“Legal had to become an innovator to match the speed of HTC.”

By training his lawyers to let small issues go, deputy general counsel Brooks Larsen is keeping HTC Corporation’s legal department quick and efficient

Before I started at HTC, I worked for T-Mobile when it was known as Voicestream, and that time helped me figure out who I am as a lawyer. I had previously rolled around a bit and hadn’t stayed anywhere for a long time. I wanted to find the part of the law I enjoyed and commit to a company.

I was around great people and in a fast-moving company with cutting-edge technology. I dug in and got a broad range of responsibilities from product development to marketing to mergers. But it was managing outside lawyers that really opened my eyes to just how well an in-house attorney has to align to his business. I could throw a rock and hit a talented high-tech lawyer, but wireless is its own beast.

When I came to HTC in 2007, I knew my time at T-Mobile had prepared me well, though HTC is different in many ways. We’re not a cell phone carrier; we develop, make, market, and sell phones. I knew my success would live and die with my ability to match my team to what the company actually needs. Legal had to become an innovator to match the speed of HTC.

My department has to be lean and efficient. As in-house counsel, we’re just cost. We don’t have a billion-dollar legal budget. We’re not a huge corporation with a thousand lawyers who can afford to work in very narrow specialties. I wouldn’t want that anyway, because it doesn’t match the needs of HTC—and it’s boring.

We’re almost 50 lawyers worldwide in a $7 billion company that innovates faster than all of our competition, and we bring devices to market faster. Every lawyer at every level in every country for HTC is empowered to be the legal decision-maker. They should be able to negotiate an entire deal even if they have to do that without a business leader. They don’t have to, but they should be capable of doing so.

A lawyer who supports sales should also be deep in marketing and product development or other unique services. I want my team to know the business as well as—and sometimes better than—the people they’re supporting.

We’re in a very dynamic space, and my job is to lead a legal department that can keep up with the company and never slow it down. I do that by using what I call a “triage” approach to issues that arise. Like in an emergency room, we’ll mentally assign degrees of urgency to matters at hand and work accordingly.

I hire lawyers who are patient with chaos. They’re flexible, they have good judgment, and they can tell the difference between what’s important and what’s not. We run and run—and sometimes we stop and dig when we need to—but most of the time, we’re just running, because we know where the business is going. We can see all of the issues that might affect a product’s launch or increase risk of litigation or draw government investigations. My lawyers know how to take a deep breath and let things go when they can just let things go. If a possible issue doesn’t pertain to the integrity of our devices or getting them launched and sold quickly, we’re probably going to let it go.

We focus more on actual or probable risk, not remote or theoretical risk. I’ve hired some very sharp lawyers from blue-chip companies. Some have been successful here, and some have not. The ones who haven’t want to turn over every rock and draft and negotiate the magical and elusive perfect contract. But there’s a huge volume of work, and we don’t have the luxury of needlessly going deep.

My team closes deals and supports commercialization. We have to enable speed and match the creativity of our designers and engineers.

Continued success will only come if we can stay nimble and innovate faster than anyone else. We have to know who we are and be creative. We can’t say, “No, that’s not how we do it.” Let the other guys say “no.” Sharpen your pencils, and get to work.