Businesses looking to bring new tech products to fruition require the expertise of Product Counsel. This role combines commercial contract, regulatory, privacy, intellectual property, and consumer protection and is becoming increasingly important in tech hubs. In this article, we will go over the details of product counsel positions; what companies are looking for, and how lawyers can start their tenure as product counsel.
Aug 10, 2020
What does Product Counsel do in the tech industry?
Product Counsel manages the business of a company and their primary concern is understanding a company’s products inside and out. They need to have comprehensive knowledge of the company goals, the process in which they bring a product to market, and their plans for execution. They also need to have an extensive understanding of and keep the company abreast of existing regulatory laws.
Product counsel concerns themselves with three main business responsibilities:
Product Counsel must understand the goals and high- and low-level vision of the company. Since their focus is mainly on the product itself, understanding both where the company is right now and where it wants to be are crucial. This is not a one-person initiative, but involves bringing together a group of people from different departments and specialties to help deliver on these metrics.
Another part of this process involves protecting the company from litigation and other legal risks. This means finding subject matter experts as well as forming a mitigation task force and plan of action if litigation occurs. A great deal of this includes liaising with heads of departments to make sure all our efforts are geared towards the ideal outcome.
What makes a successful Product Counsel?
Product Counsel assume a role much like General Counsel for their team, which means becoming a trusted legal advisor and business person on top of managing. Because most of Product Counsel's job is bridging the gap between business and legal, the majority of the work involves facilitating connection; keeping business partners up-to-date on the regulatory needs of the company, and keeping your legal team focused on the business goals of their work.
A great deal of the value of Product Counsel is their strong position of knowledge and legal authority in the company. One of the ways this manifests is Counsel’s ability to know what drives their individual teammates. Understanding both professional and personal motivations is key to both the success of each person and the company as a whole.
Still another strong trait of Product Counsel is their commitment to a collaborative mindset. This means not only being able to call upon your business and legal acumen, but also that of your interpersonal skills. Be open to feedback and understand the mindset of both your coworkers and clients. Ask yourself open-ended questions constantly to help improve:
“Is this product missing anything that my clients need?”
“Does my legal team need me to be more receptive or communicative? What does that look like?”
Take the time to be curious about your thought process and plan of action.
As you might assume, Product Counsel will need to know the product management process in and out. The position does not begin and end with regulatory concerns. Product Counsel knowing everything about the product means they can consult effectively.
How does Product Counsel unite business partners and stakeholders?
Product Counsel is an action-oriented position. Since most business partners need to see results, Counsel will have to become a driving force of execution in the product’s fruition. This helps to build the trust and confidence necessary in a business/legal relationship. Project management skills and keeping an end goal in sight cannot be understated. Being comfortable in undertaking the expectations of both business and legal involves decision-making based on readiness.
What kind of background must a Product Counsel have?
Although a list of skills and experience is not set in stone, Product Counsel must be enthusiastic about their work, willing to learn as they go, and emphasizing collaboration over all else. As far as a background in the legal industry goes, Product Counsel can come from any speciality; litigation, regulatory, consumer protection, privacy, etc. Counsel should be comfortable simplifying issues and processes and working with several different departments to make things happen. Along with the experience, Counsel will need to possess great empathy and a penchant for innovation.
Sometimes the best way to approach a Product Counsel position is to start working for a company in another capacity (such as mergers and acquisitions) and build your own lateral transition. Tech companies often make this transition because of the familiarity their new Product Counsel has with the product and company process.
What are the challenges that come with Product Counsel positions?
A constant challenge will be keeping your product and company in the know with regulatory laws. Data privacy has become a huge industry issue in recent years and will need to be with you in all of your decisions. Knowing both what the data privacy laws are and how they could change (as they pertain to your industry and product) are crucial. Communicating this with your legal and business partners will help them to understand any privacy-related issues you bring up in the future. You’ll also need to have a handle of commercial contracts and molding them for your clients.
Although most of your energy will be spent focusing on launching products, try to garner an understanding of post-launch processes into your practice. Planning for best, mediocre, and worst-case scenarios is prudent when dealing with unknowable outcomes. Much like your curiosity you’ll need to develop a “square one” mindset. This involves learning and adjusting to new circumstances constantly, and trusting the expertise of those around (above and below) you.
Making sure your team understands all aspects of the department and the goal is helpful as well. Having specialties helps, but being well-rounded (much like you) in the overall goals is even better.
Above all, Product Counsel practice a great degree of an “anything’s possible” mindset. Don’t sell yourself and your team short by aiming for reasonable goals. Ask yourself what is possible and what is ideal, and always go for the ideal. With the right team and the right attitude, no goal is too lofty.
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