Building the legal team at Klarna

Oscar Hållén, 2 June 2021

90 million customers, over 250,000 retail partners ... and 60 in-house lawyers and counting. How does Klarna’s legal team add value at such scale? 

We spoke to Oscar Hållén, general counsel at Klarna, about legal's role at a hypergrowth fintech.  

Hi 👋 who are you?

I’m Oscar, I’m the General Counsel at Klarna. I lead the central legal function and my responsibilities include working with the team to answer legal questions around product development; collaborating with merchant partners; resolving commercial queries; and keeping Klarna ahead of the complex regulatory game. 

How many lawyers are there in your team?

The number keeps growing! Right now, 60 lawyers, across seven countries and three continents. 

And how has the business changed since you joined in 2018?

The growth has been exponential, so it goes without saying that I’ve spent a lot of time on recruitment. When I joined the business, there were 23 lawyers in my team, and recruiting quickly became one of the priority workstreams for me. The commercial and product teams had a high demand for lawyers because they heard the success stories of legal enabling other areas of the business. 

“Legal’s primary focus at Klarna is to solve problems and bring value - our efficiency and enablement has led to a situation where every team wants a dedicated lawyer!” 

The business actively asking for more lawyers is pretty rare - often, buy-in for legal headcount is difficult. How easy is it for you?

The main difference here is that I'm not the one requesting headcount, but instead, the business itself understands the value legal brings, and is trying to accommodate that. Legal’s primary focus at Klarna is to solve problems and bring value. That’s really been our success story - our efficiency and enablement has led to a situation where every team wants a dedicated hands-on lawyer of their own!

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What’s the hardest thing about being the GC at a hypergrowth startup?

The answer’s almost in the question - there’s so much happening at a company growing this quickly. Keeping up with everything is definitely tough, but it’s a really rewarding challenge, as it allows me to think ahead as much as possible and work strategically. At a company scaling as fast as Klarna, that forward-thinking mindset isn’t always straightforward, so you have to develop a method of dealing with the projects and initiatives as they come. 

How do you track long-term goals, alongside day-to-day tasks?

I prefer to take time out of my schedule to reflect on things happening in the business, in the legal competence, and the interactions between them. The opportunity to block time out specifically for reflection has been really important to me. The kind of questions I ask myself include:

  • What’s actually happening in the business right now?

  • What are we focusing on as a legal team?

  • How should we approach legal work? 

  • Do our priorities align with the business?

  • How can we focus more on the customer?

I’m always going to have daily tasks on my radar, and they’re important, but I can’t overstate the value of taking an hour to go for a walk, clear your head, and reset. It’s important not to lose perspective on what the business wants, and how legal will generate solutions to achieve that.

Klarna’s also launched several initiatives - like the commitment to offer $4.5m in services to small and medium businesses, or the Give One initiative. How does legal prepare for those?

Typically, we approach it like any other product idea. You’d likely hear this sentiment from most lawyers - we want to be involved as early as possible to start thinking about the legal impact of this project. I map the considerations we need to keep in mind, and think about how we’re going to resource the project - do we have someone internally to help on issues around tax, for example? Do we need to outsource for employment law-related issues? 

It’s a really iterative process - I have an idea of what I want to achieve, and then it comes down to how we implement the right steps to get there. It’s not unusual for discussions to take place around how legal could approach the next project in a more efficient and impactful manner, and it’s a joy to be part of those discussions as well, so we can continually improve on how we deliver.

"There are many challenges the GC has on their mind - one that springs to mind is new market expansions. Each project is exciting, but the challenge is in figuring out how to do the work more efficiently, cut the waste, and improve the process"

We also read that Klarna was planning to double headcount in the UK - how do you ensure those HR contracts scale with the business?

We’re looking at automation, currently - it’s a really exciting project, but the main priority is to ensure that the wider business understands the value of automating these routine contracts, and to find a solution that works for everyone. 

It’s one of the main challenges with hypergrowth. When you’re trying to fill 20 or 30 roles at any given time, you need to be smart about how you deal with the challenges that come as a result of that growth. And for legal, that means looking at how to streamline that contract process, but also how the process is transparent, fair, and offers a great candidate experience. And then there’s contract design and readability - that’s a separate project in and of itself! 

What’s the biggest legal challenge that keeps you up at night?

There are many challenges the GC has on their mind - whether you’re sole counsel or one of several lawyers at the business. One of the challenges that springs to mind is the new markets Klarna is adding each year with its expansion. Each project is exciting, and rewarding, but as it consumes legal resources the challenge is in figuring out a way to do the work more efficiently, cut the waste, and improve the process. 

Figuring out how is one of the biggest legal challenges I face. Each expansion is a new learning experience, so it’s all about trying to apply that knowledge to the next expansion we support. How do we continuously learn, and make sure that all the colleagues in the legal competence continuously learn? How do we automate where necessary and make sure the process is as efficient as possible?

It’s important to have an open mind about it and make sure that all the colleagues coming from different cultures and different perspectives also retain that open learning approach.

Klarna’s at a really exciting stage of its journey! What’s next for the business? 

I’m looking forward to seeing legal as a differentiator and a competitive edge in this journey as we continue our market expansion and growth across the world. 

Thanks, Oscar!

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Topics: Legal operations

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