Ralph Pais, Enterprising Lawyer
Who are these “enterprising lawyers”? Actually, they are easy to spot. Look for the more engaged and happier lawyers in the crowd. Deeply invested in the power of the work they do for their clients, they have ample interests beyond the practice of law as well. And they seem to have more energy for getting things done than anyone in the crowd. You probably know one or two — you may even be one yourself!
Meet Ralph Pais, Partner and Chair of the Technology Transactions practice group at Fenwick & West LLP, and innovator of a NewLaw entity, FLEXbyFenwick. It deploys experienced lawyers to clients in-house, helping them in (and out of) crunch times.
Why did you want to be a lawyer?
I thought it would be a varied and interesting career and I liked the idea of helping other people navigate what are often seen as difficult-to-understand rules, processes and systems.
What is the focus of your personal law practice?
Today, technology transactions and IP aspects of M&A. But I spend the majority of my time running and working on growing the FLEXbyFenwick business. In addition, I am chair of the Fenwick & West’s Technology Transactions practice group, and I am also the partner responsible for overseeing the firm’s professional development activities as well as our international efforts (excluding our recently opened China office). I also do about 450 to 600 hours of client work, both tech transactions as well as the IP aspects of M&A deals for our clients Facebook and Dropbox, as well as some others.
Who was your most important mentor and, briefly, what did the person teach you?
Conger Fawcett was a partner I worked for early in my career. He taught me many things about writing persuasively, being an effective advisor to clients and becoming a problem solver.
What about practicing law did you learn the hard way?
I don’t remember that there was anything that was the easy way.
How would you describe the location and décor of your office?
It’s on the 13th floor of a big, grown-up office building in downtown San Francisco. My desk has a round table attached to allow for collaborative work and conversations. There are a variety of toys on my desk that people (me included) can play with while we are discussing things.
Why would someone describe you as “enterprising?”
Because I like thinking about ways in which we can improve what we do in delivering services to clients.
What exactly is FLEXbyFenwick? And who are its typical clients?
FLEXbyFenwick is a service that provides in-house lawyers to clients on an interim or part-time basis when the clients are either not yet ready to hire full time in-house or have interim needs caused by any one of many possible factors (e.g., attorney leaves, spikes in workload, turnover). For lawyers, FLEX is a way to work with very interesting companies and control their own work levels and commitments. It is also a way for lawyers who have their own practices to supplement their workload, and get access to clients they might not be able to develop on their own, while letting someone else (FLEX) handle business development, billing and collection matters. We have more than 50 lawyers working in FLEX now. At any given moment in the current year, we’ll have around 40 active client engagements going, and that number increases all the time. We have an internal team of eight running the business, including me.
Though there isn’t really a “typical” FLEX client, almost all of our clients are technology entities of one sort or another. They range from early-stage companies to large private and large public companies.
Where did the idea for FLEXbyFenwick come from?
From observing client behaviors and changing needs in my practice. Early-stage companies rely heavily on their outside counsel for almost all legal needs. As their businesses grow, and they get traction in the market, there are day-to-day legal needs that they don’t want to use a large firm for, and yet they aren’t ready to hire full-time legal resources. Often, their management team isn’t sure how or where to find the right legal resources to address those needs. I thought if we could build a business that would help companies address those needs, that could be useful.
Many lawyers have good ideas but struggle to bring them to reality. To what do you credit your ability to do this?
I found a great colleague, Alex Smith (pictured with Ralph above), with whom to collaborate and develop the business. We have been in this together from the start. I think if you can do something with another person and then build a team, you are much more likely to be successful than if you try to do it alone. We also received lots of support from the firm’s leadership and my partners.
What is the first thing you “check” each morning?
I check my email before I leave for work, and I check my ego at the door.
Where do you think the practice of law is going?
People are writing books about this, so I’m not sure what I can say that is not pretty obvious.
Where are you going?
What are people most surprised to learn about you?
Today, people are often surprised that I spend more time running FLEX than doing anything else. They may also be surprised that I would rather have been a rock star.
What do you do every single day that you could actually go without doing?
Compulsively checking and responding to email.
What three things must you always have in your brief bag, desk drawer or refrigerator?
iPhone and iPad. Good tea. Something sweet to snack on.
Where do you turn when things go really badly?
Inward and to my wife.
More About Ralph Pais
Ralph Pais chairs the Technology Transactions practice (part of the Intellectual Property group) at Fenwick & West where he counts among his clients Facebook, Corium, Intacct and SpinMedia. He developed, launched and currently oversees FLEXbyFenwick, a group of experienced in-house attorneys that are deployed on individual temporary assignments to act as part of the client’s in-house team. He is also responsible for DMR, an internal discovery and diligence team, as well as Fenwick’s professional development program.
Ralph previously served as Consul of the Netherlands for Northern California for 16 years, was general counsel to a privately owned food supplement and cosmetics company, and taught courses on negotiations at Stanford Law School and a course on legal issues for entrepreneurs at the San Francisco campus of the Wharton School.
Photos courtesy of FLEX by Fenwick.
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