It’s safe to say that Jay Wedge has come a long way since his post-college days. Now Senior Counsel at billion-dollar software company Cloudera, Jay was once a newly-minted college graduate with little idea of what to do next.
Torn between business school, medical school and law school, Jay eventually settled on law school because he felt that it would offer a diverse curriculum and a varied array of career opportunities.
Jay was correct. Since graduating from law school, he’s worked at two different law firms, where he had the opportunity to counsel a wide variety of clients, from small startups to tech giants like Uber.
After nearly seven years at big law firms, Jay’s career took big step when he went in house at Cloudera, the maker of a pioneering platform for machine learning and advanced data analytics.
“Being in-house is like having a client that sticks with you forever.”
Here, Jay talks about his path to becoming senior counsel at Cloudera and what this change has meant for him.
Why did you decide to go in-house after seven years as an associate?
While at law firms, I counseled many companies and was able to see all of the great things that they were building. Unfortunately, as outside counsel, I worked on the fringes. I didn’t get to be a part of it.
Being in-house means that you get to help build something. It’s like having a client that sticks with you forever. That’s why going in house is the dream for a lot of associates.
How did you know that Cloudera would be a good fit for you?
While working with Cloudera as outside counsel, I was able to interact with the general counsel as well as the rest of the management team. Not only did I work well with them, but I observed that they worked well with each other. They were able to pull off some really amazing things together, and that made Cloudera seem like a company with a bright future that would be great to work with.
How is working as in-house counsel different than working at a law firm?
“When you land in-house, you become a resource for every single person at the company.”
As an associate at a law firm, you become an expert in a very specific area or set of tasks. For me, that was mergers and acquisitions, venture financings and corporate governance.
When you land in-house, it’s a whole different ball game. You become a resource for every single person at the company, and the breadth of knowledge that you’re expected to have grows dramatically. You’re no longer just an M&A guy. You have to do it all. They call it “general counsel” for a reason – you have to be a generalist.
Moving in house from a law firm is also a bit of a culture shock. At a law firm, you’re surrounded by dozens of other people doing exactly what you’re doing, but when you’re in-house, you might be the only lawyer there. Everyone else is in sales or marketing or engineering, so, at first, your colleagues have no idea what you do and you have no idea what they do. It can sometimes be tough when there’s no one around who understands the challenges of your job.
How did you develop an understanding of the rest of the organization?
It’s really important to get to know your colleagues and for them to get to know you. Much of what you do as a lawyer can be done remotely, but it’s vital to get face time with the people you work with. This allows you to develop a relationship of trust with the management team, so that they know that you are an expert who can be relied upon to provide quick, high quality service.
It takes time, but eventually, you’ll immerse yourself into the company culture and become fluent in the more technical “product speak” of the engineering and product teams.
What does success look like to you?
“It’s vital to get face time with the people you work with.”
There are several components of success. One is demonstrating value to the management team. To do this, you have to know where you can add value and get in front of those situations. In short, you have to be an active player. Write well-thought-out emails that will get forwarded to the right people. Show that you have expertise.
However, it’s equally important to be able to identify areas in which you’re not an expert. If there’s a complicated employment compensation issue that crosses your desk, you need flag that for the management team as something that requires the input of outside counsel. Take the question to outside counsel and get educated so that you can handle the issue yourself next time. Leveraging your resources can only make you better.