Hiring attorneys with core contracts and other skills is a given when you’re building out the legal function in a fast-growth company, so the crucial quality for success as the company scales is the team spirit of the people you bring on, says Tim Parilla, chief legal officer of contracts technology company LinkSquares.
“I’ve made some strong hires in my career, and I’ve made some not-so-strong hires,” Parilla said in a webcast hosted by the company. “The strong hires were the folks who brought a sense of humility. You’re literally just an employee, and the business can choose to do what it wants to do with the input you provide.”
The hires that worked out poorly were those who were thinking “me first,” said Parilla, general counsel of DraftKings before he joined LinkSquares, an AI-assisted contracts and legal documents company, in 2021.
Other bad hires were attorneys who tried to stay above the fray and not take a stand on an issue.
“They play this whole, like, ‘I’m not going to take a position on any issue,’” he said. “‘l’m just going to tell you this is what the law is and let you fall on your face when you make a decision so I can say, “Oh, that’s not my problem; I just told you what the law is; you made your choice. Sorry.”’ These are the people that, for me in my organizations, didn't last very long. It’s not necessarily because they were bad lawyers.”
The first lawyer Parilla hired at LinkSquares, which launched in 2015, is a contracts specialist who’s also helping to map out the legal department’s growth plan.
Parilla said he considered the contracts skill of the 10-year veteran lawyer he hired table stakes. “It was everything else about the way you approached the legal function,” said Parilla, who was joined in the webcast by his first hire, Jonathan Greenblatt. “It was the way you think about your role within the business that did it for me. When I started thinking about what this organization will look like when we have 500 people and we’re doing two, three and four times the number of deals we’re doing today, what does that function need to look like and [who] is the right person to help build and put his fingerprints all throughout the organization?”
Greenblatt came on board last year in October as vice president of legal. In addition to his contracts work, he has started devising a growth plan for the legal organization based on where he sees the business growing and insight he’s received from talking to people throughout the company.
“You’re always looking at what the business needs are and whatever the pain points are as far as the amount of work and the requests coming in,” said Geeenblatt. “And so [it could mean] hiring someone to be focusing on commercial contracts or somebody to be more of a specialist over time, like product or privacy, or [it could mean] hiring a generalist.”
It helps that the in-house team is able to function as the company’s customer zero, since they use the contracts tool that LinkSquares sells to corporate law departments.
“Given that contracts is such a focus of an in-house department, the tool gives us an opportunity to get deep insights into what the contract work is that an individual is doing,” said Parilla. “So, being able to stay abreast of that and have that really important data is something that helps in the decision-making process.”
Greenblatt’s experience as a Peace Corps volunteer in Azerbaijan shortly after that country opened up to the West in the 1990s gave him experience for coming into an unfamiliar situation, building relationships quickly and figuring out what the needs are, he said.
“You realize how important any person you interact with can potentially be,” he said. “In that little village there was one American and everyone knew who that person was, and they all wanted to chat with you. Being respectful of everyone became so useful. Several times I was stranded and someone I didn’t remember but I had greeted on the street would come by and give me a ride.”
In addition, the language barrier in the country forced him to find other ways to get to know people, which has helped him build relationships quickly.
“It’s easy to lose the human aspect when you’re focusing on a technical skill,” he said. “In our trade, the human aspect is something you can’t lose sight of.”
That’s particularly important when you’re stepping into a high-growth technology company with a lot of sales volume that’s driven by account executives, Greenblatt said. Because it’s easy for the AEs to see in-house lawyers as an impediment to getting sales closed if they raise issues over contract terms.
“It’s important when working with your business colleagues to explain what you’re doing and why you’re doing it, because when they understand that they’re supportive,” he said. “They’re negotiating with you rather than trying to undercut you in any way.”
Parilla said he wants that kind of transparency to be a hallmark of the legal organization just as it’s a hallmark of the broader company.
“Designing a legal organization … in an extremely transparent way is something that’s been front of mind for me and something I’ve been trying to push and take advantage of,” he said.
To him, transparency includes the ability to talk to others in the company in a straight-forward way, avoiding legalese to make your point.
“It’s an opportunity to educate all of our team, whether you’re in product and engineering or the operations function or you’re selling the product and on the phones talking to GCs,” he said. “I really wanted to make sure the legal function is going to be a teacher as well.”
That’s why he wanted a team-oriented first-hire who wasn’t just a good lawyer, he said.
“That sense of understanding of what your place is has been a hallmark of the successful people at least that I’ve worked with and been fortunate enough to stand next to,” he said.