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Law in business: what I learned from working with lawyers in a technology company.

A friend of mine used to be a  sales engineer. On business trips, he was assigned an entire team of lawyers, each with a different specialization. His clients were also equipped with the same.

In the negotiation process with deals reaching hundreds of millions of dollars, the lawyers audited every letter, word, and number. He first joked that the lawyers just place roadblocks on everything, then shared:

Their job was to make sure we stayed out of trouble.

And if we got in trouble, their job was to get us out as fast as possible.

After working with intellectual property lawyers this past year, I am now able to relate to my friend. The rule of law is meticulous.

The fun part about wearing a product management hat is… well… building the product: defining business requirements with stakeholders, assessing root cause of the pain points we are solving, building the user experience and interface with designers, providing product and technical specifications to engineers, and validating the product wherever possible.

Sometimes the fun grinds to a halt.

I’ve learned that we cannot go ham when building features. Some of my days have been spent understanding how to integrate our product with other products/services. Whereas the API documentation explains “what” we can use, the Terms of Service explains “how” we can use it. You know those endless pages of 8-font text when first using a product like Valve Steam? Or the endless scrolling of terms you see when there’s a new iPhone update? I’ve had to read that for several common products/services like Facebook, Google, and Apple.

After reading these terms, we try to operate within the confines of the agreement. Before or during implementation, I’ve shared the product specifications with the legal team, explained my interpretation of the terms, and justify how I’ve accommodated those terms. As licensed legal professionals, their interpretations have sometimes differed. We’ve had to modify or outright cancel some of our features due to their intervention, all to keep us out of trouble. Here’s an example below. Apologies in advanced for so much blurred text; must maintain confidentiality.

lol

Other times, working with the legal team is a different kind of fun.

Before our products launch, a Terms of Service, End User License Agreement (EULA), and privacy policy must be drafted. We’ve held meetings with the legal team to discuss our business and product goals, both present and future. The lawyers then draft up these documents to review and modify as necessary. This is a different, albeit equally important, component to building a product.

The things you learn! The day-to-day with them hasn’t been as snarky and glamorous as the show Suits (watch Seasons 1 & 2), as gut-wrenching as How to Get Away with Murder (don’t bother), or as dramatic as Better Call Saul (MUST WATCH). Regardless, it’s been fascinating absorbing all the types questions they ask, reading how they phrase certain copy, and learning about the legal end of the business.

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