who truly want to be part of a team, treat them with respect, encourage and accelerate their development, and the rest is easy. It’s not really complicated at all!