It's safe to say that being a counsel at a hypergrowth start-up isn't for everyone. There's nothing else quite like it. Working at break-neck speeds across myriad challenges, some of which you've never experienced, and with the expectation that you will deliver the same standard of work as someone who has double the time.
The pace of this work is matched only by the quality of the rewards for those who can thrive in this environment: swathes of multi-disciplinary experience, camaraderie, and the sense of accomplishment that only comes from successfully juggling numerous challenges and opportunities at once.
These often-turbulent waters are well known to Reginald Matthews, who has worked as a Contracts Manager and Administrator at a unicorn for the last two years. He describes the hypergrowth start-up environment as "organized chaos".
Matthews' apt organized chaos assessment stems from the hands-on nature of a hypergrowth start-up. "Nothing is going to be cut and dry, nothing's ever going to be pretty, nothing is ever going to be status quo. You're going to have to get your hands dirty. You're going to have to figure some things out, you're going to have tough conversations, and you're going to have to build solutions because sometimes they're just not there."
This agile environment places counsel in an interesting position. While previous expertise is helpful it can also be non-essential as you're quickly forced to become a generalist or, as Matthews states, "the encyclopedia of all things".
It's a cliché, but to match the pace and thrive in a hypergrowth start-up, the emphasis must be on soft skills. And ideally soft skills which enable you to be agile, particularly when it comes to communication.
"No one wants to come to work and work with a book," says Matthews. "No one wants to be in a room with people 40 to 80 hours a week where you don't talk about anything but work. You must create an environment where people want to work with you and be around you and feel comfortable asking you questions."
True to form for organized chaos, many of the pitfalls faced by counsel working in hypergrowth start-ups are unpredictable. For example, the growth you're unprepared for can problematize your processes massively.
But, often, it's what you don't know that you don't know which causes the real trouble. While there are no quick fixes, Matthews' approach provides a great springboard for responding to the unknown: "Be on your toes, be teachable and be agile because it will happen all the time. The world is constantly changing, and we just have to figure it out."
There are many perks to be had working in hypergrowth start-ups: varied work, a diverse workforce and potentially lucrative stock options. For Matthews, the joy comes from his proximity to the product, and his ability to impact that product and its users.
"One of the cool parts about working at a tech company is that you are so close to a product that millions of people use every day. You'll see how it either positively or negatively affects their lives, and how you can help turn a negative to a positive."
High-growth start-ups are proving to be a more than viable alternative to the traditional law firm pathway, where lawyers can cut their teeth on highly diverse work across the whole spectrum of legal.
For counsel such as Matthews, in-house was always the goal, mirroring a trend that sees an increasing number of counsel make their way to in-house because of its added flexibility, work-life balance and new challenges.
The ever-increasing pool of disruptive start-ups are a great source of opportunity for counsel wishing to become involved in this dynamic world.