Every week at Crafty Counsel we focus on getting to know more about one of the members of our in-house legal community.
Big Picture thinking: Harj Gill on the lawyer’s role in a world of big data
This week we speak to Harj Gill from LiiV, an organisation which leverages big data to create new digital tools, facilitating anthropological understanding of digital cultures and communities. Aside from providing strategic board level legal advice, Harj manages the legal function across some of LiiV’s portfolio of companies with a particular focus on SaaS companies.
After initially working for a US firm doing TMT corporate work, Harj worked for several major US tech companies which licence technology and software; subsequently, he went on to work for a listed English tech outsourcing business. It was there that he was exposed to SaaS for the first time when he led the company’s first SaaS offering, on the legal side. This sparked his interest in this space – particularly data privacy and security, which in turn led to building out the legal function for a high-growth private equity owned SaaS business before taking his current position at LiiV.
Favourite part of your current role?
Harj says being “part of the strategic conversation about the direction of the business” is more than just bringing legal skills to the table: it requires a “mindset shift, thinking more like an executive sponsor”. He feels that having this mindset forces him to have a thorough knowledge of all key departments within the organisation which “only enriches your experience as a good adviser”. Having a big picture view also means “you have more visibility to influence a conversation or to bring in considerations that may have not otherwise been factored in”.
Last year LiiV acquired “an awesome technology business” called Helixa which uses consumer data to gain better insights into audiences, helping agencies and marketing companies better plan their campaigns. Aside from managing all of the due diligence of the acquisition and negotiating the SPA, Harj also worked on financing to secure the deal: he describes it as a “great experience” to work as part of LiiV’s internal team, working very closely with the CFO, although at times maybe too closely, as he found out when the CFO called him regarding a last-minute snag whilst he was on the Heathrow runway before closing the deal!
Something cool in legal?
For Harj, it’s the increasing trend for established General Counsel moving into “cool roles” on the operational side of things. He feels this is a reflection of the “skills and experience” that lawyers can bring into these roles, whilst also recognising that such a move isn’t a “shoo-in” – it requires a lot of upskilling.
Biggest challenges in your in-house career?
For a lot of lawyers, Harj suggests, it’s “building a relationship” between the Sales and Legal departments – one that “creates trust, confidence, and ultimately leads to revenue growth”. He always tries to focus on the “quality of the relationships you build with the sales functions, particularly sales leaders” whilst always keeping the need to protect the business front of mind. His approach is to try and prove himself to be “a trusted deal maker” as well as being a “savvy, commercial negotiator”. Once you have a trusted relationship with the sales team, then “you become the go to guy” for them in relation to tricky points or difficult customers.
Advice to your younger self?
There are probably three main tips Harj would give to his younger self:
- Focus on the “quality of the experience you gain in a role” which really translates as “working with the right people who encourage learning and development”. A “great boss”, for example, will have a “profound effect on your career, your confidence… and your soft skills”.
- Seek out “the right type of mentor” as it’s a “valuable way of compressing learning curves” as they’ll already have plenty of experience that a young lawyer can learn from – so “why not shortcut the process?”
- Above all, have fun: “enjoy the learning process as you go along”.
Harj describes himself as a “big, big fan” of Formula One. So much so that during lockdown he even bought himself a racing simulator which he uses to try and “hone his skills” – although he jokes that he doesn’t think he’ll be getting a call from Toto Wolff to come and join Mercedes anytime soon.