This article features highlights from episode three of our podcast, The Abstract. You can listen to the full conversation here.
Between watching L.A. Law and thinking, “I want to litigate like these people,” to finding his real calling as a legal leader at tech companies like Intercom, Nutanix, and Splunk, Adam Glick became a known name within the in-house legal community.
“I transitioned into technology by taking a role at a very large software company. And I was a license compliance manager, which was a bit of a different type of position. It wasn't actually even on the legal team, it was on the finance team. About six, eight months later, I received a phone call from a friend who was a senior leader at a tech company – a startup – and that company needed their first lawyer to help negotiate commercial contracts. Well, that was my entry into being an attorney in a technology company, and that's how I made the transition.”
Adam’s last stint was as Head of Legal at Intercom, where he built the company’s legal team from scratch.
Intercom, Inc. is a leading software company focused on business messaging. It enables businesses to engage in chat-based communication with their customers. With headquarters in San Francisco, Intercom also maintains offices in Chicago, Dublin, Sydney, and London.
For the third episode of The Abstract, we asked Adam Glick exactly how he traversed the path from being in courtrooms as a litigator to achieving in-house success as a legal leader. In this post, we’ve listed some of the highlights of our conversation with Adam.
Breaking into in-house law and tech
Finding your first legal job in the tech industry is no cakewalk. Adam described the process as “very challenging and a bit of an emotional roller coaster as well.”
“When you apply for a junior level role, other people applying for the same role may have more subject matter experience or have connections at the companies that you're applying for. So you're going to receive a plethora of emails stating something to the extent of ‘thank you so much for applying, but the company is going to focus on other candidates at this time.’”
Adam suggests that it’s important to not take these rejections personally, as they do not reflect your skills or abilities.
“You just need to continue to persevere, focus on potential new opportunities, and keep your confidence up. So, when you are called upon to discuss a job opportunity, you can present yourself as a qualified candidate who can excel in the role.
Coming from an unconventional background, I would recommend being creative and looking for opportunities, especially at larger companies that might not be perfect fits but will afford you the ability to grow and learn. And if you’re just establishing yourself, be willing to take incremental steps to attain your goals. Growing your career is not always linear. Consider being flexible so that once you have a chance to illustrate your skills, you can make sure that you shine.”
The importance of networking and challenging stereotypes
The concept of networking often carries a negative stigma. However, Adam highlighted the importance of recognizing the true value of networking and breaking away from its pejorative connotations. In fact, he attributes part of his success to his networking skills.
“I really consider networking an essential professional skill, and if done properly, with the right intentions in mind, it can be very, very beneficial.”
When reflecting on his own journey, Adam shared a personal story from his law school days, where his mother encouraged him to connect with fellow legal professionals to jumpstart his career.
“I remember saying, ‘Oh, come on, mom. I've got enough on my plate right now.’ But looking back, I realized how absolutely on point her advice was, and I wish I had taken it up earlier.”
Through his experiences, Adam underscored the immense benefits that networking can bring when approached with the right intentions. Building and maintaining professional and personal connections not only introduces you to fascinating individuals but also acts as a catalyst for career opportunities.
“I really cannot emphasize the importance of building and maintaining your professional and personal network enough. Because not only do you meet interesting people and develop ongoing relationships, but your network is a force multiplier for career opportunities. Sometimes your network will help you land that interview that you might not have been able to attain. Or they might educate you on some of the important criteria for that particular interview. Your ability to network and meet people is a critical component of your professional career.”
By shifting perspective and recognizing the true potential of networking, we create opportunities that may have otherwise eluded us.
Creating lasting connections through meaningful networking
Building a network is essential, granted. But where do you begin? How do you go about making meaningful connections?
Adam stressed that authenticity should be the foundation of any networking endeavor. It's crucial to approach networking with a sincere interest in others' experiences and achievements. By fostering real connections and building meaningful relationships, both parties can benefit and grow together.
“First and foremost, you must network authentically. You need to be gentle and ensure that the people you’re networking with do not feel like they're being used for their contacts and network. You should have some level of curiosity and interest in meeting people and learning about their successes and challenges because it's going to be helpful for you moving forward as well.”
Adam recommends using the various tools at your disposal today to make networking more effective.
“Use tools like LinkedIn or other industry groups or communities. Also, don't be afraid of setting up meetings for coffee or lunch, maybe a drink if you feel so inclined, a walk, or whatever works for you and the person that you're networking with. Try to set up a scenario where you have some personal interaction because looking people in the eye and hearing their stories build real connections. If you just give it some time, you will find that people really enjoy helping others unlock their potential.”
