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Bill Berry, General Counsel at Verkada

Bill Berry, General Counsel at Verkada

September 20, 2023

How does your thought process around hiring change in a down market? Actually, my approach to hiring remains largely the same in a down market:  it’s still all about finding the right people with the best set of skills and experiences to succeed in the open role. A down market also creates a great opportunity if you’re hiring (when others are not). For the most part, if you are hiring, you are in a market where supply exceeds demand – and the applicants are eager to find a new (and “safer”) job. I don’t view the fact that an applicant was impacted by layoffs or RIFs as a negative at all; in fact, layoffs almost always flood the market with amazingly talented lawyers. When I joined Verkada last year, we were in that enviable position of hiring in a down market – and we continue to be. And I’m really excited about the amazing people we’ve hired already (in this down market) – and the team we’ve started to build here. I think perhaps the one challenge that presents itself more acutely in a down market is when you are recruiting someone who currently has a job. Even if they don’t love their current job, they are still reluctant to risk a switch in times of economic uncertainty. That applicant takes some more convincing! But in general, I don’t think a down market changes my hiring approach. And for folks who have unfortunately been impacted by layoffs and RIFs, I would tell them that hiring managers are excited to talk to you! These moments in time have nothing to do with your skills and capabilities – and most (if not all) people who are hiring understand that.

How do you best prioritize the needs of your legal team and business constituents with constrained resources? I feel pretty lucky. Verkada is in a great position in terms of funding and growth trajectory, so we have continued to build our team without many of the types of constraints that I know many legal teams are facing right now. That said, there isn’t a legal team out there that feels like it doesn’t need more resources – and I’ve seen many different approaches to constrained resources. I think a company’s stage of growth has a big impact on how to handle resource constraints. addressing these challenges based on their stage of growth. For more established legal teams, the primary functions are already addressed so there are fewer (if any) major gaps to fill. Instead, it’s about fine-tuning headcount and investment – and remaining vigilant to future needs so that business needs don’t catch the team short-handed in areas that need more support. It’s also about making sure team ranks don’t become unnecessarily bloated (which is probably the biggest challenge of more established legal teams). But for earlier-stage teams, like ours at Verkada, the challenge is different. Addressing business needs by identifying and filling crucial legal functions is the top priority. How to do that without unlimited resources can be tough. Verkada is very much a product-driven company so the first function we filled was product counsel. We next turned to hiring privacy counsel given privacy plays a foundational role in the way we design our products and, in turn, how our customers use them. We followed with other key roles (legal ops, employment, litigation and IP, as well as supplementing our commercial counsel team). Once we build out those core functions, we will face a tougher challenge in terms of resource constraints: where to allocate our resources next. I think that is where it gets really hard.

Can you provide job seekers a few tips on how to best position themselves in a candidate-heavy, job-limited market? The advice I often give to job seekers is that it is really important to tailor their resumes and applications for every role they apply to. Many lawyers who are looking for in-house roles bring a lot of broad-based experience to the table. But the open roles tend to be tied to a specific function (like product counsel for a big multinational software company versus product counsel for a fintech startup). So it’s critical that you tailor your application to fit that specific role. That often means you’ll end up with several versions of your resume that reflect the different experiences you’ve developed over the years. The other advice I often give (which is especially relevant in down markets) is to be open-minded about opportunities that may come your way. Depending on how important or urgent it is for you to get a job, you may need to accept a job that might not be your “top choice” at first glance. The way I see it, sometimes it’s more important to keep moving, and take the next step – even if not what you ideally want. Each new role diversifies your experience and adds more color to your resume; and you might discover a new niche or functional area that you enjoy. Plus, at worst, learning what you don’t enjoy can be just as powerful in informing the next role you take as learning what you do enjoy.

Has this ever affected you personally in your career? Do you have any inspiring stories to share about how you (or someone close to you) has navigated finding a job in a down market? I had to make a career pivot during the 2008 housing crisis, and it turned out to be a more influential move than I anticipated. After four years at the SEC, I had decided it was time to move on to my next role – and I had my sights set on in-house opportunities (honestly, I didn’t really want to go back to the hourly grind of a law firm). I had just started my job search when the housing market collapsed, sending the overall market into a downfall. From my perspective, the legal in-house market dried up overnight. So I had to pivot and consider returning to a law firm – and I ended up returning to Quinn Emanuel (where I was before I went to the SEC). Even though it wasn’t what I thought I wanted, it turned out to be a great move for me. I added critical experience to my resume, which now boasted experience on both sides of the table: as a former government lawyer investigating companies and as a lawyer representing companies under investigation. I have no doubt this experience helped me land my job at Google, which was looking to hire a lawyer with my exact profile: a seasoned litigator with deep regulatory experience. That Google role then led me to an amazing opportunity at Tesla and eventually to my current role at Verkada, which I am loving. I feel very lucky – and my own career journey is a testament to the idea that sometimes your top choice is actually not your best choice in the long run.

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