Moving in-house from a senior private practice position is a huge decision. However, in 2022, we have already seen three significant hires made in Asia’s technology or fintech industry, Joshua Chu going to Coinllectibles, Julie Gao to ByteDance, and Charlton Tse to Tencent. So, is this a prescient time to take a General Counsel/Chief Legal Officer at a tech/fintech company?
In the past, law firms’ partners have been reluctant to move in-house. Most senior lawyers thought they would enjoy less prestige, admittedly for a work-life balance trade-off. The pandemic has posed challenges for various industries, including the legal sector, but tech and fintech companies seem to have successfully overcome these challenges across Asia. While many people were locked down and worked from home, demanding online/networking solutions and fintech services, there was an explosion of digital/online networking products and fintech services. As a result, these companies continue to expand on headcount and revenue that lure top-tier lawyers to address market changes in a way that navigates the complex and rapidly changing legal environment.
Companies may have traditionally viewed security, compliance, and legal as costs and obstacles that slow down their businesses. However, in fast-growing, heavily regulated tech and financial industries, data protection, cyber-crime, and the myriad regulations covering money movement have become more challenging so addressing these issues effectively is core to product and business viability in the long term. Also, multinational tech or fintech companies have grappled with numerous regulatory disputes worldwide on topics such as operating licenses, employees’ rights, and controversies over their strategic business directions. Thus, more startup, tech, and fintech companies started hiring top-tier lawyers to take General Counsel and C-suite roles to ensure that companies can cope with requirements and restrictions set out by regulators.
More and more tech and fintech companies are operating globally. Global operations need legal departments in each of the countries where they are conducting business. Their general counsels and chief legal officers need to oversee or work in conjunction with their foreign counterparts. Instead of working in a single jurisdiction, this is a very appealing opportunity for some senior lawyers with multinational qualifications and experience looking for international exposure.
So now seems an opportune time to move in-house. We expect to see more top-tier law firms’ partners and senior associates moving in-house to tech or fintech companies, but let us be clear that it is not for every partner: experience, attitude, and personality matter. Experience-wise, you must have excellent judgment, maturity, and a commercial mindset to develop strong relationships with businesspeople and gain their trust by not falling into the trap of being the “no” person. Rather you must be the pragmatic person who balances risks with business demands and tries to find a way to get the deal done. In achieving this, the knowledge of how the business works and industry-relevant subject matter experience are required, which is why lawyers often join existing clients. They will also be shifting from revenue generators to corporate monitors. Finally, a good team player will be best suited to working in-house as they can build relationships in-house and gain a reputation for being resourceful.