By Drew Calamaro ‘21 Staff Editor
On Friday, March 1, the Emerging Companies and Venture Capital Club (ECVC) and the Virginia Journal of Law and Technology hosted a panel with general counsels from technology companies to discuss their careers in the technology sector. The panel was moderated by Cooley’s firmwide head of business Mike Lincoln, a UVA Law lecturer and 1991 graduate.
The panel members included General Counsels Chris Winters (Appian), David Woolston (Nuxeo), Stephen Riddick (Tenable), and Brian Brown (AvePoint). A big shoutout to Mike Lincoln ’20, Moussa Ismail ’20, and Vikram Vivek ’20 for organizing this event, as well as the general counsels for choosing to attend.
Mike Lincoln opened the event by having the panel introduce themselves and explain what they do for their respective companies. Lincoln then asked the panel how much of an expert general counsels of tech companies need to become in the technology they are dealing with in order to be effective at their jobs.
According to Riddick, you need to become very familiar with the technology. But, he joked, there are people who will “never respect my depth of understanding of our product.” The key, he said, is to ask a lot of questions to the people in your firm. Woolston added that the deference goes both ways between engineers and lawyers, since you are still the expert of your field in the room.
Lincoln then asked what students thinking about joining a company or being on the business side can do in school to position themselves best. Winters responded, “get to know your classmates.” Winters went on to say that lawyers practicing in M&A, real “deal junkies,” make for great tech lawyers since they are used to working on a deadline. Winters did say that, although he remembers very little from law school, negotiation seminars were incredibly important. He compared the skill to a muscle that, if worked consistently, gets better over time.
The rest of the panel agreed with Winters, and Riddick added that it is helpful to join large law firms to develop the expertise needed to conduct large deals. Riddick also emphasized the importance of relationships in law school and beyond, saying that they “are everything.” Three out of the four general counsels also spoke to relationship building by saying that their current jobs were the result of cultivating good relationships.
The panel discussion then turned to what the split is like between the business side of their position and the legal side. Brown answered that the most successful people understand what the business objectives are and allow the legal side to play in that direction. The goal, he said, is to “offer solutions if you tell the business side that they can’t do something.” Winters stated that, for him, everything is “100 percent business.” He reiterated that it is important to think of yourself as more than just a lawyer, and that revenue is “everything.”
Other fantastic quotes include, “associate yourself with revenue,” and “there’s a lot of ‘general’ in “general counsel.”” Absolutely a huge day for this reporter, since he is a big fan of revenue, and is not the biggest detail guy. Whether or not that is what the GCs were addressing is up for debate, but I will choose to interpret it that way. The panel closed out by speaking to the importance of client service inside and outside of the company. Riddick stated that “you had better know client service walking into a company.”
There was a happy hour held at Maya afterwards, where this reporter ordered what he thought was a gin and tonic, but ended up being an electric green cucumber drink. A good time was had by all, however, as students were able to speak with Lincoln and Riddick. One final thanks also to Lincoln for bringing in engaging guests and setting aside time for this event.