Hong Kong
Mitchell Stocks, General Counsel – Asia Pacific with US$3.5 billion technology company NetApp, shares his secrets to building a legal team in APAC from scratch, and how to ensure a seat at the table.

Asian-Counsel: How did your career lead you to your current in-house role with NetApp?
Mitchell Stocks: I am a second career lawyer, having worked in the computer and telecommunications fields before going to law school. When considering a move to an in-house role, I was interested in returning to my technology roots. NetApp offered an entrepreneurial opportunity to build a legal team in Asia Pacific to support its growing business, and to do so at a company that had already proven itself as a successful information technology player.

AC: How well did your private practice experience prepare you for your current role, and how difficult was the transition to life in a technology company?
MS: I had the good fortune to work in excellent law firms for 14 years before joining NetApp two and a half years ago. Private practice is a great place to learn substantive legal knowledge, but more importantly, to acquire and refine soft skills such as judgment, attention to detail, commitment to excellence and time management. These skills are invaluable in any legal environment and have served me well in my first in-house role.

A successful technology company is filled with young, creative talent who help maintain the company’s innovative edge by constantly pushing boundaries. One of the biggest opportunities for the in-house legal department is to help channel this creativity in ways that fit with the company’s goals and values. As the first lawyer in Asia for NetApp, the initial priority was ensuring that the legal department had a “seat at the table” in discussions for which legal input was needed. This has enabled us to demonstrate how plans and programs can be shaped at an earlier stage to avoid launch delays or surprises during implementation due to unforeseen legal, regulatory or business issues that could have been addressed earlier. This is an on-going dialogue as technology companies balance thoroughness of review with speed of execution.


AC: What steps have you taken in order to develop a legal team for the Asia Pacific region, and what challenges have you faced in the process?
MS: After joining NetApp, I spent the first several months meeting the business teams throughout the Asia Pacific region in order to build relationships with my new clients and to identify activities that were high risk or high reward. I then focused on helping to mitigate the big risks and exploit the big opportunities. Those first few months of conversation also helped me decide where additional legal resources should be added to support the geographic areas with the highest business growth and most complex regulatory regimes.

My vision for the team was to assemble a collaborative group of senior people with the right combination of substantive legal knowledge, practice skills, business acumen and entrepreneurial spirit. In building the team, I have been fortunate to attract people who project excellence in different areas and who complement each other so that the group as a whole has both depth and breadth. Each team member is also serving as a valued resource to the other team members in the areas for which they are the subject matter expert. Finally, each team member has assumed a leadership role in our “merry band of equals”.

The biggest hiring challenge was the macro economic meltdown which caused all companies to reassess their hiring needs. Fortunately, this proved to be only a momentary respite in our legal hiring process.

AC: Do you foresee 2010 bringing any new challenges to the company and/or in-house team at NetApp? If the former, how will your in-house team play a central role in addressing these challenges?

MS: The biggest challenge our team faces given our short existence in Asia Pacific is to ensure that we are focusing our efforts on things that are critically important to the business. There is so much to do each day that it is easy to get sidetracked on tasks or initiatives that do not further key short or long-term corporate goals. As we approach the end of our fiscal year in April, we intend to be more proactive in identifying our client’s goals for the next fiscal year so that we enter the year with a clearer roadmap of our work. This should promote more discipline on the part of the legal department in prioritising programs and projects and also help our clients make appropriate choices regarding how they would like to deploy our finite resources to support their work. We also must be careful to ensure sufficient capacity to handle on-going transactional and compliance matters that are the core of what we do on a daily basis. It is this balancing act that keeps things interesting.AC

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