As part of a series of interviews we are showcasing the potential for lawyers beyond the ‘traditional role’. In Part 1 of the series Syed Nasser speaks to Sanjay Mehta, a former law firm partner to discuss his experience transitioning out of private practice.
Could you tell us a bit about your background and your current role?
I’m the Chief Commercial Officer and General Counsel at ITARMI. Previously I was a partner in a US-HQ international law firm (and at a UK-HQ firm before that). ITARMI simplifies the delivery of IT engineering services through an innovative software platform. We’re an international business, serving well-known, large enterprise customers across different sectors from financial services to consumer technology and providing services into locations as diverse as New York, Frankfurt, Tokyo and Melbourne. My working environment and role are quite different to my career in private practice. I also advise other startups (e.g. edtech and deeptech). In terms of values, I am passionate about Diversity & Inclusion.
Why did you leave private practice?
Practice had been a very rewarding career, but for some time I’d been looking for the right opportunity to join a great team that was building an industry-changing business (ITARMI’s mission is to change the way that managed IT services are delivered). This means having fewer committees and a stronger bias to action. As a startup, our opportunities and challenges are both significant. Also, I wanted to have a broader, commercial role. In addition to overseeing legal, I work very closely with other members of the C-suite (esp. the CEO, CTO and CFO) and with our teams that are focused on sales, commercial strategy, product development and information security management systems.
Were there any challenges in making a move?
Plenty of challenges. I’ll mention one that was maybe less obvious: as I wanted a business leadership role, it wasn’t enough for me to re-imagine my own role; I also had to demonstrate wider capabilities, interests and ambitions to a range of stakeholders, such as teammates and investors. If you want to diversify your role, you have to help stakeholders and decision-makers to envision that outcome – this applies whether you’re in an organisationally complex corporate or a startup and it’s an ongoing process. On an ongoing basis, having a growth mindset also helps to show that you want to grow dynamically with your new role.
What are some of your biggest challenges today?
One of the biggest challenges is time management. I’ve found two coping strategies have helped. Firstly, triaging – focusing on high priority, measurable and realistic goals for any given period (e.g. Q1 2021). Secondly, being able to look at an unfinished “to do” list without too much guilt or judgment. This also means recognising that certain things are outside of my control and that there are always going to be fires burning. I haven’t mastered these techniques yet, but I’m working on it.
How does your working day differ now?
Firstly, tremendous variety – there’s always stuff to keep you interested and on your toes. It’s not a comfort zone. Secondly, closer communications and collaboration. Tools such as Slack and Teams make it easier for distributed teams like ours to manage business operations and execute effectively. Thirdly, deliverables: I’m focused on what we need to achieve – whether that’s me, a team or the company. Aside from revenue, we try to measure progress and results in terms of objective criteria (e.g. OKR, NPR or KPI). On a personal level, I’m not tracking billable hours.
Do you have any advice for those considering a similar change?
The marketer in me is a fan of the “power of 3”, so I’ll mention 3 things! Firstly, be an infinite learner (I’m borrowing the words of Silicon Valley legend, Reid Hoffman). You’ll be more engaged and engaging. To put it another way, enjoy the journey as well as the destination. Secondly, develop your personal brand. Think about what your core values are, what you can contribute to a company’s culture (“culture add” rather than “culture fit”) and how you can share these attributes. You may need to shift gear on this if it’s not something that’s been particularly encouraged or celebrated at your firm. Lastly – and most importantly – Diversity & Inclusion. Embrace it. Just as you have a unique contribution to make, so do others. Empower, include and support others. It’s not just right thing to do, it’s important for your own sense of well-being.
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