Having left a country under oppressive leadership when she was just a baby for Italy and then the United States, Laura Lariu recalls that the importance of being in a just society was instilled during her formative years. “My whole life, I felt my parents made the ultimate sacrifice, leaving their home country under very difficult circumstances to give me a better life,” she explains.
Have spent much time abroad, Lariu saw the significance of a powerful community and the importance of law. So much so that she knew early on she wanted to pursue a legal career.
Still, she never expected to become an attorney in the “futuristic transport sector.” Yet that is the position she has assumed as general counsel of Relativity Space, an aerospace manufacturer based in Inglewood, California, that develops 3D-printed rockets and provides commercial orbital launch services.
“I went to a specialized science high school in New York and fell in love with math and science, but I didn’t know how to combine my interests in law and science,” Lariu recalls. “When I was in law school, I knew I wanted to build a career helping start-ups and pursue cutting-edge technology.”
That interest led to an associate role in the emerging growth company sector at Gunderson Dettmer, which is considered one of the United States’ top law firms for start-ups.
“While there, I worked really closely with some brilliant cofounders, helping them to grow their companies,” Lariu says. “I was doing everything from administering stock option plans to raising venture capital funding and eventually selling their companies.”
In 2016, Lariu moved to Los Angeles and joined Virgin Hyperloop, a company looking to reinvent transportation by building a fifth mode of transportation to eliminate the barriers of distance and time. This was done by propelling a pod at fast speeds through a low-pressure system using a motor and levitation method.
“Pretty futuristic stuff. The idea seemed fantastical to me initially, yet something clicked in my mind that it was an opportunity to combine my passions—law and science—to work for a company looking to improve the human experience,” Lariu shares. “What they are proposing is giving people back their time by drastically reducing the time spent commuting and traveling.”
Lariu felt as though she had identified her niche. In 2019, she heard about Relativity Space, which at the time was just a couple dozen people 3D-printing rocket parts with the eventual goal of launching a completed rocket into space.
“Their mission just seemed so audacious and futuristic and consistent with this new career path I had discovered for myself, and I knew I had to be a part of it,” she explains.
When Lariu started at Relativity Space, she was the only lawyer and helped out in other aspects of the company. She continues to expand her role, currently serving as the leader of the company’s COVID-19 task force. Because one of the company’s values is “humankind,” Relativity Space’s leadership wants to ensure that the health and safety of all members of its team is covered.
“At first, we shut all of our sites down and transitioned people to work from home. Then we came up with a plan as a task force to gradually phase people back on-site in a way that really minimized risk of potential exposure to the virus,” Lariu shares. “As you can imagine for a manufacturing company in the rocket industry, there was a significant amount of planning involved. But to date, the transitions have been successful.”
“[Relativity Space’s] mission just seemed so audacious and futuristic and consistent with this new career path I had discovered for myself, and I knew I had to be a part of it.”
As of mid-June, people have begun to return on-site, and all efforts on preparing the rocket are moving forward.
“You sometimes can’t predict the things that you’re going to have to respond to as a legal department, so being flexible is incredibly important at a moment like this,” Lariu says.
She defines her role as helping to grow the company while formulating a startup-friendly risk posture. Her responsibilities include improving the company’s policies to enhance the culture, handling contracts, interpreting and communicating new laws, and determining what risks the company can intelligently take. Lariu has negotiated critical infrastructure agreements with NASA, helped spearhead $140 million in Series C financing, and finalized all customer contracts to date.
Outside of work, Lariu does a great deal of community service, including serving on the leadership council of the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice, which provides free legal services to immigrant families and victims of domestic violence. Like her parents did before her, Lariu wants to help leave her children’s generation better off than her own, to afford them the opportunities to pursue their own dreams. Her son, in turn, has dreams of becoming a rocket scientist.
“I know it feels idealistic, but I have a lot of hope and I just want to spend my days contributing to something I generally hope will change humanity and improve humankind for future generations,” Lariu says. “I’d be content if I played even the tiniest part of that mission for a company.”