Finally, Adam highlighted that networking is a reciprocal process. Cultivating a network involves mutual support and collaboration, creating an environment where both parties can leverage each other's connections and expertise.
“Networking is a two-way street. If you're going to network with people, you need to ensure that you're available for others who would like to network with you and cultivate your network. Please make sure that you take advantage of other people's networks but that you allow people to take advantage of your network as well.”
As he’s become more senior in the industry, Adam feels it’s important to give back.
“People contact me and ask me for those coffees that I asked other people as I was coming up the ranks. And I'm always happy to sit down with people and make time to meet them.”
The power of mentorship in accelerating your legal career growth
Mentorship is a time-tested practice. As Adam emphasizes, finding a mentor can provide a significant advantage in honing your skills and navigating your legal career.
“The concept of mentoring actually goes back to ancient Greece, where young men were taught important social, spiritual, and personal values. I guess if it was good enough for the ancient Greeks, it's good enough for us today.”
Finding mentors within familiar territory
Many individuals find mentors within their own companies, establishing relationships that extend beyond the workplace. They can offer guidance, act as sounding boards, and provide invaluable insights into overcoming challenges and making successful career decisions.
“If you can find someone to mentor you in your career, you should definitely take advantage of the opportunity to sit and learn from them and make sure that you're open and vulnerable. Be honest and forthright with whoever's mentoring you. Allow the mentor to just advise you on how they tackled challenging issues throughout their career, overcome adversity during their career, or just how they've been successful in some of the decisions that they've made in their career.”
Adam goes on to share a practical example of his recent mentorship experience, which began as a business-focused conversation over Zoom and led to a lasting relationship.
“I was looking for guidance in how to prepare my company for a potential liquidity event. A law firm partner I knew introduced me to the General Counsel of a public company that has been through the IPO process already. And we had this introductory, business-focused conversation over Zoom. But then during the conversation, we ended up realizing that we lived in the same city. We hung up from our Zoom meeting and decided to set up another coffee meeting in where we lived. A month or so thereafter, we ended up having a few meetings where we just sat down and discussed the challenges of being a General Counsel, building a team, managing a team, managing personalities, career pathing, etc. Now I consider this GC to be a mentor of mine. She's helped me think through so many challenges of being a great legal leader, and I've also developed this nice friendship with her.”
The dynamic link between mentorship and networking
If you look at it, mentorship and networking are somewhat related. The lines between the two often blur as relationships develop organically. Sometimes a mentor becomes a gateway to networking opportunities, while in other instances, networking leads to a mentoring relationship.
Adam suggests that the key is to be open and put oneself out there, recognizing the potential in every professional interaction.
“They're crossovers because you just never know how the relationship is going to develop. You might start with someone who's a mentor who ultimately ends up helping you through your networking opportunities, or vice versa. You just never know until you put yourself out there.”
Gaining insights from peers and cross-functional perspectives
In the realm of mentorship, peer-to-peer relationships provide a unique avenue for personal and professional growth, allowing individuals to tap into the wealth of knowledge present within their professional networks.
Adam emphasizes the significance of engaging with professionals from various fields and functions to gain diverse perspectives and expand one's knowledge base.
“I have had mentoring conversations with CFOs, venture capitalists, some bankers, functional heads of tech companies, etc. I do that because I really want to learn their perspective on how they perform their roles or help educate me on issues that I haven't had as much familiarity with in the past.”
Adam shares an important example of his friendship with a venture capitalist. Through casual outings like watching basketball games and having lunches, they have engaged in deep conversations about the venture investing world.
“He's educated me on how he thinks through the world of venture investing because I want to understand how they're evaluating companies. As I start thinking about companies in my career, I wonder what makes a great company for the venture community. This will hopefully help me evaluate companies in a different light than seeing them with a legal eye.”
From contributor to captain: Navigating the path to legal leadership
More than mere experience and knowledge, transitioning from an individual contributor (IC) role to a legal management position requires strategic planning and continuous growth. According to Adam, it’s best to begin by establishing a strong foundation as an individual contributor in your specialized area of law.
“I came up in the ranks as a commercial attorney, and over time, I transitioned from an individual contributor doing commercial legal work to a manager of a small commercial team and then a manager of larger commercial teams and obviously became part of management level teams in legal departments.”
Becoming a legal generalist through exposure to various areas of law
To excel in a legal leadership role, it is essential to broaden your knowledge beyond your primary legal expertise. Adam emphasizes the importance of becoming a generalist and familiarizing oneself with various legal domains.
