As a veteran legal chief at high-growth technology companies such as Opendoor and ONE, Beth Stevens has worked closely with outside counsel.
This experience gave her a desire to spend dedicated time providing detailed feedback about how law firm attorneys can more effectively collaborate with their in-house clients.
Stevens got the chance to do so earlier this year while serving as the first participant in Mayer Brown’s Technology General Counsel in Residence program.
“I've always thought that law firms could benefit from in-house counsel’s perspective and not just me telling them as a client, but actually being on the inside and trying to help them move the needle in ways that are impactful,” Stevens told Legal Dive.
The new program was designed within Mayer Brown by partner Nina Flax, who is based in Northern California and co-leads the firm's Technology & IP Transactions practice.
Flax told Legal Dive the program is based on the entrepreneur in residence positions traditionally found at venture capital firms, and the overarching goal is for an experienced GC in the tech space to provide firm lawyers “with insider knowledge on key topics of importance to technology companies and their GCs.”
Flax said Stevens, who helped design the program, was a perfect fit to serve as the inaugural GC in residence given her in-house experience and her work with Mayer Brown on various projects through the years.
“She added immediate value to firm lawyers and clients through her unique perspective and critical insight into forward-looking business issues for early stage and venture capital companies,” Flax said.
Discussing tech issues
Stevens, who also previously served as the GC at both Sidecar and Earnest, participated in the Mayer Brown program from January through April of this year.
She said she spent a lot of time speaking with Mayer Brown lawyers across the country about how they partner with general counsel.
This included discussions about the type of technology GCs expect and need their outside counsel to utilize.
While AI is all the rage at the moment, Stevens said the proficient use of basic technology remains important.
For example, she told a group of associates they should not send a GC like her a table in Microsoft Word, but rather they should use a tool such as Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets.
Additionally, Stevens helped Mayer Brown fine-tune tech initiatives, including technology-related business partnerships with clients, it already has underway.
Communicating with clients
Stevens, who was based in California, also discussed the many different methods of communications available to law firm lawyers to engage with in-house counsel whose companies they are advising.
While traveling to different Mayer Brown offices, she emphasized that legal chiefs want “the best advice as soon as possible and as cost effectively as possible.”
Stevens said some Mayer Brown lawyers conveyed to her that while they aim to respond quickly to GCs in the channel in which they were contacted, they sometimes need more time to ensure the advice they are providing is accurate.
As a result, outside counsel may ultimately respond to a question that was initially sent via text message with a detailed email answer.
“Something new for me was really thinking about the risk management issues that my outside counsel face,” Stevens said. “Just because you want [an answer] yesterday doesn't mean there's not hoops that they need to jump through to really make sure that it is the latest and greatest advice that is as accurate as we all can hope for.”
Overall, Stevens said she was energized by and impressed with the law firm’s commitment to delivering top-notch service to clients in a wide array of practice areas.
Mayer Brown’s perspective
Flax said Mayer Brown appreciated Stevens’ insights about client expectations, particularly those at high-growth tech companies.
Stevens’ time in the program also helped the firm better understand the demands facing in-house teams.
Additionally, Flax credited Stevens with providing helpful input about Mayer Brown’s Springboard initiative, which provides a variety of information to support emerging companies and venture capitalists.
“We learned that Tech GCs can be great internal resources to help us focus on issues that are of core importance to our technology clients and fine-tune our key technology initiatives,” Flax said.
Stevens’ time in Mayer Brown’s Tech GC in Residence program ended this spring when she accepted a job as Sword Health’s chief legal officer.
Mayer Brown is now seeking other general counsel who are interested in participating in the initiative.
Stevens, who participated while in between jobs, said she would highly recommend the program to her fellow legal chiefs.
“This is a great opportunity for you to reset your thinking and get that mental break from the day-to-day operations of being in-house, but also still be engaged and still satisfy that desire to be productive and useful,” she said.
Flax also said the program can be a helpful pause for those in-house lawyers who are thinking about what’s next in their careers.
“It’s an opportunity for a temporary different lens, and hopefully for the strengthening of a key relationship with the firm in your career,” she said.