I recently moderated a panel at General Assembly for lawyers interested in making a career transition into tech. It was a solid lineup: Veronica Picciafuoco, Content Manager at Docracy, Ben Rossen, co-founder of Smallknot, and Isaac Tilton, founder of Legalshare.
Whereas the last panel I participated in focused on legal roles at mature companies — the other panelists were the general counsels of Etsy, Foursquare and Meetup — this one explored working at early stage companies.
Lawyers ask me all the time about how to get into tech, and my main advice to them is to understand that there is no set path. This is especially true with early stage companies. Very few need a full-time lawyer. For most, legal is at best an afterthought, and at worst just an obstacle in the way of getting business done.
As a lawyer looking to move into tech, you need to emphasize your transferable skills. These could include your analytical and negotiating aptitude, client relations experience, writing ability, attention to detail and relevant domain expertise. These skills have real value even though you didn’t acquire them working in startups.
One of the best ways to understand how you can be useful at a startup is to talk to early stage companies about their pain points and needs, and not in a strictly legal sense. At first, you may even need to offer up your time and help for free. It’ll be a worthwhile investment in making yourself a more attractive candidate for what every startup is ultimately looking for: a problem solver.