It takes a certain breed of lawyer to work in house and be successful at it. While it is true that some are drawn to the possibility of greater work-life balance, most relish the opportunity to get closer to business drivers and the C-suite. Others like the variety of work that an in house counsel will see. For Rachel Gervin, it was all about being the "go to" person who balances risks with business demands to get the deal done. "You have to be a full-fledged member of the team," she says, "fully supporting business goals and fully respecting the value and experience your business colleagues have to offer. If you can't do that, you are not really bringing the value add that an in-house attorney should bring.”
Like many who make a career in house, Rachel began her career working for large corporate law firms. She gave three years to Kirkland & Ellis, 2 years to Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati and then two more to Crowell & Moring, all in the Washington, D.C. area. "These are all great firms and I would not trade the experience and training I got during those early years for anything," she says, "but it never really felt like a fit.” She made the decision to give in house a try and when the Sage opportunity came along, she jumped in with both feet.
Joining Sage in 2003 as Senior Counsel, Rachel rose through the ranks, with the support and guidance of her incredibly talented sponsor and mentor, Melody Williams Dapp, and eventually became SVP and General Counsel of Sage Software,Inc., the North American subsidiary. Sage Group was the only technology company listed on the London Stock Exchange at the time. It had six million customers and over 13,000 employees around the world. She began engaging with the business proactively, before legal issuesarose. "Trust came slowly at first, but when they came to understand that I was really on their side, it came more quickly," she says. "As I developed relationships and learned the business, I was able to ask better questions and provide more relevant advice.”"
In her tenure with Sage, Rachel learned what she considered to be the two most important factors to being successful in house. "The most important thing is to know your company's products, services, goals, competitors and market challenges as well as all the business people know them," she says, "otherwise, you can’t move at the pace of the business and truly add value.” Second, you need to have a great network of attorneys (in house and outside counsel) whom you can call upon to ask questions," she says. "The upside of working in house is that you will typically see - and be responsible - for everything legal. The variety is great, and that's what makes the legal generalist a good in house counsel. Generalists know enough to know when they need an expert, so you need a strong pool of trusted resources to turn to when you need an expert."
As indicated, Rachel joined the Sage executive team with a proactive approach to legal problems. She hosted training sessions for departments in the company to explain the benefits of an in house legal and then engaged directly with these departments to spot issues before they could arise.
As her responsibilities grew, so did the legal department which she led. "I much prefer leadership over management," she said. "Management is tactical and, of course, I did that. But it's not enough by itself. Leadership, on the other hand, is about empowering your team to do their best, be their best." Rachel believes that a leader has to model behavior that supports the team, encouraging their growth and development. "Professionals need to grow and if you aren't creating an environment where they can grow, you run the risk of losing good people," she says. "In fact, your best people would be the first to go."
Rachel also encouraged her people to engage with external community organizations and she did the same. The Girl Scouts, Inter Atlanta Futbol Club, her daughter’s youth soccer club and the PTA swallowed a lot of her time but one group that she joined, the Association for Corporate Counsel, had a huge positive effect on her career. "I became very involved with ACC and later became president of the Georgia Chapter," she says. "It became a great vehicle for me to stretch skills needed to be an effective leader, like public speaking, and the time commitment forced me to be a better time manager. Also, the exposure was great," she says.
The ACC also helped her in a couple of other ways. "First, monthly luncheons and annual conferences, in addition to fulfilling all of my CLE requirements each year served as a primer for me on the most timely and relevant business legal issues across the board," she says. "It provided access to a vast spectrum of legal issues and the experts who knew, in depth, how to deal with those issues," she says. "Second, I made lifelong friends and stay engaged with them even today. We constantly meet to discuss life, law, work and family."
In 2017, without warning, the Sage Group made the decision to eliminate the most senior legal roles in North America, and the General Counsel roles for the regional hubs across the world and consolidate legal leadership in the parent companyin the UK. "I was stunned, to say the least," said Rachel, "but wise enough to the ways of business to know that these decisions have nothing to do with how good a job you do, so I didn't take it personally." Instead, she looked at it as a time to examine what she really wanted to do with her life and career.
