How UW Law Alumni And Startup Hall Are Shaping Seattle’s Tech Scene
As a law school that offers educational opportunities in entrepreneurial law, intellectual property and technology policy, the UW School of Law is forward-thinking and tech-oriented, as are the graduates it produces. The legal education offered at UW Law teaches the kind of innovative thinking and problem-solving skills that enable graduates to tackle a wide range of challenges—and positions—upon earning their degrees. 12 by Sharon Ernst as a result, several UW Law alumni have positions at noteworthy Seattle startups, demonstrating the value—and adaptability—of the education they received. These alumni have each taken a different path from law school to tech venture, yet each with a similar passion for the challenge of working in a startup environment—a challenge their UW Law education prepared them for.
General Counsel, Trupanion
Trupanion is a tech-driven provider of pet insurance, and Asher Bearman '01 is the company’s first in-house legal counsel. Bearman joined Trupanion in 2013 after serving as the startup’s outside legal counsel for five years.
Bearman went to law school with a desire to work with startups, and 10 years working at DLA Piper gave him the opportunity to do so, as he served a variety of tech ventures as outside counsel. Then the opportunity to switch to in-house lawyer came along when Trupanion, Bearman’s former client, offered him a job. However, Bearman discovered a dramatic difference between being on the outside as a lawyer versus being in the thick of things at a startup—a difference he enjoys.
"When you’re outside, you sort of come and go and you don’t get the full picture," explains Bearman. "You’re trying to do your best to understand what the business needs are when you’re giving them legal advice. But you’re always going off of limited information." Now that he’s involved in management at Trupanion, he has a better feel for how to manage legal risk against business needs.
Bearman likes the fast-paced environment of a startup and the on-the-job training he gets as Trupanion's in-house legal counsel. He has friends from law school who went to work for more established companies like Amazon, but he likes the startup environment. "I like rapid change and innovation," he says. "We’re changing constantly. It's dynamic and that can be off-putting, but it’s also kind of exciting."
It’s also different, he says, because of the need to make sure everyone is working towards the same vision. "There’s a lot more face-to-face interaction, a lot more meetings to make sure everybody understands what the goals are, and that everyone is on the same page about how we think we’re going to get there," he explains.
Vice President of Legal, General Counsel and Corporate Secretary, Redfin
Redfin is now a household name across the nation, but just 10 years ago, it was a fledgling startup looking to revolutionize real estate through technology. Anthony Kappus ’08 is vice president of legal, general counsel and corporate secretary at Redfin. Before joining the company in 2014, Anthony was a corporate and securities attorney in the Seattle office of DLA Piper. But he had his eye on startups all along.
"I went to law school with the goal of representing startup and technology companies in a transactional and corporate setting," says Kappus. "I definitely wanted to develop a skill set that I could use to help new companies grow."
Kappus wasn't necessarily looking to leave his law firm. He enjoyed his work at DLA Piper, but the opportunity to move to Redfin came up and the timing seemed right to make the switch to inside counsel. He had been watching Redfin from afar already and was intrigued by the marriage of technology to "helping people go through this emotional process of buying or selling a house." He had a prior interest in tech companies as well as a passion for Redfin's mission, so the move made sense. And, like Bearman at Trupanion, he learned it's quite different being on the inside.
"The big difference for me is that I love having a dedicated client and getting to know the business much better than I ever can outside," says Kappus. "And I love the breadth. I love fielding a wide variety of questions, and it’s just really fun to have all kinds of different colleagues." Working with a range of people, like data scientists and marketers, pushes and challenges you and helps you grow, he says.
"Law school gives you a phenomenal toolkit, and helps you solve some challenges in a startup," says Kappus. And working at a startup has helped Kappus grow as a lawyer. "One of the things about working at a technology company is seeing how engineers approach a problem and how data people approach a problem. I think that definitely causes me to stretch and be challenged and is a tremendous add-on to my core legal skills," he explains.
Kappus believes that working as inside counsel also gives him the opportunity to work in a wide variety of legal areas. It also gives him a broader perspective on business and the interests of a variety of stakeholders.
As much as he enjoys the diversity of his work, however, Kappus' favorite part about working for Redfin is his passion for the product. "I love what we do," he says. "I love having a mission-driven approach to helping change real estate for the benefit of consumers. I love being able to go tackle that challenge every day."
Director of Legal Affairs, TUNE
Compared to a powerhouse like Redfin, TUNE is definitely still in the startup stage, as a tech company offering a unified mobile marketing console that brings together paid, organic and owned marketing channels into one dashboard. It is the fastest growing company in Washington state, and boasts not one but two UW Law alumni: Ben Golden '11 and Danan Margason '10.
Golden is the director of legal affairs at TUNE. His path to TUNE's legal team was not a direct one, as he started out his career in public policy. However, he later chose law school as the next step in his career.
Upon graduating, he went to work for Perkins Coie in its startup group, because he was drawn to the passion of entrepreneurs and their efforts to make something from nothing. "Those were the folks I wanted to work with," he says.
He had met fellow student Margason in law school. Margason had started at HasOffers (now TUNE), and Golden tried to get him to hire Perkins Coie as outside counsel. Instead, Margason convinced his former classmate to join him at TUNE.
"That meeting went a lot differently than I expected," laughs Golden.
Not that the change in direction was totally unexpected. While working with startups at Perkins Coie and witnessing the passion of entrepreneurs, says Golden, "you get the itch to see what it’s like on the other side."
Now that he's on the inside of a startup, Golden enjoys the diversity. "You wear a lot of hats. It's more than just being a lawyer," he says. "We do a lot of operations work. The responsibility level is high, and the opportunity is huge. We are a growing company and we have really big ambitions. Instead of being a specialist and doing one thing over and over again, I do 10 or 15 different things in a day and think about the big picture."
Despite how much he enjoys his work at the fast-paced TUNE, Golden is grateful for his law firm experience at Perkins Coie. "I don’t know that I would be the lawyer that I am without that experience," he says.
General Counsel, TUNE
Margason took a different path, starting his law career at a small firm. But that choice turned into a straight shot into the startup world, which is exactly where he wanted to go.
Margason is the general counsel at TUNE and a member of the executive team. He joined the company, which now has over 300 employees, early on as its 40th team member.
Being at TUNE is a perfect fit for Margason, who has always been entrepreneurial, starting his first business in middle school and continuing through college as he attempted to fund his education with a painting company. That passion for startups stayed with him as he started at UW Law.
"When I went to law school, I wanted to end up in the entrepreneurial world again," says Margason. Upon graduating, he first went to work at a small firm that utilized his skills in estate planning and public interest work. Soon after, however, the firm realized the opportunity for a technology practice. "And that was my path in," he says. "I met the people at TUNE when the company was very, very small. I tried to recruit them as a client. They didn't want to change firms, but I stayed in touch with them and when they were ready to hire a lawyer, they called me."
Margason was the first general counsel at TUNE. "I learned very early on that it was important to be part of the business team as well as the legal team," he says. "I learned a lot about business in the first six months to a year, more so than law."
Margason also found his entrepreneurial fit. "I knew there was a lot more opportunity to work with [TUNE] and define for them how I could help, rather than going into a company that has been around for a long time and has a very set process in place," says Margason. As an early stage company, TUNE didn’t know or care about the traditional legal path, and that suited Margason just fine.
In the fast-paced startup world, alumni rely on the innovative thinking and problem-solving skills nurtured at UW Law. And the Seattle startups served by these lawyers are better positioned to thrive when UW Law alumni make up part of their agile teams.