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Mentor in Law: Volume 2 | July 2020 | Advice from Practicing and Non-Practicing Lawyers

 

VOLUME 2 | JULY 1, 2020

Topic: Advice from Practicing and Non-Practicing Lawyers

Contributors: Charlie Bingham, Liz Lee, Nehal Madhani, Susan Tien


I have been so grateful for the overwhelming support and enthusiasm for the Mentor in Law newsletter since its launch, from both law students and lawyers. It is incredible to see so many members of the legal community wanting to give back and help the new generation of lawyers. Based on the feedback I've received, I've decided to make Mentor in Law biweekly instead of monthly, with a new volume published on the 1st and 15th of every month. 

In addition to providing an opportunity to scale the advice and pay it forward, my goal for this newsletter is to amplify diverse voices in the legal profession, particularly first-generation and minority lawyers. Each volume will feature a diversity of thoughts, backgrounds, opinions, perspectives, and advice, as representation matters and different things will resonate with different people.

As always, if you have feedback or there is something you would like to see in particular, please reach out at [email protected].

With gratitude,
Nyssa
"Our ability to reach unity in diversity will be the beauty and the test of our civilization." Mahatma Gandhi
#MentorInLaw
 
 
Meet Charlie Bingham
 
In Charlie's words: "I am an award-winning technology attorney and visionary that uses technology and my platform as a Microsoft attorney to digitally transform and empower my clients and community to achieve more."
  • What is your current role and practice area?
As a member of Microsoft’s Corporate and External Legal Affairs (CELA) U.S. Regulated Industries Team, I support a multi-billion dollar business. My practice focuses on advising internal business clients on complex cloud computing and technology agreements with large public sector customers in the U.S. as well as advising on a variety of other strategic corporate matters.
  • Since hindsight is 20/20, what is one thing you would have done differently in law school? 
I would have asked more questions about the legal profession as a whole and how best to navigate the issues that minority attorneys face in corporate America.
  • What is something you wish you knew about the practice of law during your first 5 years of practice?
I wish I knew that there is a difference between a “service partner” and a “rain-making partner” and a difference between a “mentor” and a “sponsor."
  • What is the best career advice you've ever received?
Don’t let someone’s opinion of you define you, even if in corporate America perception can be considered reality sometimes.
  • What is one myth you’d bust about being a lawyer?
Lawyers are know-it-alls. I prefer to be a learn-it-all and at Microsoft, that has been valuable in my career since half of the job is knowing the right questions to ask.
  • What is one prediction that you would make about the future of law?
The idea that young lawyers must have large law firm experience to add value to a corporation will dissipate. I believe that the next generation of native digital learners will creatively find ways to learn and sharpen the skills they need to be successful. With the current digital transformation and the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, I think, more than ever, soft skills such as the ability to collaborate with others and build alliances to get things done will become increasingly important. Right now, I think cybersecurity, IP, and AI practice areas are in demand but what young lawyers need to understand is that these areas will likely shift, so they must get comfortable being uncomfortable and make a commitment to being lifelong learners.
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Meet Liz Lee
 
In Liz's words: "I’m a bleeding heart do-gooder who started out working on federal policy for a Congressman, then went to law school thinking I’d work in the nonprofit or government sector.  Instead, I found myself in the private sector, and I am still trying to figure out how I can help change the world."
  • What is your current role and practice area?
I’m counsel for T-Mobile, so my practice areas include consumer protection, regulatory compliance, crisis communications, social media, privacy, and IP.  I’m truly a generalist with the will to problem solve on the fly. 

In addition to my day job, I sit on the boards of the Asian Bar Association of Washington and the Henry Art Gallery, and am President Elect to the Alumnae Association of my alma mater, Scripps College.  I also volunteer with the University of Washington Entrepreneurial Law Clinic and Communities Rise. 
  • Since hindsight is 20/20, what is one thing you would have done differently in law school? 
As a first-generation law student in my family, I put an obscene amount of pressure on myself to do well – letting the fear of debt and the possibility of failure guide me rather than my desire to thrive. I thought I had no fallback, and while financially true, I would have channeled my scrappy origins to figure it out.  In hindsight, I would have prioritized my mental and physical health, as well as made time to have fun.
  • What is something you wish you knew about the practice of law during your first 5 years of practice?
I started out in a large law firm and had no mentors. I also had no idea how to ask for help or guidance. What I didn’t grasp was what “my practice” meant – that is, I needed to form my own board of directors and view myself as the business (or “the practice”) and not expect that anyone else would define what my career would look like or just volunteer to help me.   
  • What is one myth you’d bust about being a lawyer?
That successful lawyers are always aggressive or always right (or think they're right). For me, the most successful lawyers are those that can form trusting relationships with their clients and sometimes, that means being nice and showing vulnerability. 
  • What is one prediction that you would make about the future of law?
What we’ve seen with new technologies and more recently, rapid changes in business and political environments is that lawyers, firms, and legal departments need to be just as willing and able to quickly change practice areas or focus, as well as operational and business models. I think these changes will only accelerate in the future – so the more flexible you or your firm/department positions itself, the better off you’ll be to meet your clients’ needs.    
 
