Job Title: General counsel.
Steve Zelinger. (Courtesy photo)
When did you make GC at your company? I was retained and made general counsel of Qolo, on Feb. 1, 2022, by recommendation of a current board member to the company.
Did you hold GC roles at other companies prior to your current company? Yes, various companies, including Visa INTL, Solidus Networks, Pay By Touch, Balance Health Corp., FUTR, Daisho, Hyperloop Transportation Technologies Inc., etc.
What was your path to GC? My career path started once I was offered the opportunity to go in-house after meeting with both the CEO and chief legal officer of my then-client VISA INTL in November 1998. I was a partner at Manatt-DC and had announced my intention to leave the firm to join the Clinton administration at the U.S. Department of Energy, serving Secretary Bill Richardson. Instead, I accepted an offer to join Visa INTL, to lead the defense of Visa INTL in the pivotal antitrust case, US v. Visa USA, Visa INTL and MasterCard.
What made you leave private practice to go in-house? A challenging and exciting opportunity arose to head a high-risk, bet-the-farm effort, while relocating my family from D.C. to the Bay Area. Where, besides additional reasons, my young children would have the love and support of wonderful grandparents in the area.
What tips can you share on how to show the value of the legal department when working with the C-suite in your company? Valued tips to highlight include: demonstrating improvement in efficiencies, streamlining processes, reducing and removing risks (known and unknown), clarifying the business and value propositions, identifying and eradicating ambiguity (which inherently increases risk), increasing revenue and reducing losses, creating platforms connecting legal and other departments, raising questions and listening for answers in connection with help needed or desired, plus implementing a sense of ethics and morality.
What do you do to lead your department effectively? By listening, organizing and offering clear guidance, whilst delivering, and providing support.
What traits would you say make a good legal department leader? Empathy, compassion, clarity of thought and expression, humor, creativity, support, intelligence and good judgment.
What would you want from your outside counsel to help you improve your value to the C-suite? Willingness and ability to identify and ameliorate risks, improve upon products, services and efficiency, substantive expertise, fairness and guidance aligned with experience.
What obstacles have you faced and had to overcome in your career? Among the greatest obstacles or challenges in any career is the obligation to identify, in lieu of confronting lack of integrity, honesty, fiduciary duty, fairness (e.g., bigotry, discrimination and other unfairness), while providing solutions.
What’s the best piece of advice you received, and what advice would you give to a lawyer who wants to go in-house? Going in-house is not necessarily the karmic or palliative experience often assumed; examine each opportunity on its own merits, and assess your personal fit for the role.
Knowing what you know now, what would you tell yourself as a younger lawyer (1styear as a lawyer)? Take the time to explore and broaden your perspective and personal experience, in addition to taking risks. Also, connect with sources of inspiration to find mentors who can assist with advice and guidance.
What additional information can you provide regarding making a difference? There is always time (i.e., make the time for communal, eleemosynary and/or pro bono endeavors that improve your community). Strive to keep learning, remain inquisitive, broaden your perspectives, develop your skills and character and elevate your soul and always remember that your family comes first.
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