Emerging as a legal leader in technology companies requires a special amalgamation of expertise and passion. Meet Ken Priore, a seasoned legal professional with extensive experience in privacy, global partnerships, and product counseling at the forefront of numerous tech companies.
As a Director of Privacy at Atlassian, he integrated privacy-by-design principles into product development, conducted privacy impact assessments, and led a team that developed a comprehensive Global Privacy Program. Prior to that, as a Global Director of Legal at Box, Ken led negotiations for strategic partnerships, including cloud service agreements with major companies such as Google and IBM. He also served as General Counsel for the highly successful mobile dating application Grindr.
From his early days in the world of financial services to his deep dive into the start-up ecosystem, Ken's journey has been marked by an insatiable curiosity for what's new and groundbreaking.
“I was really drawn to the new technology, what was groundbreaking, what hadn't been done before, etc. And that started to become a theme throughout my career as I was developing as a professional. I've worked in a lot of different domains, everything from e-learning, payment processors, and mobile applications to dating apps, smart city technology, and enterprise collaboration software. And one thing that I wanted to know the answer to was, ‘What are we doing differently?’”
In this exclusive interview, we delve into Ken's professional trajectory and uncover the underlying themes that have guided his journey.
Passion and adaptability: Key factors in shifting between in-house and law firm careers
Ken emphasizes that when navigating transitions between in-house roles and law firm positions, one key element that significantly contributes to success is passion in one's work. This is particularly evident in his own journey, where his profound enthusiasm for technology has played a pivotal role in propelling him towards a fulfilling career within the tech industry.
“The more you’re excited about something, the more opportunities you have to look at companies in that domain and what they're doing to be able to speak their language. This is the reason why I think I was successful at going in-house at a financial services firm, as I spoke the language very deeply. And so, even though I was very early in my career, I had an in-depth domain knowledge of how aspects of financial services worked.”
The ability to adapt and learn quickly is another critical factor in transitioning between in-house and law firm roles.
According to Ken, when encountering new domains or industries, it is important to demonstrate a willingness to go beyond the surface level and immerse yourself in the subject matter.
“Silver Spring Networks was a company that developed smart city technology, and there were a lot of domains there that I didn't know. I hadn't worked in hardware before, but I had a bit of background in the software side. But I had a really deep curiosity to spend extra time sitting with folks to understand how the manufacturing process worked and the acronyms they were using. A big thing that I will always request from folks as I work in new organizations and projects is to bring me to some of the team meetings, even when there’s no need for legal to be in there. Through this, I am able to absorb the way they work, collaborate, and communicate.”
This broader perspective will enable you to frame legal advice in a language that resonates with the business teams you support. Effectively bridging the gap between legal requirements and business objectives is crucial for success in an in-house role.
Ken also emphasizes on looking beyond the traditional framework of law school education. These non-legal experiences can offer a fresh perspective and contribute to a more well-rounded approach when advising clients or tackling legal issues.
“I went to law school for a couple of reasons. One was that I wanted to figure out the world. I came from a pretty humble background. My dad was a janitor, my mom worked in the kitchens. A lot of how I've moved through the world has been me figuring things out. And there was something very powerful in having law school as a training. But that curiosity to figure out the world is broader than that. It helps me get an understanding of how I can be of service and how I can find a place in the world that I find contentment and happiness in.”
Maximizing opportunities with companies in varied growth phases
Working at early-stage and enterprise companies can offer vastly different experiences and challenges. Ken's experiences at early-stage companies like Grindr, compared to the corporate culture at companies like Box, provide valuable insights into these differences.
Embracing early-stage potential
Ken shares his experience with Grindr, an early-stage company that caught his attention due to its groundbreaking concept. He recounts the story of how he reached out to the founders to express his enthusiasm and offer assistance.
“Someone said to me, ‘Hey, look at this. This is a super interesting app.’ The proverbial light bulb went off in the back of my head and I thought Grindr was something different, both in terms of the way the technology worked and what it could mean for the queer community. I InMail-ed the person who registered Grindr as an LLC on LinkedIn and introduced myself. I expressed that despite their early days, I was excited about their app.”
Ken explains how in an early-stage environment, such as at Grindr, companies are typically small and agile, with a handful of people working towards a shared vision. Joining an early-stage company requires a flexible mindset and a willingness to wear multiple hats.
“I was there to solve legal problems such as how to structure the capital aspect of the company, how to handle disputes and interfaces with regulators and law enforcement, etc. But then there were aspects where I got to lead the leadership team to off-sites and helped them plan for the next six months.”
Working at an early-stage company provides opportunities for personal and professional growth. Ken mentions being humbled by the team's trust in his ability to contribute beyond his legal expertise.
“This experience allowed me to mature my understanding of what a counsel can be, realizing the importance of being able to switch between different roles and perspectives. Working for Grindr had all the permutations of any start-up that's in a growth period. But it also allowed me to view my professional self in a different way.”
Thriving in enterprise environments
Moving to a different aspect of Ken's journey, we delve into his time at Box, where he highlights the unexpected blend of professionalism and levity.