"I accepted the position of Executive Director and General Counsel to Impact Church, an innovative Urban ministry which had enjoyed great success," she said. Recognized by the Chair of Moral Leadership at Emory University as a 21st century inspiration, the Methodist congregation had grown to over 5,000 members, including Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms.
"Any organization growing this fast presents unique business and legal issues," says Rachel," and I felt it was a great opportunity for me to apply some of what I learned about business from corporate America and combine work with my love for community involvement."
After a short time at Impact, Rachel realized that she missed the pace of Corporate America. "I learned so much during my time there and made relationsips that I will treasure for the rest of my life, especially that I am still a flexible and growth mindset- oriented leader”" she says, "but non-profits are different. I knew that I needed to get back to a world that ran at the speed of business."
Over the next three years, Rachel embarked on what she describes as “a long and winding path back to the right fit.” She worked as a temporary General Counsel for companies under a program at Womble Bond Dickinson, was a contract lawyer for Mercedes-Benz and then as privacy counsel for Acoustic, an innovative cloud marketing provider. "This part of my career path was a bit of a diversion from what had otherwise pretty much been a straight line from law school to success, but it provided what I needed for my personal life at that time, "she says, "and I don't regret any of the choices that I made. I gained legal experience and exposure to new industries and met some truly amazing people whom I will know for the rest of my life."
"These last three years helped me gain confidence in my skillset, judgment and flexibility” says Rachel. "As a business lawyer, it's always been ingrained in me that you have to get the job done even if you don't have a perfect circumstancesor 100% of the information. This is what I did with the career decisions that I've made since leaving Sage" she says “it wasn’t easy or ideal, but I hung in there, kept growing as a person and kept working towards the next best thing for me and my family.”. "Progress, not perfection, that's the goal." By following these instincts and choosing work that she found interesting regardless of title, Rachel had set herself up for the most surprising challenge of all.
Three months ago, Rachel began work as the Director & Managing Product Counsel for Twilio. This opportunity to build a legal team at this fast growing, publicly traded technology communications company with nearly $2 billion in revenue, was like a dream come true. "One thing I learned at Sage is that I love the pace and innovation of technology. It really energizes me!" she says. "To be back with a very dynamic company is exhilarating."
Indeed, Twilio, based in San Francisco, is at the forefront of cloud based telecommunication technology. "Our business model demands speed. How fast can smart developers and product managers build solutions that enable our customers to solve their every day business challenges? That's how fast we run," she says.
Millions of developers around the world use Twilio to unlock the magic of communications to improve any human experience. Twilio has essentially democratized communications channels - like voice, text, chat, video, and email - by virtualizing the world’s communications infrastructure through APIs that are simple enough for any developer to use, yet robust enough to power the world’s most demanding applications. And it's all in the cloud.
Founded in 2008, Twilio has over 5,000 employees in 26 offices in 17 countries and counting, with headquarters in San Francisco and other offices in Atlanta, Bangalore, Berlin, Bogotá, Denver, Dublin, Paris, Prague, Hong Kong, Irvine, London, Madrid, Melbourne, Munich, Malmö, Mountain View, Redwood City, Munich, New York City, São Paulo, Sydney, Melbourne, Singapore, and Tallinn.
"By making communications a part of every software developer’s toolkit, Twilio is enabling innovators across every industry — from emerging companies to the world’s largest organizations — to reinvent how companies engage with their customers," says Rachel. "It's an exciting place to be."
As shown above, has offices in Atlanta although Rachel will continue to work remotely for the time being. "I'm in the process of adding 3 new lawyers to my team by the end of this year, some of whom will be based in Atlanta," she says. Twilio is an amazing company to work for and my team has plans for continued growth over the next two years. "I'm back where I was before - close to technology business people and close to the product - and I love it. In house with a dynamic company is where I belong and technology is my happy place."