Relay Payments at a glance:
What they do: An end-to-end digital payment solution and mobile app for the supply chain and logistics industries.
Company Size: 100-200 employees
Headquarter Location: Atlanta, Georgia
General Counsel Life
I’m excited to continue our GC Spotlight series to share the stories of successful in-house legal leaders from various industries and regions. The path to becoming the head of a legal department for a company is often non-linear, varied, and consists of a collection of experiences that helps the individual to not just think like a lawyer but also think strategically, with the business goals top of mind, excel at communicating with all background types, and manage people. Sounds hard? It is because we’re often not armed with these skills from law school training.
We hope that reading the stories of the featured legal leaders helps you think about working on the projects and taking on the roles that help you add bullets to your resume that will make your background attractive to a recruiter or helps you become a more effective legal and business leader generally.
Please meet Brie Buchanan, General Counsel of Relay Payments. Brie began her legal career as a patent and intellectual property (IP) litigator, which is not a typical starting point for a general counsel of a tech company. Brie and I first met at a conference last year and I immediately noticed her intelligence, strength, and fabulous sense of style. Over the past year, we have bonded as extremely busy working mothers and we also have lawyer spouses that work in the public sector.
I asked Brie a few questions about her journey and any advice she’d give to aspiring general counsels.
Brie, please describe your path to becoming the GC of Relay Payments?
After 10 years working in Big Law as a patent and IP litigator, I moved in-house for a publicly traded manufacturing company. I joined them with a primary focus on establishing their compliance program and using my IP background to support business growth. But it was a small legal department, and I soon had the opportunity to work on a myriad of different issues. GDPR was passed, and suddenly I was diving deep into privacy law. Political regimes shifted, and my responsibilities turned to reviewing labor and union agreements, ultimately gaining employment experience and taking over risk management and worker's compensation. When acquisition opportunities arose, I was dialed into diligence and integration plans. I touched many different areas, and learned so much.
And then came a call from a recruiter at Relay Payments – based on my LinkedIn profile alone! The timing was perfect – and my experience was just broad enough to give me the confidence to tackle a GC position for a rapidly scaling start-up.
What experiences do you recommend an attorney gain if they'd like to rise to your role?
My recommendation would be to stay open to various opportunities to learn new areas of law. Working at law firms, we get very specialized. I enjoy IP very much, and would have continued doing exactly that, but for someone else coming along and saying, "Hey, I think your experience lends well to X." We all went to law school. We all have the tools to expand our practice. If you want to be GC, start thinking about how your expertise blends well into risk management, compliance, privacy, and employment.These have become so important to business health. Then start talking about them in your network – including on LinkedIn – so that others know your interests and see your efforts to generalize.
Most gain the analytical ability in school and in practice. But to truly be an effective and successful legal leader, you must earn the trust of those around you, regardless of their personality.
What skill do you think attorneys should hone to become a successful legal leader?
I think one of the most important skills is strong people management. The law touches almost everything and everyone in different ways. But people come with all kinds of backgrounds – most of which are not rooted in the law. Analyzing the law and leading people to be compliant therewith are two separate yet important skills for a legal leader to perfect. Most gain the analytical ability in school and in practice. But to truly be an effective and successful legal leader, you must earn the trust of those around you, regardless of their personality. You have to be able to understand people, their risk tolerance, and their goals – and determine how the law and your recommendations can best help them succeed.
Want more insights into a GC career? Read what Deborah Solmor and James Wan had to say about life as a GC and download the GC Playbook for informative career tips.