“At Box, there was this cultural foundation that it’s okay to be authentic and fun and add levity to the work that we were doing while being professional. It was something that was quite unexpected, and I found myself being able to drop into modes where we would be talking about something incredibly technical or impactful. We were folks who were trying to solve a problem. There was a lightness to the way that work was done there that I hadn't quite seen before at larger companies.”
Working at early-stage and enterprise companies brings different experiences and challenges. Understanding these differences and being adaptable to different working environments can greatly contribute to a successful career in both contexts.
Building products with privacy in mind: A privacy counsel's perspective
Ken's expertise in privacy law has played a significant role in his career, shaping his approach to building products, his experiences at Atlassian, transitioning from multiple responsibilities to a focused role, and handling data breaches and high-profile crises.
A legal professional’s role in privacy and product counseling involves establishing a framework for building products that prioritize data privacy and compliance.
“The thing about privacy is identifying what data is involved, how we are sharing it, and how we are going to be compliant in that sharing.”
Ken's move from Box to Atlassian facilitated a shift in his professional focus, placing privacy at the forefront of his responsibilities. With his extensive background in enterprise-focused practices at Box, Ken seamlessly aligned with Atlassian's environment.
“The shift didn't feel as dramatic as I thought it would, probably because of the grounding in privacy that I had previously at Box. And because Box was such an enterprise-focused organization, coming to Atlassian, I was actually bringing that enterprise-first mindset. From a compliance perspective, it just became a natural, easy transition. To be successful in enterprise sales, you need to have compliant products and that translates really well coming into a role where you're supporting those data privacy compliance processes.”
He highlights that at the core, it all comes down to whether you are excited about doing something new while leveraging the learnings from your past roles.
“What worked for me was that I was able to have a clear sense of what my first principles were around building partnerships, building privacy compliance, supporting teams, and product counseling. As in-house counsel, having that sense of principles and how to get work done allows you to work in a lot of different environments in a way that could feel fairly seamless."
Ken's experience also extends to handling data breaches and high-profile crises. He draws upon his previous roles and network to effectively respond to these situations.
“At Grindr, we had data breaches that made it to the front page of the Sydney Herald and we had to respond to it quickly. I had gone through data breaches in previous roles, so it was very fortunate that when those happened, I was able to pull in the crisis comms and act as the force to help chalk out the path to respond. I brought in folks from my professional network to help deal with the crises.”
Throughout his career, Ken's curiosity and passion have been driving forces in his journey as an attorney. For legal professionals, it’s important to be adaptable and connect past knowledge from different domains to newer roles.
“If you have a passion for what's in front of you, you'll take all of the past knowledge in different domains and carry it through to something different. You can go from a mobile dating environment where it was all about mobile technology to a smart city technology where it really is all about data compliance.”
Three pillars of success: Resilience, relationships, and user-centricity
From his time at Grindr, Ken details three key takeaways that have shaped his perspective on organizational growth, relationships, and user-centric decision-making.
#1 Resilience in an ever-changing environment
Working in a rapidly growing organization demands resilience.
“Anyone in an in-house role at an organization experiencing exponential growth should find resilience, because plans are constantly changing due to internal and external forces.”
#2 Nurturing people and relationships
Ken emphasizes the significance of building strong relationships, as they form the foundation of any successful organization.
“You can never overinvest time and energy into gaining an understanding of the people you're working with internally and externally, because those connections are what form the organization. A big takeaway is fostering and building those connections and relationships.”
#3 User-centric decision-making
Ken highlights the significance of keeping users at the forefront of every decision. Regardless of the industry, understanding and meeting the needs of customers or users is paramount.
“Don't lose sight of your users. Put them at the top of every decision that you make. With Grindr, this became really interesting since I had a financial services background and a very ingrained sense of handling user data with a lot of seriousness. I always bring that back to the first principle of knowing what our customers want, what they are trying to land, and to not get desensitized. This will always be a good weather vane for making decisions.”
From boxes to boundless: A journey of career exploration and growth
Ken recognizes the tendency to confine in-house counsel within specific boxes, often leading to under-appreciation and limited opportunities for growth.
“I think in-house counsel are put into boxes, and the under-appreciation is often because folks want to check that box to get through to the next stage.”
Rather than fixating on predefined roles or titles, Ken focuses on identifying opportunities where he can make meaningful contributions.
“Some folks will always want to say ‘I just need legal to approve this.’ And in some roles, sometimes that is what you are doing. But I do think that underappreciation comes from a restrictiveness of what legal can do in an organization.”
Ken recognizes that career progression does not solely depend on climbing a predefined ladder. Instead, he emphasizes the importance of continuous learning and taking on diverse challenges to acquire new skills and knowledge.
Making decisions guided by intuition and evidence
When it comes to decision-making, Ken emphasizes the interplay between instinct-based decisions and data-driven decisions.
“While making decisions, I listen to the instinct and then try to look for the data that supports the instinct. I think it's very important to be data-driven in any way that you make decisions. It's important to be an evidence-based lawyer, especially in the technology space. At the same time, I'm a big proponent of intuition and gut. For me, it's worked really well. It’s also important to be humble and curious to know that sometimes your gut can be wrong.”
