In coordination with Above The Law, Lawtrades hosted a panel featuring Jasmine Singh, Pinterest’s senior commercial counsel, and Akaash Gupta, Udemy’s associate general counsel. They explained how 2020 upended commercial contracts -- as well as the typical work life of a general counsel -- and what lies ahead.
We broke out five areas of insight they shared for thriving this year and in the future.
- P.S.: If you want to join a community that meets online to discuss best practices for commercial counsel, reach out to Jasmine or Akaash on LinkedIn. Anyone who does commercial work or scales legal teams is welcome.
On to the takeaways!
Brush up on non-lawyerly skills
Because of the pandemic, Akaash has seen counsel pivot to other roles in addition to legal work. Specifically, he has found it vital to discuss to business side people how his company provides new value that is different from what it did before the pandemic and different from other companies.
Jasmine emphasizes communicating properly -- especially over email -- with internal and external clients who are not as well-versed in legal technicalities.
- She recommends asking questions and telling people to be comfortable with their answers. “The important thing is to say the intent is not ‘gotcha’ but to tell them it's about figuring things out.”
Take contractual changes in stride
Force majeure may be the most-used legal phrase of the year. And Jasmine and Akaash both noted it has become a new priority for contracts, even though it was never that critical previously.
There are likely times existing force majeures will come into play with customers who provide services and want to get out of their obligations because of the pandemic. In a strictly legal sense the pandemic may not be preventing them from providing the service. But that doesn’t mean clients aren’t hurting, and Akaash recommends being careful in these situations.
“It’s been a difficult year for everyone,” he says. “Do you really want to burn those bridges?”
- Jasmine also says to remember to rework contracts for vendors working on site or remotely to ensure compliance with new regulations created for purposes of safety during the pandemic.
Make staff feel comfortable from far away
Have you even met everyone on your staff these days? Probably not because, well, 2020.
Akaash has noticed that making new team members at Udemy feel welcome is harder without the ability to talk in person. So he recommends having one-on-one meetings with newcomers a few times per week during their first weeks on the job to make sure they understand their roles and become comfortable discussing legal topics with the team.
Camaraderie with current staffers is important, too. Udemy has lunches where everybody orders DoorDash and catches up.
- Akaash and his co-workers have also had game nights. He recommends the RBG-inspired board game I Dissent. “You take an inane subject,” he says, “and leave it up to all the lawyers.”
Pinterest has built camaraderie by sharing parts of their lives over Zoom. Co-workers with children, for instance, will bring their kids to a meeting and let them do the talking for a while.
“We’re not just people who see each other at work,” Jasmine says. “We see each other’s full lives now.”
Remember that data is your friend
Without being in the office, it’s more important than ever to track data.
By paying attention to the numbers, Udemy found a large portion of sales contracts were coming from Europe. The legal team used that information to justify a legal hire overseas. “We couldn’t have gotten through Q4 without her,” Akaash says.
Vet contractors early to save time in the end
Pinterest works with numerous contractors, including Lawtrades. To ensure potential attorneys are the right fit, Jasmine asks in advance that all candidates sent her way can handle the necessary areas of law for the work.
- She had an excellent tip for an interview question: Jasmine comes up with a real-life scenario a candidate may encounter while contracting for Pinterest. Then she asks them what they would do. She knows immediately that candidates with quick, specific answers are potential fits and those who can’t offer a good response are not.
Akaash recommends providing thorough onboarding even to contractors. That way they’ll know how to handle the work from the get-go and not bog down staff counsel with questions later on.
Lawtrades enables legal departments to streamline contracts across their organization and better handle fluctuating workloads. Lawtrades’ commercial contracts service offers in-house teams with tech-enabled lawyers, transparency, and workflow management to become more productive. Get in touch if we can help.