Community Perspectives: What practice areas do product counsel usually come from?

Our in-house professional community discuss their views on the practice areas Product Counsel typically come from.

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Community Perspectives: What practice areas do product counsel usually come from?

(Author) Attorney

What practice area do product counsel usually come from? Product Counsel practice seems to involve so many areas (IP, regulatory, privacy, commercial, etc), so I'm wondering what traditional practice areas are the biggest feeders into this position? Does anyone have that kind of practice at a firm?

Counsel Responses:

  • I am super interested in this conversation! It seems that tech companies are just saying “we need a lawyer from cradle to grave specializing in this specific area".
  • I wonder if it’s because product counsel is the only relatively well-paying and abundant position litigators can get when they go in-house.
  • FAANG product counsel here! I came from a litigation and tech transition background, and transferred to my current position from commercial counsel. At my company, product counsel and commercial counsel are nothing alike, and product counsel rarely ever touch contracts. I was commercial counsel for many years, and it’s been really fun and interesting to work closer to the engineering and product teams on all sorts of novel and challenging issues. Which backgrounds are attractive for a given product counsel position probably varies by company and product. For my tech company, your background wouldn’t really be that relevant, but in another industry it may be more useful.
  • I currently have experience in RE / Equipment leasing/sales/financing and some general corporate matters. Would I be an attractive candidate for product counsel? Just wondering if it’s a possible avenue for reinvention / lateral in-house if my current position runs it’s course.
  • I'm product counsel and I manage IP, compliance, and privacy mainly. I got the role because my background as a software engineer (pre-law school) makes it easy for me to partner with product and engineering teams. This is important for data privacy and security as well as product compliance. Also important for patenting parts of the product.

Associate and Attorney Responses:

  • Often the practice areas of the product counsel I know are either IP, tech transition, commercial, regulatory or corporate. Rarely do I see litigation attorneys become product counsel.
  • Litiigation is probably the least relevant. Companies will, however, hire product counsel from all kinds of backgrounds. FAANG seems more about whether or not you're the right fit and a certain type of “thinking”, than if you have the right substantive background.
  • Tech transition, privacy, and regulatory are common backgrounds.
  • Product counsel don’t generally do deals. The job is about supporting a product from ideation to launch. Mostly you handle issue spotting, advise on risk, some regulatory work (including privacy), claim substantiation, and post-launch issue resolution.
  • I have heard that product counsel don't draft or negotiate agreements. I'm not sure how true that is, but if so, it would make sense that litigators could fill this role.
  • It depends on the company and more importantly the product. IP, privacy, generic corporate are the big practice areas I've seen. A lot of companies will say they’ll consider litigators but generally litigation (as a practice area) doesn’t stack up favorably to pretty much any other practice area that isn’t super niche. This differs from company to company, of course.
  • In my experience, FAANG product counsel is a glorified commercial contracts position. It's not hard to pick up how to do it in 1-2 years even as a litigator (it is much faster for corporate, and other practice area backgrounds). That’s why they’ll take just about anyone. When I was a second year M&A associate, I was doing this stuff on the side for a client that didn’t want to hire a product counsel and was okay with paying BigLaw rates for it. I figured it out after around five reps.

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