What’s life like as the first lawyer in a high-growth tech company? We get the inside story from VP Head of Legal at Habito, Rohan Paramesh.
Hi Rohan!👋 It’s great to have you back.
Great to be back! 🙌
Have there been any huge things landing on your desk since we last spoke?
While there haven't been major changes (at least in startup terms), it’s always different from week to week and from month to month, with new projects all the time. Our growth trajectory is good, and we’re in the execution phase of some chunky projects. It’s a balancing act between keeping my head in those projects, and continuing to support the business with the day-to-day. There’s great variety at the moment - that will be the dynamic throughout this quarter.
We saw that you’re hiring a legal counsel into the team. Why?
It was a combination of work volume increasing, as we scale, and also the growth in the number of new initiatives we’re undertaking. Legal, as a central support function to the business, must scale to meet this increased demand. At Habito, the contribution of legal is central to everything we do, and how we work as a business - we bring legal into projects at an early stage, which is absolutely great; but it can also be tough on bandwidth. Hiring a legal counsel was a natural development that followed from that momentum.
"With all of this activity, it is key for us as a legal team always to maintain our very high standards. We can’t sacrifice any quality or volume of output"
Did you have a hiring roadmap that you were executing?
I’m not particularly keen on rigidly locking down and sticking to a specific long-term hiring roadmap. Whilst you need to be forward-thinking of course, it is also essential to be fluid in a business that’s scaling quickly, and to react accordingly. I had expected that planned projects and overall growth would increase demand through the first half of 2019, and with that would come the need to hire.
For me, rather than abiding by a strict hiring roadmap, the evolving needs and growth of the business should dictate hiring. I am much more focused on ensuring the legal function is scalable and in a position to react quickly to the ever-evolving and dynamic nature of the business as we continue to build quickly.
How did you find the right candidates, and benchmark the role?
We try to hire directly wherever possible, which means a large volume of applications that require time to consider. I have our in-house talent team to help me with this and drive the process. Our approach is always to start directly, then to look to an agency for help if that’s not successful after a period of time.
I started out by benchmarking the role with comparable positions at similar companies, alongside reaching out to some friendly recruiters. I then added in my own flavour to the job spec, in terms of the personality traits and characteristics that are important to Habito and the legal team specifically. We needed a candidate with both some transactional and commercial experience, as well as experience of a fast-moving in-house environment, whether that was a secondment or full-time position.
Will the interview process change for this hire (compared to your previous paralegal hire), and if so, how?
The fundamentals will very much stay the same - a three stage process which includes:
A phone screen
A face-to-face with me and our paralegal
A final stage, face to face, meeting a couple of others within the business, and also a short technical exercise for which no preparation is required.
The technical exercise is important. This is how we find out how candidates think and approach problem-solving, and ultimately this is a key part in working out if they’re a great fit for the role.
I’m a big advocate for not over-engineering the interview process. For me, two face-to-face meetings is the right balance. You can get a feel for the rapport and culture/values fit in the first one, keeping it relatively informal; and then in the second, you can focus on the exercise, and getting the candidate to meet one or two of the C-suite for a senior stakeholder view.
Is your role evolving as your team and company grow?
My role is definitely developing all the time, which is great. As the team grows I can spend more time on the real value-add work, which I really enjoy. The overall shift is towards improving processes, enabling self-serve as much as possible, and removing those time-consuming day-to-day tasks. This lets me focus on the higher value work, becoming more involved in commercial projects. Importantly, the legal team is not just scaling so that just I can do more stuff, but rather so that the whole of the legal function can, and therefore can add as much value to the overall business as possible.
What do your priorities look like for the next couple months?
Q2 is going to be really busy. Last year we laid a lot of groundwork on various fronts and made great progress with various initiatives, and this year we’re executing even more of them. With all of this activity, it is key for us as a legal team always to maintain our very high standards. We can’t sacrifice any quality or volume of output.
It’s incredibly important to me that we always ensure the super high quality and consistency with which we operate as a legal team, where people can wander over to our desks at any time and ask questions as and when they have them, in addition to all the project work we have on. This ensures that we remain a business enabler - it’s at the core of how we work.
As you are scaling your department have you started experiencing any specific challenges?
The people side is really important. We’ll soon be a team of four (after we hire a great legal counsel in addition to our paralegal and legal intern), and despite everyone being heads-down with growth, we’ll always make time for the people aspect of what we do, and to make sure strong legal learning and development continues.
Keeping all that in place as we scale is key. For me, it’s about making your time with people really count, and treating your face-time with the team as immovable. As you scale this becomes harder, but if that foundation and standard isn’t set early on then it’s almost impossible to adopt that mindset further down the track.
Are macro-factors (like the economy and global events) an issue for a role like yours? For example, does the political environment in the UK have an impact on the work you do?
Yes and no. It would be very strange to find any UK business that hasn’t looked hard at Brexit and its possible implications. There are macro factors you need to think about which affect your business and your people, and it’s important that your employees know that you are there to support them and to help them navigate that uncertainty. For example, roughly a quarter of our employees are EU citizens, and, as a legal function, we give presentations to the business during our all-hands meetings to address issues like settled status, and to make sure all our employees are aware of what that means for them and how we can offer support.
When it comes to macroeconomic factors, we’ve planned and we’re well prepared. Our mission and opportunity will not change, whatever the outcome of Brexit turns out to be. For us as a legal function, it’s the people impact which is perhaps most important at the moment - we need to prioritise enabling and supporting our employees to navigate the uncertainty, and that’ll be a key focus for me as we move through this year.