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How to tap into the valuable resources your legal counsel can provide – for product managers
Today we are talking about product leaders using legal resources. When and why should product VPs, CPOs, and other senior product roles involve legal resources? While that question is directed to executive team roles, I expect product managers will also discover how legal resources can be wisely leveraged.
Joining us is Ryan Lewendon, partner at the Giannuzzi Lewendon Law Firm, helping founders navigate growth and reach their full potential. He has helped several brands grow and overcome obstacles, especially consumer product companies. This has included successful exits with acquisitions by companies that include Coke, General Mills, Boulder Brands, Bacardi, and more. I’m looking forward to learning from his experience.
Summary of some concepts discussed for product managers
[2:29] What kind of law do you practice?
We focus on fast-growing, disruptive consumer products companies—anything you put in or on your body. My partner and I were the first lawyers for Vitamin Water from when it was just an idea until we sold it to Coke for $4.7 billion. We did every corporate legal thing they needed. After that we realized there weren’t a lot of lawyers interested in helping disruptive brands, and we had a great playbook for how to build a disruptive business and an aptitude for working with the underdogs in consumer packaged goods (CPG). Now we work with over a thousand companies, from huge companies to startups, over their whole lifecycles.
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We work in several verticals. We help companies with financing. We have experience and downstream vision to help companies know what they should and shouldn’t do when they’re raising capital at different stages and negotiating with investors to set up for longterm success. We help companies spend money to implement their plan. We help them solve the problems directly in front of them and the problems down the line to help the company grow all the way through an exit.
[10:48] How can products leaders and managers do a better job engaging legal resources to help create a new product?
Lawyers get a bad rap for being people who say no and stifle innovation, but they can provide valuable resources.
A good in-house legal counsel is a translator between the C-suite executives and the external legal counsel. They’re going to communicate whatever you put forth to the external counsel, and how it’s presented will have a big impact on whether you get a rubber stamp. If you can get the in-house counsel on board with what you’re trying to do, you’ll have a much higher chance of success. Establish trust with your in-house counsel. Don’t hide parts of the story from them. Tell them all the issues, the reason you’re creating this product, and what you’re hoping to achieve. Talk through the negatives first. Tell them the issues that might be problematic and explain how you’re going to deal with them. Business people focus on the upsides and winning scenarios. Lawyers look at the downsides and worst cases. If you provide a proposal that looks at the upsides, acknowledges the downsides, and describes mitigators for those downsides, you’ve done a lot of the in-house counsel’s job. All they have to do is translate it to the external counsel.
[17:02] When does the external counsel get involved?
A good in-house counsel does almost no legal work. They’re just a conduit between the company and the external counsel. There are lots of legal issues at a company, and the in-house counsel can’t address them all themselves. Also, using external counsel provides a professional coverage against liability.
You can’t choose your in-house counsel , but you can choose your external counsel. When you’re trying to get a disruptive innovation passed, picking the external counsel is extremely important. Choose an external counsel that has contextual experience in your field. Lawyers are typically risk-averse, so if you’re working with someone who does not have a great grasp on the industry or your idea, they’ll probably say no pretty quickly. It’s easy to say there’s risk, but it’s harder to understand the dynamics and nuances of a situation to identify where risks can be lessened. Lawyers will only have that ability through a contextual understanding of the industry you’re in.
Look for lawyers who are interested in your project. Choose a firm that typically operates in the industry you’re in and with the matters and clients you work with.
[22:48] If a company is thinking about creating a disruptive product and deciding between building the product themselves vs. buying a company that might help them, what should they consider?
Consider whether a company or brand is situated such that paying for it outweighs the benefits of internally developing it. Distill down what you would be getting if you buy the company. In consumer goods, generally you’re buying the brand, including the trademark, customer list, and customer affinity. You might also be purchasing intellectual property (IP), including trade secrets and patents. Sometimes you’re buying an opportunity or something that will allow you to make the product more quickly or easily. All these considerations inform the structure and timing of your deal and the amount you should be willing to pay.
[25:19] How can we build a relationship with our legal counsel to get over fears about engaging with them and be able to use their valuable resources?
Lawyers are risk-averse. If you come to them at the last minute with a project you need signed off on or you don’t tell the whole story, it’s harder for them to analyze it. Give them a heads-up. Tell them what you’re working on and let them know you would love to do a deep dive on it with them. As a product manager or leader, building trust with your in-house legal counsel is super important. If they understand you, it will be easier for them to have a full grasp of your project and get the analysis done more quickly and efficiently. Take your counsel out for a drink and talk about your project in that low-stress setting.
Action Guide: Put the information Ryan shared into action now. Click here to download the Action Guide.
- Connect with Ryan on LinkedIn or Instagram
- Learn more about the Gianuzzi Lewendon Law Firm
“There is a way to do it better. Find it.” – Thomas Edison
Thank you for taking the journey to product mastery and learning with me from the successes and failures of product innovators, managers, and developers. If you enjoyed the discussion, help out a fellow product manager by sharing it using the social media buttons you see below.