InMarket at a glance:
What they do: A location-based advertising solution to help brands reach their consumers in the moments that matter.
Company Size: 201-500 employees
Headquarter Location: Culver City, California
The Road to CLO
I’m pleased to press “publish” on another installment in our GC Spotlight series, sharing the stories of successful in-house legal leaders from a variety of backgrounds, regions, and industries.
My hope is that by sharing their stories, you feel better informed and equipped to take steps toward your own fulfilling career as an in-house legal leader. The good news? There is no “right path” to becoming a GC or CLO, and you’re probably already well on your way—whether you know it or not.
With that, I’m excited to introduce Jason Knapp, Chief Legal Officer at InMarket. Jason’s path to CLO was not unlike my own, with several stops along the way in roles at both law firms and as in-house counsel.
I asked Jason a few questions about his path to becoming a Chief Legal Officer and what advice he’d give to aspiring legal professionals looking to take their next steps.
Spoiler alert: He had a lot.
Jason, could you describe your path to becoming a CLO?
It was a windy road. I spent nine years as a litigator at three firms, starting in Las Vegas and then in Chicago. I first moved in-house when I joined a tight-knit legal team and great business leaders at AkzoNobel, a multinational paints and chemicals company. In my three years there, I jumped into the deep end of the in-house pool, working across several practice areas: commercial contracts, compliance, procurement, competition law, employment, and M&A. I fell in love with in-house life in that job. Then I had the exciting opportunity to move to Amsterdam and serve as general counsel for a venture-backed SaaS company whose business straddled the U.S. and Europe.
That’s the basic chronology but maybe it’s more helpful to focus on what I learned and how I grew in these earlier roles. I spent a lot of time listening to clients talk about their goals and needs. I learned how disputes get resolved and I helped break down the obstacles that can distract or derail a company. Working side by side with business colleagues I understood how in-house lawyers at any level can help drive business results.
Many attorneys aspire to become a CLO. What type of legal experiences would you suggest in-house counsel early in their career to become a CLO?
I like being a lawyer because I like solving problems–and the knottier the problem, the more interesting it is. I urge early career lawyers to get a wide breadth of experience because the problems a CLO works on are usually thorny and they don’t fit neatly into one practice area.
There’s no standard checklist to prepare for a CLO role. CLOs come in all kinds of flavors so the right CLO for one company would be a trainwreck for another. That said, any CLO needs to be sharp on core lawyer skills: making strategic arguments; unambiguous and clear writing; and practical risk evaluation.
“Good lawyer” might really be table stakes; a CLO is also a key leader in a company. To succeed, you need to build trust relationships with stakeholders. You need to be strong enough to break down roadblocks while also building up and supporting the people on your team and in your company. And you have to decisively prioritize how you deploy the company’s limited and valuable legal resources.
You're an excellent networker and "outside of the box" thinker. For a newly graduated attorney or other attorney looking for a role now, what networking or job search advice would you give them to get that next opportunity?
It’s a little surprising to hear you say that. I hated the idea of networking early in my career because I thought it meant elevator pitches or business cards or bad jokes about golf. I was very Catcher in the Rye about how phony it seemed. The “networking” I found myself doing within my law firms and companies led to some really powerful realizations: there are fascinating, funny, and good-hearted people everywhere, and even short conversations with new connections contained important lessons, some of which I still think about after many years. Also, I am generally a curious person and helping people is rewarding, so networking lets me scratch both of those itches. When networking, you just have to find an approach that feels good for you.
In terms of advice for those seeking a new role, consider a few metaphors:
Finding a job is like assembling a puzzle. Spend a lot of effort to understand your talents and how they fit with a company’s needs. Where can you add unique value? In a specific industry, a practice area, or a key geography? Make that case explicitly.
Finding a job is like sewing together a quilt. Your legal experience is a box of cloth scraps. Your job is to sew together the right scraps in a compelling pattern that aligns to the job you want and to the company’s strategic needs. When it’s an opportunity you can’t stop thinking about, don’t send a one-quilt-fits-all message. Customizing your approach shows you care.
Ultimately, we’re all a bunch of atoms swerving randomly into and out of applicant tracking systems and new roles; there’s no destiny in the job market. If it feels random sometimes, trust your instincts. That can be frustrating–it can also be freeing. Just focus on what you can control.
Can I just add a word of support for folks searching for their first job or rebounding after a layoff? I’ve been there before and it can be tough. In 2022, stigma against job hunters is played out. Lots of people you know already would be thrilled to help with introductions or advice–you just have to ask. Explore the opportunities that look interesting to you. Find a way to show your strengths and build new connections. Retool when you have setbacks; celebrate when you succeed. Keep at it.
Want more insights into a career in legal leadership? Check out this installment in our GC Spotlight series, featuring Brie Buchanan, General Counsel at Relay Payments, and download the GC Playbook for even more informative career tips.