Taking your legal skills to a startup requires major adjustments. The author suggests things to consider as you refine your resume and think through your corporate legal expertise in preparation for an interview. Generalist practices may be waning at law firms, but not at a startup, where responsibilities can range from negotiating key supplier agreements and managing the company’s intellectual property portfolio, to handling employee issues and other human resources matters. Highlight elements of your experience that demonstrate your generalist legal ability, and show that you are comfortable taking the lead on the full range of legal matters.
Often the in-house lawyer at a startup is the only lawyer in the organization. Be ready to show that you are adept at making independent decisions, because solving issues internally often leads to faster and cheaper solutions. Coming to your interview prepared with examples of where you made a strong independent decision – or, equally important, that you were able to ask the right questions of the right people – will demonstrate that you’ve considered the resource constraints at many startups.
If you are seriously considering making the leap from a firm or corporate in-house legal department to a start-up, some firsthand observation will be instructive. Consider shadowing a startup general counsel, or at least meeting with one. By learning more about the types of challenges you might face, you’ll be better able to decide if you really want to make the move.