Rideshare company Lyft drives innovation by disrupting the traditional order of things. In fact, the company describes itself as being “where transportation and technology bring people together, instead of apart.”
In addition to upending the transportation industry, Lyft is also somewhat of a pioneer when it comes to its litigation department, which has evolved into a group of twelve that is predominantly female—with just one male attorney.
The department is led by Lindsay Llewellyn, associate general counsel, who points out that the demographics of the entire legal department, which is also predominantly female, developed organically.
“It’s no secret that the law as a profession tends to be fairly male dominated, especially at the senior ranks,” Llewellyn says. ”So, perhaps the fact that we’ve had a female GC from the beginning made us more aware of making sure that women are well represented as we’ve built the department.”
Rather than focusing solely on the gender of its attorneys, however, the department has focused on building a team that is collaborative and well rounded. To help make that approach successful, Llewellyn stresses that her attorneys and staff should feel comfortable admitting when there is a topic they may not be familiar with.
“Everyone should be confident in their abilities but also humble about acknowledging that we have a lot to learn from each other,” she says. “I want to feel like I’m learning something new every day. So when we’re hiring, I want someone with unique experience that I don’t have who can teach me and the team about his or her areas of expertise.”
In one instance, Llewellyn hired an attorney with an extensive insurance background, an area in which the department was lacking at the time. On both the corporate and driver sides, that person was able to share the strategies she had learned as insurance-appointed defense counsel and in personal-injury litigation to help strengthen the team’s overall capabilities.
Other than having so many women in the legal department, Llewellyn says, there is nothing unusual about its overall working dynamics. She describes it as an extremely close-knit group whose members provide tremendous professional and personal support to one another. However, when pressed about specific legal matters, she admits that the department’s strategies might be more collaborative than those that a predominantly male team might choose.
For example, when dealing with the California Public Utilities Commission, which regulates transportation network companies such as Lyft, the company has always tried to create a relationship built on respect and mutual understanding.
“We try to engage collaboratively with regulators rather than taking a defensive posture and gearing up for a fight,” Llewellyn says. “We want to know as much as we can about the reasoning behind their position so that we can respond appropriately, create an open dialogue, and find ways to develop a mutually agreed-upon resolution.”
She also points out that, in most cases, that kind of negotiated agreement does a better job of addressing all parties’ concerns, protecting the company’s interests and ultimately costing less than “sending a strongly worded letter.”
Llewellyn’s strategic prowess greatly impressed her colleague Danny David at Baker Botts LLP. “Lindsay is both a masterful tactician and a big-picture strategist,” he says. “With her focus always on achieving the best overall results for the business, she is as innovative and exemplary as the company she represents.”
As mothers of young children, both general counsel Kristin Sverchek and Llewellyn have prioritized a work environment that promotes a healthy work-life balance. A major component of that effort revolves around shared departmental calendars that the entire team can use to stay up to date on everyone’s personal and professional commitments.
It took a while for Llewellyn to learn how to give up her old habits as a high-achieving, hard-charging lawyer and model the more balanced behavior she wanted her team to adopt. Having an infant and toddler at home, though, was a tremendous incentive. It was a difficult transition, but she learned that if she didn’t respect her own personal guidelines to make time for herself and family, no one else would, either.
“Now if someone asks if I can stay late, I push back and offer other options to handle whatever the issue might be,” Llewellyn says. “I try to be as flexible as possible for those times when there is a true emergency, but when my youngest goes to bed at 7:15, everyone knows that’s one of the times when I’m off-line.”
The same is true for the rest of the team, and all team members have learned each other’s ongoing obligations and time restrictions. And, because they work so collaboratively and have demonstrated their commitment to the company and to each other over time, explanations are unnecessary when any one of them is unexpectedly unavailable. “I trust my team,” Llewellyn says. “I don’t need to push to know the details.”
Llewellyn saw the value of such trust, open communication, and transparency when she went on a hiking weekend last year with twenty other female lawyers. Her husband and her colleague who had organized the event had to convince her to attend it, but when she did, she found that the experience was filled with support and sharing common concerns among the women, who ranged in age from their late twenties to their early sixties.
“It was my first non-work-related trip away from my then nine-month-old, and I wasn’t used to focusing on my own well-being,” Llewellyn says. “But hearing what such a diverse group of women had to say opened my eyes to the importance of finding an appropriate balance between work life and personal life.”
As a result, Llewellyn emphasizes empathy and support to facilitate the success of her department.
“The best thing I can do for my team is give clear, supportive, constructive feedback, whether they’re knocking it out of the park or might have areas where they need to improve,” she says.
So far, that “hiking strategy” appears to be working exceptionally well.
Photo by Max Morse/Lyft
Boies Schiller Flexner LLP:
“Lindsay is exceptionally incisive: she quickly distills complex strategy and has a clear idea of the company’s litigation priorities. And her commitment to diversity is changing our profession for the better.”
—Albert Giang, Partner
Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP:
“Lindsay has a creative mind and an impeccable sense of judgment. She is also compassionate and has wisdom well beyond her years. Combined, these characteristics make her an exceptionally talented lawyer and a remarkable leader.”
—Mari Overbeck, Litigation Attorney