“Participating in legal management meetings exposed me to different legal issues, such as intellectual property, product-related matters, privacy, employment, corporate and securities, and compliance. Just by being involved in those meetings, I became much more familiar with the subject matter for those particular areas of legal departments. And those discussions just afforded me an opportunity to learn more about those areas of the law and prepared me to become more of a generalist in my role.”
It’s important to continuously expand your knowledge base and stay updated on developments in different legal domains to climb the ranks and find yourself managing a team.
“When I was approached by Intercom, they were looking for someone who had a great deal of commercial experience. But they were also looking for someone with enough comprehensive knowledge of other areas to build a legal department from the ground up, which is exactly what I did when I joined.”
Advocating legal value and educating the business
One critical aspect of assuming a legal leadership role is educating the company about the value that the legal department brings to the organization.
“The first thing to do is educate and evangelize the value of a legal department to a growing business that has not been exposed to what legal does and how legal can actually help the company scale. You're not just a lawyer at a company. You're helping educate the company as to what value you and your team bring as a legal team. Some companies just think of legal as a bit of a blocker, but we're quite the enabler if we do it right.”
It’s important to proactively educate the company about the contributions and strategic importance of the legal department. A foolproof way to do it is by establishing partnerships with business stakeholders and fostering a culture of trust and collaboration.
“Confidence is just critical. And then, you need to have that mindset of building partnerships with the business and establishing a level of trust with your clients. Also, don’t forget to hire and manage great people. Try to find talented legal professionals and enable them to do their jobs.”
Climbing the legal ladder: Insights for lawyers pursuing leadership roles
Drawing from his experience at Intercom, Adam offers some incredible advice for lawyers aspiring to assume legal leadership positions.
“Most legal leaders come from the background of either a corporate securities attorney at a big law firm, helping companies work through the corporate lifecycle of their growth, or commercial attorneys who understand the transactional aspect of the business and can support the accelerated contractual negotiations that occur in a growing company. They understand the mentality of commercial transactions. You'll see a few that come up through the ranks as litigators or maybe even employment attorneys, but it's usually either commercial or corporate securities attorneys that end up finding their way to these senior level roles.”
At the early stages of your career, whether at a law firm or in-house, Adam suggests concentrating on a specific area of the law, such as corporate securities, commercial, litigation, employment, privacy compliance, or others. It is crucial to become proficient in one or two disciplines through dedicated effort and experience.
To broaden your knowledge and increase your chances of being considered for a legal leadership role, Adam recommends actively pursuing generalist opportunities to gain exposure to other areas of the law.
“You should raise your hand and ask if you can get some more exposure to other areas of the law. If you're at a law firm, perhaps move from the litigation side of the house to the commercial side, and learn how to negotiate commercial contracts for your clients. If you're at a large company with a big legal department, you can move or shadow another team in your legal department part-time to learn about what they do. The more visibility you can obtain to become proficient in different areas of the law, the better chance you have of being considered for the roles of GC, Head of Legal, etc. Don't be afraid to try something different. Take advantage of whatever opportunities are presented to you.”
Adam’s advice on continually seeking avenues for learning and growth, even if they deviate from your initial focus, is indispensable. By demonstrating adaptability and a willingness to learn, you position yourself as a well-rounded legal professional capable of taking on leadership responsibilities.
Building a legal team from the ground up and hiring great talent
Once you’ve educated the company about the value a legal team brings to the table, it wouldn’t be late before you become part of intricate business functions, where you would need more resources.
Adam suggests learning the ins and outs of the business before putting effort into hiring.
“The first thing is to make sure you delve deeper into the business and the product. And then understand the strategic initiatives for the business. What is the business trying to accomplish? What are their goals, objectives over the next two quarters, four quarters, or six quarters? You can then focus your efforts and energies on ensuring that you're helping move the company forward with those objectives and goals.”
The second part includes building relationships by meeting people across the organization.
“Understand what's working for them and note the challenges they face when they have legal issues to overcome. How have they successfully worked through legal issues in the past? Have they actually worked through legal issues, or have they avoided them? That's something that you should know. Again, build those relationships.”
Once you know what the business is and how different teams deal with legal issues, it’s now time to allocate resources and figure out who will do what.
Adam suggests looking for talent who are subject-matter experts or have the ability to learn quickly. They should be solution-oriented people with a mindset to help your company overcome hurdles.
