Life of a General Counsel
Lexion’s customer James Wan was the first General Counsel and Company Secretary at one of Australia's fastest high growth ventures in artificial intelligence – harrison.ai. His experience spans healthcare, AI, and SaaS, from Australia, Singapore to Hong Kong. He has deep technical expertise in machine learning, blockchain/crypto and software/IT. He is also a patent attorney with over 17 years experience.
I recently caught up with James to chat about his personal career journey on his way to General Counsel and his thoughts about artificial intelligence (AI) in business.
Here’s what he had to say about building a GC career and AI.
How did your legal journey lead you to be a GC?
I knew it would be a great adventure. I’d learn a lot and get to work with mission driven high caliber people that were willing to take the same leap of faith as me.
Serendipity. At the time, I wasn’t actively looking for a new role and was happy servicing my own clients working at one of Australia’s oldest and largest specialist IP firms. I was passionate about assisting startups and actively sought to grow my practice to encompass more startup clients. I primarily serviced software, AI, and blockchain companies because I held a degree in computer science and continued to code in my spare time.
A co-founder of harrison.ai approached me to perform an IP landscape analysis in the field of radiology artificial intelligence (AI). A week later after I delivered my analysis, I was contacted again for a subsequent meeting.
It was at this meeting that the role was offered to me, which I wasn’t expecting. I thought seriously about the opportunity and found that Jeff Bezos’ Regret Minimization Framework helped me make my decision - I knew at the very least it would be a great adventure and would probably later regret not experiencing it. I expected I’d learn a lot and get to work alongside mission-driven highly skilled specialists that would have taken the same leap of faith as an early joiner at a startup that was pre-VC funded at the time.
Any actionable advice to a GC during their first 90 days?
Learn deeply about all aspects of the business; commercially and technically (if your company makes a technical product).
Ask a lot of questions of everyone, identify the biggest risks that need to be managed, and cultivate your support network e.g. by joining and engaging with peers in the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC), and other similar organizations.
You have a lot of experience with AI. How do you think AI will change, impact, or improve the way lawyers work or the legal profession?
At harrison.ai, we create AI as a clinical decision support (CDS) tool to assist clinicians perform their incredible work more efficiently and accurately. AI can similarly be a useful tool to support lawyers.
AI is very good at pattern recognition tasks (e.g. computer vision or natural language processing) and I’m sure many lawyers can relate to certain tasks which are more repetitive and mundane compared to more interesting problem solving projects that we all probably hope to do more of because they generally leave you more fulfilled and satisfied.
With the growing dominance of Transformer architecture in deep learning and the continuing trend of decreasing costs for storage and compute, it will be exciting to see some very interesting and useful tools being built for lawyers soon.
Want more insights into a GC career? Read what Deborah Solmor had to say about life as a GC and get the GC Playbook for informative tips.