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How LinkedIn Prioritized Legal Ops As An Early-Stage Startup

In 2009, when LinkedIn was still considered a startup, Andrew Stephens, the current GC at MongoDB, was their Managing Counsel. Among many things, Andrew oversaw legal operations during the company’s meteoric rise. In fact, LinkedIn would hit the 70 million user mark within a year of Andrew joining (1).

The Power of a GC with a Legal Ops Mindset

When Andrew was a guest on my podcast, In-House Outliers, I asked him to share his unique perspective on building a new legal operations function in a rapidly growing startup environment. One where he was essentially architecting LinkedIn’s legal department on top of managing whatever fire was on that day, whether that was a large M&A transaction or a piece of litigation.

Andrew reflected, “It was a very exciting time. And, you know, it’s difficult to sort of carve out the time to think about legal operations. I’m hiring all the time, just getting more and more people with the right skill set in the seats and then let them take it from there.”

Andrew credits Erika Rottenberg, LinkedIn’s GC at the time, with understanding the need to build a legal department that was built to scale. Andrew shared that Erika’s mindset was that they couldn’t just think about the current revenue goal of 1 billion when architecting their department. They also had to consider what kind of legal support the company would need when they got to three billion, five billion, and so on. And that included a legal operations function.

The Power of Tapping into a Legal Operations Network

During our chat, Andrew acknowledged the profound influence of Connie Brenton in shaping his appreciation for legal operations. Connie, the Former VP of Legal Ops at NetApp and founder of both CLOC and Legalops.com, dedicated considerable time to enlightening Andrew.

He expressed his gratitude, stating, “I’m very grateful to a number of people. Connie Brenton, who many of you know, took hours with me.” Connie’s expertise and leadership have been instrumental in advancing the field of legal operations, making her a highly regarded figure in the industry.

“She’d come over, and we’d have lunch at LinkedIn, and she’d sort of just talk, and I’d be scribbling, seriously taking notes. I don’t think I ate a lot of lunch. She talked about how (legal operations) came to be, what the key attributes are, what you look for, and things like that.”

Andrew also shared that he attended Corporate Legal Operations Consortium (CLOC) meetings to understand how legal operations professionals approached things. He stressed that gaining a comprehensive understanding of the value and strategic considerations involved in establishing an effective legal operations function was incredibly value as he navigated a bustling startup environment.

Bringing Legal Operations Forward

Our podcast conversation also delved into his current role as General Counsel at MongoDB and the critical role legal operations would play in his strategy as a GC. In addition, we discussed the attributes of effective leadership and the importance of being a part of strategic planning discussions as a GC.

Andrew Stephens on the strategic impact that legal leaders can have on the business as a whole.

For an in-depth dive into Andrew Stephens’ wealth of experience as a seasoned legal leader and his valuable insights on the importance of legal operations at a fast-paced technology startup company, be sure to listen to the full In-House Outliers podcast interview.

Sources:

  1. Ann Byers (15 July 2013). Reid Hoffman and Linkedin.

Alex Kelly

Chief Operating Officer & Co-Founder at Brightflag

Alex co-founded Brightflag after spending more than six years at Matheson, Ireland’s largest law firm, in its financial institutions group. A legal technology thought leader, Alex is a frequent speaker at legal operations conferences on topics related to legal innovation and legal transformation.