“If the business is very transactional in its nature, perhaps your first hire is going to be a commercial counsel to help you negotiate contracts. If the business is product-oriented and builds complicated products for large customers, consider someone with product and privacy experience, especially if you're processing or have a lot of data from your customers. You need someone that can help you think through the complexities of the product and all the privacy implications of the data. Or your business may be highly regulated and you may need someone with applicable regulatory and compliance experience.”
While hiring, it’s important to quickly decide where you want to position your resources without making legal a blocker for the company as a whole.
“Be thorough, but be quick in your decision-making. Don't overanalyze and waste too much time deciding where to put your resources because it's going to take you a while to find the right person. If your business is growing quickly, you need to move fast. The last thing you want is to become a blocker because the legal work will just continue to accelerate for your company and you won't have enough people on your legal team to be able to support it.”
Adam suggests taking into account the intelligence and emotional quotient of a candidate while hiring resources for the legal team. It should be someone with a capacity to build relationships across the company and have creativity in helping the organization figure out a path that's vital.
Adam follows a unique approach to hiring good talent. He invites them for interpersonal interactions once he’s finalized a candidate.
“When I've identified a candidate I really, really like and want to hire, I like to tell that candidate, ‘You're great. I'd love to meet you for a coffee. Let's sit down and see how we work.’ I tell them a little bit about myself and ask them about what they like. I think that's a really helpful last step in hiring before making a formal offer.”
Aligning legal strategy with customer-centric values of the business
Adam recognizes the significance of building strong customer relationships. He believes in adopting a customer-centric approach and aligning with the company's values to ensure success.
“Most companies have a very customer-centric focus. They'll have some form of explicit value which states ‘We are customer centric.’ This is the type of company that you really want to work for because it has a chance for great success. It really understands the importance of focusing on the customer. Customer relationships need to be built and managed over time because without customers and revenue, there is no company for you to provide legal services for.”
Drawing from his experience as a commercial attorney, Adam emphasizes the significance of customer relationships in driving revenue and sustaining the company's operations. Even during challenging negotiations, it is crucial to remember that customers are essential to the organization's success.
“Customers remember their interactions with their suppliers; they even remember their interactions with the legal department of their suppliers. And through those respectful interactions, you can help build long lasting relationships. I remember having conversations with lawyers at the companies we were selling to and there were some difficult conversations pertaining to the contract terms when we would have some sort of ‘sidebar conversations’. But building relationships with lawyers just helped smooth out the edges and I was able to leverage those relationships for subsequent negotiations with those customers."
Recognizing the symbiotic relationship between legal and sales, Adam emphasizes the importance of building strong connections with internal clients, particularly sales teams.
“A legal team really builds long standing and productive relationships with its sales team by helping them facilitate successful legal negotiations on a consistent basis. Don't forget about building relationships around customer success with your own internal clients as well.”
Finally, while negotiating, remember that not all customers are the same, and it is crucial to consider their individual characteristics when engaging in negotiations. Understanding different levels of risk tolerance and adapting negotiation strategies accordingly is key.
“Larger customers are traditionally going to be more risk-averse. They're not going to be as flexible. They might want to use their contract paper. So, you need to consider how to apply different levels of risk tolerance to those discussions. And you actually might need to acquiesce on some provisions that are important to you in an effort to get the negotiation completed.”
Taking time for personal growth: A step away from legal
When faced with the decision to temporarily step away, Adam received wise counsel from multiple sources, all echoing the same sentiment: Take some time off, give yourself the chance to decompress, and recharge.
Reflecting on this experience, Adam shares valuable insights on the importance of temporarily detaching oneself from the legal world to decompress and explore personal interests.
“There are some financial and personal factors to consider when making that decision. But setting up some ground rules helps, like taking two or four weeks or two or four months as a break. Go do something that you enjoy outside of the law, whether that's spending some time with your family, going to the gym, fishing, skiing or traveling the world. You can even write a book if you want. Just take that time and really give yourself a mental break. You only get so many breaks in your career; it's very easy to jump back in and find that next job.
Taking this pause is a reminder that life encompasses more than just professional achievements. It's about finding fulfillment in various aspects of our existence.
When the time comes to reenter the legal landscape, it is crucial to approach the next phase intentionally.
“Once you're ready to jump back in, know what you want in your next role. Be able to articulate what it is and why you want to do it. Be able to explain it. Leverage your network. Get your profile out there. Put some thoughtful posts on LinkedIn and other social media platforms that you think would be helpful. Meet people for coffee, go out for lunch, and don't be bashful about having conversations with people to help you figure out your next role.”
To listen to more of Adam’s insights on building relationships and navigating the line between commercial and legal, check out the full conversation on The Abstract.