This article features highlights from episode 12 of our podcast, The Abstract. You can listen to the full conversation here.
From managing crises to steering mergers and acquisitions, the role of a General Counsel is multifaceted. Brian Chase of ServiceChannel stands as a prime example of this versatility and strategic impact.
His career, stretching from foundational law firm roles at Gunderson Dettmer and Goodwin Procter to impactful positions at Foursquare and ServiceChannel, reflects a broad spectrum of legal expertise.
Brian's journey is marked by significant contributions to the tech and legal sectors, including his role as a founding member of TechGC. His experience in managing diverse legal functions and overseeing intricate company acquisitions provides a rich backdrop for discussion.
In this episode of The Abstract, we dive deep into Brian's approach to legal leadership, exploring how he has shaped his role and team to meet the demands of a rapidly changing corporate environment.
Adapting to corporate shifts and navigating new roles
Brian's journey at ServiceChannel is a tale of adaptation and growth. When he joined the company, it was under the ownership of a private equity group.
He witnessed firsthand the nuances and demands of working in a private equity-run tech company. However, the company's trajectory took a sharp turn when it was acquired by Fortive, a public conglomerate.
“Fortive is a publicly traded company. It is a holding company that has about 19 operating companies underneath it that further expand into a broad range of other companies. We are part of the interactive operating network. It’s been a different ride being part of a public organization.”
With this shift came new challenges and opportunities. Brian found himself adapting to changing responsibilities and reporting structures.
“There were a lot of responsibilities that I had as a private company General Counsel that were no longer under my purview, and I fell into a rut where I stopped being a General Counsel and became more of a VP of legal, as I only responded on legal questions. I'd sit in leadership meetings and I'd say ‘Oh, from a legal perspective…’, which is really weird because I used to argue that I would never do that.”
Transitioning to a public company, Brian faced a different reporting structure, adjusting his approach to align with the broader organizational framework.
"I do not report to Fortive's General Counsel. I report to the president of ServiceChannel...I have a dotted line reporting requirement up to Fortive. So when it comes to quarterly and annual reporting, there's certain reporting that I need to do to Fortive."
After six months of being unhappy with his job, Brian let the management know what he really wanted to do in his mid-cycle review.
“I am participating a lot more broadly in a lot of things that aren't even closely related. I support the finance, product, and marketing teams from professional experiences instead of just legal ones.”
Brian emphasizes the importance of being proactive and maintaining open lines of communication, especially during such transitions.
“We have to remember that we are valuable members of the company that's part of an acquisition. We helped them through the acquisition. We know stuff that they will take a long time to learn. This is something I wish I had done from the get go.”
Redefining the role of General Counsel in modern business
Brian Chase’s career exemplifies the evolving role of a General Counsel, extending far beyond traditional legal boundaries. He shares how his role often intertwined with various business aspects.
"I have been very fortunate in my in-house positions to be much more than just the legal advisor. I worked very closely with the CEO and CFO. We would communicate on things that were way beyond legal. So, in those conversations, I brought up how the company was in a place where we could benefit from venture funds.”
Brian's involvement in ServiceChannel spanned diverse functions, including HR and sales operations, reflecting the expanding scope of the modern GC.
"I started as employee thirty-one at Foursquare, where I had been involved in a lot of extra things. One surprise that I got within my first week of being hired was that during my interview process, they had mentioned they had just hired a head of HR. When I joined, they didn't have a head HR because the person had declined in the period between those two conversations and they asked me to take over HR responsibilities.
When there weren't people to fit a role, I was more willing to go for it. So when there wasn't somebody to run sales ops, I helped with it. When we learned that there was no lease management group, I helped with lease management.”
As the first General Counsel of Foursquare, Brian was deeply embedded in the business, contributing far beyond his legal role.
Building a dynamic legal team in the face of budget constraints
Brian emphasizes the importance of resourcefulness in building a legal team, especially when budget constraints limit hiring for senior roles.
"I always end up in the situation where I'm seen as a cost center, where I start out with the budget at the beginning of the year to get a General Counsel, an Associate General Counsel, or a Corporate Attorney that they would then chop up. When I was at Foursquare, there was just a lot of stuff going on in trademarks and managing contracts. And so, I went to hire a trademark paralegal with contract management experience."
Hiring non-attorneys and training them from the ground up has been a key strategy for Brian. He speaks about the growth and versatility his team members have shown.
"The paralegals that I've hired have wanted to do much more than just the initial jobs. It's been fun for me as well to see these individuals grow and learn, and it teaches me as well, because when you're teaching something, the gaps in your understanding become very apparent. I taught the trademark paralegal how to do NDAs, co-promotion agreements, and license agreements as well. She now manages 99% of our commercial contracts and goes toe to toe with law firm trained attorneys.”
Brian recognizes the unique skills non-lawyers bring to legal departments, filling roles that lawyers may not be best suited for.
"There may be those who are not law firm trained who will have skill sets that we can use...different legal tools, different processes. There may be tools that a legal minded person won't understand how to use or set up the backend of the rules and workflows. You've got to be creative and find people in other groups who are a little bit more interested in maybe the initial creation of drafts of agreements. You could use them because the initial draft creation doesn't really need a lawyer if you're using your forms.”
Enhancing legal careers through strategic networking
Brian underscores the crucial role of networking in legal careers, emphasizing its significance in navigating through different roles.
"I don't think I've had to dust off my resume for quite a while, fortunately. I definitely do feel strongly about networking."
He highlights the importance of building a network within the company, including team members, company leaders, and cross-functional teams.
"At Foursquare, I had the great opportunity to meet a wonderful attorney, David Pashman ,who at the time was at a meetup. We were both USV attorneys at the time. We then met Sarah Feingold and we started to have regular dinners and lunches with a small group of individuals in New York. We then started to get CLE credit and people started reaching out to us to participate. One of those individuals is Karen Lingam who is now one of the founders of TechGC."
Brian also discusses the value of external networking opportunities, such as his involvement with TechGC from its inception.
“I was on the panels every single time because it was small. Now, I just get to be a lucky participant who goes and attends. But I make sure to attend because you never know who you're going to meet, who's going to open the door to the future. So I am definitely a big proponent of increasing your network.”
Brian describes himself as a 'connector,' adept at identifying the right person for specific needs within his network.
"One of my strengths is I'm a connector. It's not necessarily that I'm not a networker but I'm a person who likes to grab different buckets of knowledge of who knows what, and so, people come to me to ask for, let’s say, the travel policy and I direct them to the person who would know about it! So I'm really good at being a switchboard. This strength has helped build that rapport with everybody, knowing that they can trust me. If I don’t know something, I'm really interested to learn it with them.”
He reflects on the importance of engaging with board members, moving beyond a mere 'corporate secretary' role to build more substantive connections.
"I think that's one area where I could have done better. I don't think I showed them my full skill set because I think I held back. GCs go to lunch regularly with board members. They would have out-of-board meeting relationships with them, making future opportunities easier.”
Brian’s multifaceted role, embracing various business functions beyond the legal department, and his emphasis on the power of networking and team building, are exemplary for modern legal careers.
For younger lawyers, Brian advises building a strong foundation of knowledge in a law firm setting, an experience he deems crucial for long-term success in the legal field.
"I am a huge proponent for law school graduates to go to a law firm. The foundation that I have from my law firm days has assisted me in becoming the attorney I am."
To delve deeper into Brian Chase's experiences and glean more wisdom, listen to the full podcast episode of The Abstract here.