From the outset of her career, Charlotte found herself immersed in entrepreneurial culture, starting from the challenging role of advising companies at Debevoise & Plimpton. These demanding roles provided her with invaluable experience, laying the foundation for her future endeavors as an in-house counsel.
“Traveling around the world and coming up with practical advice to help companies fix ethics violations, employment disputes, anti-bribery issues, AML issues, etc., was really great training for an in-house role. The investigation world is very much a pragmatic problem-fixing, and issue-spotting world. And that is really what you do as in-house counsel.”
Driven by her entrepreneurial spirit, she established her own company, The Shoplift, which very quickly immersed her in everything about start-ups. And later, her temporary stint at a matrimonial law firm (intended to provide backup income during her start-up runway) actually provided a deep understanding of human emotions and how to get to “yes” in a highly-charged environment.
Charlotte eventually joined Adore Me as a Chief Legal and Administrative Officer (CLO), where she has spent the past seven years building the legal and people functions from the ground up and transforming them into vital components of the organization.
Adore Me is a successful direct-to-consumer women's intimate apparel brand headquartered in the vibrant city of New York. It was recently acquired by Victoria’s Secret.
In this conversation with Charlotte, she takes us through her journey of leveraging entrepreneurship experience as a lawyer to enable businesses to make ethical and smart decisions.
Beyond the law: The GC's influence on company strategy and culture
In her role as the CLO and CAO, Charlotte's purview encompasses various aspects of the company's operations, not limited to legal affairs alone. She plays a crucial role in shaping Adore Me's overall strategy and decision-making processes.
“The legal function covers various areas such as litigation, M&A, real estate, employment, IP, transactions, contracts, corporate governance, and board governance. Additionally, it includes other aspects like insurance, risk advisory, GDPR, and privacy compliance, which are related to legal and risk considerations. The people function, initially handled by the CFO, was later transitioned to me and our COO, and we currently oversee it. We also manage marketing compliance, customer relations, and customer happiness, ensuring a customer-centric approach in designing their journey. Overall, the legal function is extensive, encompassing multiple areas and emphasizing the values of our company.”
Charlotte emphasizes the need for leadership to make informed decisions, minimizing risks and avoiding potential pitfalls. From her experience, she has realized that being a GC involves recognizing the broader implications of our actions and ensuring that the company conducts itself responsibly and with integrity.
“I think the biggest part of my job is being an advisor and being an adult in the room. In a start-up, especially when you're in a team of young people, who have never had much exposure to lawyers, you have to be very careful of what you say. You can create waves that ripple through the ecosystem with unintended consequences. And so, as the adults in the room, you need to be the one advising the CEO, advising the board on how to conduct mature and ethical business practices.”
Ultimately, the goal is to foster a culture of compliance, maturity, and ethical conduct throughout the organization. By serving as a trusted advisor and advocate for ethical business practices, the General Counsel plays a crucial role in shaping the company's trajectory and reputation.
The D2C lawyer's dual duty: Balancing risk and reputation
Charlotte explains that being a lawyer in the direct-to-consumer (D2C) space involves unique responsibilities and opportunities. In this dynamic landscape, lawyers have duties to various stakeholders and play a crucial role that extends beyond risk mitigation.
“You have a number of stakeholders to whom you owe responsibilities and duties, such as the company who employs you or the stakeholders of the corporation to whom you owe fiduciary duties. But you also owe duties to the customer in a more personal way than lawyers in a SaaS or B2B environment.”
What sets a company apart is their commitment to customers, encompassing a deep understanding of their needs, maintaining trust, and upholding their rights. Whether in the direct-to-consumer space or any other industry, prioritizing the customer and making decisions with their best interests in mind is crucial.
“As a lawyer, when dealing with customers, influencers, or people outside or inside of your business, the concept of risk mitigation is always present in your mind. However, you need to view the situation not only through the lens of risk mitigation but also with a focus on building your brand and customer reputation. This should be at the forefront of your mind anytime you're dealing with people both outside and inside the organization.”
Moreover, D2C law requires innovative thinking, flexibility, and ethical conscience, says Charlotte.
“Your solutions can never be just the letter of the law. They have to take into account the various stakeholders who have an interest in your solutions. Work with the business as opposed to against the business. You don’t want to be the one who says ‘no.’ You want to be the one who says ‘yes, and’ in a game of improv, you want to be a partner to the business. Also, ensure that your ethical needle always points true north. You are the conscience of the business, and that is a duty that any lawyer should always remember.”
