5 tips from lawyers about joining a startup
So what's it like to leap from a prestigious law firm to a fast-growing technology startup?
1) Be brave
Niamh Mooney – GM, Software
How I got here: I'm the GM of Software, the third company in Euc's portfolio. I joined Euc in early 2020 and we launched Software a few months later. Prior to this I had been a corporate lawyer in Sydney and London.
I spent many years compensating for the lack of meaning in my work: I was heavily involved in the pro-bono practice and helped with the roll out of legal technologies at the firm, mainly because I found my day job unfulfilling.
Fast forward two years and I'm running a business that has a meaningful impact on peoples' lives, every day. Software gives people back their confidence by helping them achieve healthy, clear skin. I no longer question my career choices and love turning up to work everyday.
Redefine your understanding of success: Law firms teach you that success is being the best in a hyper-specialised field - e.g. a partner, in the TMT practice, specialising in advising telcos. In contrast, the most impactful people in a start up are generalists who have a variety of experience building businesses.
Get comfortable making decisions quickly, with limited information: When providing legal advice, you spend time gathering as much information as possible to provide informed advice. You are not trained to build assumptions into your decision making. In a start-up, fast, decisive decision making is a necessity, which often means making decisions on limited information. Inaction can limit growth, which is life-threatening to an early stage, VC-backed business.
Be brave: Leaving a safe, predictable workplace like a law firm or a corporate is terrifying. Generally, the team is pleasant, the money is good, the trajectory is safe. Nothing is pushing you to leave, other than your lack of satisfaction and happiness. It's easier to stay. If you stay in a job because you're afraid of the uncertainty of the alternative you will never be happy. Be brave. Take the leap.
2) Leave your corporate persona at the door
Ryan Zahrai – Head of Legal
How I got here: After a decade across big-firm, in-house in Israel and in corporate healthcare in Sydney, I joined Euc late 2021. Two months in and I’ve probably found one of my feet, still looking for the other, loving the process of rediscovering what work looks and feels like, and enjoying learning more about the legal landscape of digital and remote health.
What’s it been like so far? It's been a bit of a culture shock, but in the best possible way. Next to learning to roll with the pace in decision making, a level of transparency and lack of politics we lawyers aren’t used to, a downright absence of ego and down-to-earthiness of the founders and GMs, an incredibly impressive talent pool and the relentless energy and laser-commitment of pretty much everyone I’ve met at Euc, the biggest experience call out has been the process of unlearning of a heap of stuff accumulated from firm and corporate culture which doesn’t add much value to a high-growth, high-energy start-up.
Things like modes of communication, the corporate persona (which I think many of us are all too happy to drop) and being comfortable with casual wear in the office without a concern of affecting my career prospects are all part of what makes the transition to startup so refreshing. Then add the social purpose of Euc, and you’ve got a dynamic mix of the best start-ups can offer. While there’s a lot of learning, more unlearning and a bit to get used to, it’s certainly been a change I know many lawyers would be stoked to make.
3) Turn chaos into clarity
Sarah-Jane Frydman - Product Manager
How I got here: I joined Euc in mid-2021, first in the Operations team, and now as a technical Product Manager. My path here was a little confused – but centred around my obsession with healthcare, and the potential for tech to transform it. I graduated from university with the bullish (and, as it turned out, totally wrong) belief that I was going to pursue a career in neuroscience research. A year of failed lab experiments later, my impatience got the better of me and that idea was out the door.
So, I did what seemed like a 180 and joined a big law firm as an intellectual property lawyer. I chose IP because of its proximity to healthcare, health tech and drug development. But, as it turned out, working in private legal practice meant working at the periphery of those things. I wanted to be able to point to the impact of my work in building something meaningful. That’s what led me to Euc, and that’s exactly what Euc has given me the opportunity to do. It’s a place where everyone is given the freedom to seek out high impact problems and make decisions (and mistakes) to help build something that is changing people’s lives.
Turn chaos into clarity: Moving from law to a startup means a shift from executing other people’s decisions to having complete ownership over what you create. There won’t be someone you can turn to who has all the answers. Sometimes your job won’t be clearly defined, and change happens at warp speed. But the ambiguity and lack of structure can also be hugely liberating. So much remains to be done, and you’ll be trusted to do it. So embrace the chaos. Learn, unlearn and adapt – and trust that you can come up with the answers.
4) Get comfortable with imperfection
How I got here: I joined Eucalyptus in early 2021 as part of the Operations team. Prior to Euc, I was a lawyer at a commercial firm in Sydney where I specialised in corporate advisory and intellectual property work. After finding my feet at Euc, my interests lead me into 'Risk', where my job is manage preventable risk and enable strategic risk-taking to contribute to our mission to serve millions of Aussies. It's a fascinating job which has allowed me to leverage my legal skillset into a hybrid role with an awesome company. At Euc we get huge autonomy, plenty of room to make mistakes, and the opportunity to solve meaningful problems with clever people - plus all the other startup things like no billable hours, no suits, no politics, and beers at 4pm on Fridays.
Biggest lesson: in my first few weeks I would spend hours and hours researching and writing to make sure whatever advice I was giving was water-tight. At my weekly 1:1 meeting with my manager, he suggested that I "get comfortable making quicker decisions, with less information, and with more conviction". Woah. The point was that because I was not hired to be a lawyer at Euc, bullet-proofing my work was not an efficient way to spend my time. Wow, did that feel like a weight off my shoulders! So my biggest lesson from my time at Euc is to identify what your contribution is to a specific problem - and then nail that. It's been cool to drop that last 20% of polish needed on work that's going to say a big client of the firm, and focus on nailing the 80% which helps us push forward and help more people.
5) It's OK to be a generalist
Lyndon Goddard - Senior Legal Counsel
How I got here: Before coming to Euc, I'd primarily worked at a large corporate law firm in a litigation team for several years. My job mainly involved defending an international bank and a social media company, which was often genuinely stimulating, though the hours could be punishing and I knew that it wasn't what I wanted to do in the long term. Like other corporate lawyers, I found some solace in doing a lot of pro bono work, but I was ultimately looking to move into the public service to start a 'proper' career. Then, 3 months ago, I joined Euc.
Unknown knowns: Donald Rumsfeld probably didn't have in mind the transition from corporate law firm to startup when he used the phrase "unknown knowns". But for me it sums up one of the things I was struck by after spending a few weeks replacing billable hours with branded merch. When I was first offered a position as an in-house lawyer at Euc, I actually turned it down: I didn't think I could be of much use at a company that didn't do a scintilla of litigation and operated in a space (healthcare law) that I'd had absolutely no exposure to. But once I relented and gave it a go, I realised that my assumption had been wrong. It wasn't that I'd suddenly found a latent bank of pharmacy regulation in a corner of my brain; it was that I'd been developing the skill of getting across new things without being conscious of it.
Familiarity breeds fear, and inertia. Focusing on just one type of law at my firm had made me reluctant to try something new, because I thought I'd be bad at it. Of course I didn't know the answer to almost any legal question that I got asked at Euc when I first started, but most of the time I was able to work it out with a bit of researching and thinking. Realising this "known" is a lesson that I suspect would make a lot of lawyers think differently about taking the plunge into a startup, and I can say that it's a plunge worth taking.
Head of Legal
Senior Legal Counsel
About the contributors
Ryan Zahrai, Head of Legal
Angus Wood, Risk Lead
Niamh Mooney, GM
Lyndon Goddard, Senior Legal Counsel
Sarah-Jane Frydman, Product Manager