In-house insights: Building the legal function at a tech scaleup – Richard Mabey, CEO of Juro

In-house insights: Building the legal function at a tech scaleup – Richard Mabey, CEO of Juro


There are in-house legal jobs, and then there are in-house legal jobs.

Joining an established team at a large enterprise as perhaps the eighth or ninth lawyer is one thing. You might have a General Counsel or a Chief Legal Officer above you, who led your interview; colleagues with various degrees of specialisation; and paralegals to help with the heavy lifting; plus, relationships with outside counsel years in the making. Your remit is defined, operations are fairly smooth, and you gradually bed in and get on with your job.

Alternatively, you join a high-growth tech scaleup as the first lawyer. You’re likely interviewed by founders who’ve never worked directly with lawyers before. They probably didn’t want to hire you - lawyers are expensive - but were advised by the board that the risk of operating without legal counsel is getting scary.

You walk in on day one and everything is on fire. Contracts are being freestyled by the sales team in Word documents, signed and saved only sometimes. Rapid jurisdictional expansion has left some serious regulatory question marks. Employment, privacy, litigation risk - you hardly know where to start. How do you keep calm and focus on what really matters?

We’ve been fortunate enough to speak to the first lawyers to join a range of hypergrowth tech companies, including: Intercom, Monzo, TransferWise, Onfido, Babylon Health and GoCardless, and help them to share their experiences and insights on building legal from the ground up. Some of my favourite morsels of advice were those you perhaps wouldn’t expect:


“It’s a marathon, not a sprint; you’re not there to solve all of a company’s problems in a month, six months, or even a year. It takes time to develop relationships, understand the business and find high quality legal professionals in order to build an effective function that scales with your business”

-        Adam Glick, Head of Legal, Intercom


“The ultimate arbiter of your success is the business - they’ll measure your success by your ability to improve current processes and support their wider objectives”

-        James Sullivan, Head of Legal and Company Secretary (VP), Monzo


“From day one, you need to be looking at the big picture. It’s easy to start out at a scaleup reactively, and end up stuck in survival mode”

-        Jenifer Swallow, former General Counsel, TransferWise


“It’s important to provide information on legal and compliance to new joiners, but legal hygiene doesn’t end there - it needs to be maintained as the company scales”

-        Francesca Porter, General Counsel, Onfido


“I had a perfect plan written out, detailing what the first 100 days would look like - and then I tore it up on my first day”

-        Henry Bennet, General Counsel, Babylon Health


“Everyone in the function should feel comfortable working with each other. It doesn’t matter if you’re the best lawyer in the world if it’s too difficult to work with you”

-        Ahmed Badr, General Counsel, GoCardless


What all of their stories seemed to have in common is an exceptional ability to balance:

  • Balancing commercial enablement for your sales teams with being the grown-up in the room
  • Balancing speed in your legal processes with diligence and risk mitigation
  • Balancing your short-term needs with the company’s long-term plans (however long ‘long-term’ actually is in the life of a scaleup)
  • Balancing building out your team with advising the business day-to-day
  • Balancing risk appetite with growth ambitions
  • Balancing excitement about new venture capital with a sober judgement of the terms on offer

If you want to hear more about the balancing act - or perhaps you’d like to try it yourself! - you can check out the full eBook, ‘Legal for Scaleups: Create, build and scale a world-class legal function.’ I hope that you find it a little less scary - but much more inspiring.

Click to download ‘Legal for Scaleups: Create, build and scale a world-class legal function’.


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About the author:
Richard Mabey is CEO and co-founder of contract collaboration platform Juro, which helps high-growth businesses in 45 countries manage contracts. Previously Richard was a corporate and M&A lawyer at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer. FT Intelligent Business named Richard one of the global top ten legal business technologists in 2019.