Ken advocates for building a network of colleagues, particularly those in similar roles or organizations, to foster problem-solving and knowledge-sharing.
“Try to build a network of colleagues who are in other organizations or have similar roles and figure out a way to build those connections. I often offer my connections to catch up for a session to chat about challenges in privacy where I can share what I’m doing. If you see someone who posts something interesting in your research, they will be very open to talk about it. Fostering those connections is an important tool when you’re working in-house.”
By seeking validation for initial instincts, building problem-solving networks, and engaging with communities for in-house counsel, legal professionals can enhance their decision-making capabilities, tap into collective wisdom, and foster professional growth.
Maximizing resources: The ROI of investing in legal operations
Ken emphasizes that a comprehensive and well-structured legal ops team is essential for scaling operations within an organization.
“You cannot scale without a comprehensive and well-structured legal ops team. I've worked in organizations where legal ops have been just a person who is usually overstressed and working a lot of tools. And I've worked with teams that have been more structured. The first thing is to be very clear and have an understanding of how you want to use an operations team.”
According to Ken, legal ops professionals play a vital role in problem-solving, both through manual processes and technology solutions. They collaborate with legal counsel to identify the most effective approach to handle various tasks and projects.
“Legal ops team members focus on the core problem. When I have a legal ops team, I'm not focused on tasks that aren't the best use of my time. So if, for privacy, there's a whole new set of documentation that we need to put out, legal ops can help me do this. They figure out what we can do manually, what we can automate, and identify who are the most important or valued customers.
Ken also shares his experience of witnessing individuals transition from legal ops roles to counsel positions within organizations. This highlights the value and transferability of skills gained through working in legal ops.
“I've been really fortunate to see folks move from legal ops roles to attorney positions. Because they started there, they went to law school, and then we were able to move them into counsel roles.”
Ken highlights the importance of allocating resources to support legal ops initiatives.
“Legal ops is not bifurcated from the work that lawyers do. And there have been moments in the past where I put my hand up and said I need resources. And rather than funding another legal lawyer role, I funded a legal ops program manager because I knew the value I was going to get from having legal ops in the team.”
The “Red Button” dilemma: Making quick decisions with limited information
Being an in-house counsel comes with its share of frustrations. For Ken, one of the primary frustrations is being brought into discussions and decision-making processes late in the game.
“Often, you'll be brought late into a product cycle and there’s very limited time for you to prepare legal advice. And the reality is that your company is launching the product; you just have to make the best decision or give out the best guidance you can with the best information you have.”
In such situations, legal professionals are often forced to make Minimum Viable Product (MVP) decisions. This can be challenging as it may not allow for a comprehensive analysis or an in-depth consideration of all legal aspects.
As an in-house counsel, the responsibility often lies in making decisions that balance legal compliance with business needs.
“There are very few things in the world I will push the red button on, because almost anything can be answered without a full stop. But you often have to figure out if there’s anything problematic when a situation arises where you have to make quick decisions. That happens in every organization.”
Despite these frustrations, in-house counsel play a crucial role in guiding organizations through legal complexities, managing risks, and ensuring compliance. Their expertise and inputs are vital to informed decision-making and protecting the organization's interests.
Guiding AI adoption within the org: The importance of clear policies
In the realm of AI, it's inevitable that organizations will encounter its use, whether intentionally implemented or adopted by employees. Recognizing this reality, it becomes imperative to establish comprehensive policies and guidelines for responsible and effective use of AI technology.
Empowering employees with the knowledge and tools to leverage AI responsibly is critical for ensuring its beneficial and secure integration within the organization.
“Most organizations are realizing that they should have a policy in place for AI adoption, because, otherwise, there's a risk of customer data or confidential data being put into the public tooling.”
Ken himself utilizes AI in his day-to-day work, primarily employing it for the purpose of summarizing lengthy documents and generating images.
“I use the summary function for public documentation or technical documentation as a first step to get a summary of a 40-page document on encryption techniques. That's generally been my limited use. Oh, and I play with image creation. A couple of my posts on LinkedIn have AI-generated images.”
When considering the adoption of AI tools, organizations must assess the risks associated with data use. Many AI tools have the capacity to ingest and process vast amounts of data, raising concerns about data privacy and security.
“For those organizations that are ingesting new tooling, you need to figure out where you are on the risk meter from the data use perspective.”
For developers and technologists eager to explore AI's potential for their product, Ken suggests establishing a sandboxed environment.
“With generative AI, you can't really define what the use cases are right now. So, to ensure people aren't coming to legal for every test use case, you can just create a sandbox to let them explore and come to you when they're ready to expose something to the customer or they've got a product behind it. It's going to create a better environment for both your technologists and for you.”
Ken's go-to sources for staying informed about the legal world
Staying updated and informed in the legal field is essential for in-house counsel. Ken mentions several sources that he relies on to stay up to date.
- IAPP (International Association of Privacy Professionals)
- Fieldfisher Law Firm
- Regulatory Organizations
By leveraging these sources, you can stay informed about legal developments, regulatory changes, and industry-specific topics, ensuring you are well-equipped to navigate complex legal landscapes and provide valuable guidance to your organization.