Ethics at the helm: The GC's role in driving ethical decisions
The GC serves as the conscience of the business, ensuring that the company's actions align with high moral standards. This responsibility extends beyond risk mitigation and involves making good decisions even when no one else is looking.
“You are not going to be rewarded for making smart business decisions that no one will ever see. When you mitigate risk, when you avoid a problem, no one is ever going to say, ‘good job,’ for avoiding that problem because the problem never came to fruition. But that's doing a good job. You're making good, ethical, smart decisions.”
In the case of Adore Me, sustainability had become a fundamental pillar of their mission. The company recognizes the moral responsibility they have as a fashion brand to contribute positively to the environment.
“In 2021, we reincorporated as a public benefit corporation and, in 2022, we became a certified B-Corp. Our mission is to move fashion forward and do good for the environment while doing good for our customers. We intend to introduce sustainability at all levels of our organization and throughout the manufacturing, distribution and production, and marketing of our products.”
As the CLO, Charlotte plays a vital role in this shift towards sustainability. She provides advice and serves as an ethical voice within the organization. She actively contributes to the development of Adore Me's annual ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) report, ensuring it accurately reflects the company's progress and future goals.
“I'm not involved in the primary drafting phase. I give very significant commentary and push our team to deliver an ESG report that is true to our stakeholders and company, as well as inspirational and powerful for the future.”
Moreover, Charlotte is spearheading the launch of a charitable foundation for Adore Me, which aims to further their corporate giving efforts.
“We're calling it Fondation Adore Me (FAM). It's going to be a great opportunity for us to solidify and push forward our E and G missions. We have created three different silos of corporate giving, employee matching and employee engagement, and product donations. This year, we aim to give at least $500,000, with a goal over the next five years of giving $5 million to causes that are important to us, such as women in tech and women’s health.”
By driving ethical decisions and a company’s ESG mission, the GC assumes a vital role in shaping the company's overall direction and impact. In doing so, they become an instrumental force in driving positive change and making a meaningful difference within the organization and beyond.
The entrepreneurial edge: How start-ups shape lawyers' business perspective
Charlotte has been through an interesting entrepreneurial journey, which gave her valuable insights and skills that brought her closer to understanding business. Her entrepreneurial experience taught her to remain composed and level-headed, even in the face of challenging situations.
“I think entrepreneurship has made me calmer. There is no room I can walk into at Adore Me where a problem thrown at me can get me unsettled because I've already done the worst of the Wild West. Coming to Adore Me at a Series B stage is like going to Coca-Cola after starting a start-up, which is just chaos. So, I am unfazeable and unflappable as a result. It has also taught me to be a more flexible business partner.”
This calmness has enabled Charlotte time and again to approach issues with clarity and make sound decisions, contributing to a more efficient and effective legal counsel.
Charlotte also advises lawyers to take risks their competitors won't take. Start-ups often operate in highly competitive markets, where taking calculated risks can be crucial for survival and growth.
“It's a highly competitive world out there and when you're up against incumbents like our parent company, Victoria’s Secret, who have an outsized market share, you need to be willing to take risks that they can't or won't take in order to stay alive. Being at a start-up, especially a failing start-up, made me realize the importance of those risks. It also made me realize the importance of being able to pivot and move fast. The mistake we made at my start-up was wanting everything to be great all the time. Everything can't be great all the time. As a lawyer, it might be antithetical to your training to accept good rather than great, but in the start-up world, sometimes you have to make that compromise in order to best serve the business and its stakeholders.”
This flexibility in accepting "good enough" solutions allows you to move forward, make progress, and iterate when necessary.
Charlotte’s experience as a lawyer entrepreneur-turned-GC showcases her ability to assess risks, balance legal compliance, and entrepreneurial ambition that set her apart as a valuable asset to Adore Me.
“Three things that I gained from my start-up experience were commercial sensibility, a continued spirit of entrepreneurship, and a realistic approach to risk and reward balances.”
Charlotte recommends that lawyers explore entrepreneurship for several reasons. Not only does it offer unparalleled opportunities for growth, learning, and self-discovery, but it is also an exhilarating experience.
“I think that being an entrepreneur is the most exciting thing that you can do. It's the riskiest thing you can do, which is hard for lawyers, but it is the most exciting and most fun experience you'll ever have. The lessons that it will teach you will carry through the rest of your life, both work and personal.”