 
Meet Nehal Madhani
 

Nehal Madhani is the founder and CEO of Alt Legal, an IP docketing software that is trusted by Am Law firms, leading IP boutiques, and Fortune 100 companies to handle hundreds of thousands of filings daily. Before starting Alt Legal, Nehal was a practicing attorney at Kirkland & Ellis. 

  • What is your current role?
CEO of Alt Legal
  • What kind of law did you practice before?
Corporate restructuring
  • Why did you decide to leave the law?

I enjoyed practicing law, but everywhere I went, I found inefficient practices. Sometimes multiple times per day, I’d find myself thinking, “This could be automated!” Near the end, I realized that the current legal tech tools only automated a few of the manual processes, so I learned computer programming and started Alt Legal. 

In its first iteration, Alt Legal was intended to provide a smooth way for potential clients to find qualified attorneys and automate the administrative processes, but as I was creating the business, I prepared my own IP filings to protect the marketplace’s ideas and brand. But I encountered so many manual processes in IP prosecution that I decided to focus on that. 

My cofounders and I created a form that attorneys could use to seamlessly collect trademark application information and complete IP applications with just a few clicks. Then, our earliest customers asked us to create software to help them manage their trademark portfolio and deadlines. 

Almost immediately, I realized that I’d found my calling. Alt Legal was the perfect marriage between my passions for technology and the law. While I initially missed being an advocate for my clients, I quickly found a home in the IP community, and I now work to help and advocate for our customers.

  • What legal skills do you still use today?

Creating reliable legal technology requires us to fully know and understand the law. This means conducting legal research to design products and create processes to automate tasks. Even with our rather specific niche, we still need to understand deadlines for multiple filing types in hundreds of jurisdictions and keep up with seemingly constant changes in the law.

We also produce multiple legal content pieces per week, and those pieces require a comprehensive understanding of legal concepts, so I serve as legal fact-checker and educator for that content. I also manage our company’s legal operations, from drafting our legal documents to negotiating with partners, vendors, services providers, etc. In other words, despite not actively practicing law, I still use my legal skills on a daily basis!

  • Since hindsight is 20/20, what is one thing you would have done differently in law school?
Fortunately, I knew I was interested in entrepreneurship, so I focused my efforts on more business-oriented courses and activities, but it would certainly have been helpful to take more IP courses in law school.
  • What is one prediction that you would make about the future of law?
As software automates more administrative and substantive tasks that are traditionally completed by junior associates, law students will have to seek out more practical experiences—like clinics and externships—during law school.
  • What are two pieces of advice that you would give to those looking for opportunities outside the law?

1. Use LinkedIn and Twitter to identify organizations and people with whom you would like to work and reach out to them.

2. Don’t hesitate to try to create your own opportunities where none exist. 

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Meet Susan Tien
 

As the founder of Susan Tien Search, Susan recruits and places lawyers for clients ranging from venture-backed startups to Fortune 500 companies. She also co-authored the Vault career guide, Conquering Corporate America for Women and Minorities.

  • What is your current role?
Legal Search Consultant
  • What kind of law did you practice before?
Corporate/securities and IP litigation at Wilson Sonsini, and in-house tech transactions at eBay and SGI
  • Why did you decide to leave the law?

I disliked the politics of corporate America and the lack of clear metrics in measuring successful legal work.

  • What legal skills do you still use today?

Drafting, negotiating, interviewing, analyzing/closing matters out

  • What is the best advice you've received about networking?
Think about how you can be a resource to people
  • Since hindsight is 20/20, what is one thing you would have done differently in law school?
I would have tried to get to know my classmates better.
  • What is one prediction that you would make about the future of law?
Rates can’t keep going higher without the system changing.
  • What advice would you give to those looking for opportunities outside the law?

You can transfer your legal skills to a variety of professions, so know that it’s not such a big risk to take a job outside of law. Before you make the leap, make sure you research the area and talk to people who have done it already. If you can switch to an opportunity outside of the law with the same employer, I would do that, so you are working with an organization who already knows your worth. That way if you want to switch back to the law, the employer would likely allow that.

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