Ben Alley would like to conduct a small reality check for those looking for in-house roles because they seem cushy.
“I think there is a misconception that the pace in-house is more relaxed than that of a firm,” the chief patent counsel at Techtronic Industries Power Equipment (TTI) explains. “I certainly haven’t worked everywhere, but I can say that is not the case at TTI, and the intense pace is one of the things I enjoy most about being here.”
The lawyer has been part of the leading cordless technology company since coming in-house as a patent attorney in 2010. He was initially tasked with working with engineers and product designers on the daily, and that pace and need for collaboration have only continued to increase since he was promoted to his current role in 2017.
“The teams around here just do not slow down,” Alley explains. “If they were the best last month, they want to be the best next month. To help them do that, the legal team has to be in step. We work hard, side by side with the various teams, in an effort to help them achieve their respective goals.”
Earlier in his role, Alley had the chance to watch engineers adjusting designs, working to create differentiators that would make their products stand out in the market. He knows what it means to ask an engineer to alter their design, and how hard the process can be.
Alley understands the mind of an engineer: he graduated with a degree in electrical engineering before pivoting to law school to pursue an interest in patent law. He displays a deep understanding of translating the needs of engineers, lawyers, and the rest of the business to create a viable path forward for innovation.
Successfully conducting this three-way translation is imperative for anyone hoping to move a business forward and avoid having the legal team being seen as an inhibitor of progress, Alley says. Some days, the engineers are going to be happier than the business, and some days the business side is going to be happier than the engineers. But there’s one mood that can be relied upon: “The legal folks are never going to be happy,” Alleys says, laughing. “That’s just because we’re always thinking about any possible risk, but you have to approach these issues with an open mind and know that everyone is going to have to give a little for the greater goal.”
Alley explains that there are several specific qualities that he looks for on his team. He wants a lawyer who isn’t going to instinctively lock into an “avoid risk at all cost” mindset at the first sign of a challenge.
“We’re always looking for people that are going to go that extra mile and think outside the box,” the lawyer says. “There are usually multiple paths forward from a legal perspective, but you have to be willing to take the time, think a little differently, and ensure that the path moving forward aligns with the business objectives and timelines while mitigating any risk.”
The lawyer highlights four qualities that characterize TTI: powerful brands, innovative products, exceptional people, and operational excellence. Those qualities underpin the importance of intellectual property at the company.
“Two of those four qualities are IP-based,” Alley emphasizes. “There’s a huge focus on IP and innovation here, and you can see that in our products. We’re always pushing the envelope, and the culture here is defined by that constant move forward.”
In his own role, the attorney says that being an effective in-house counsel means truly understanding the role. Some outside counsel have the tendency to suggest the path having the least possible risk, not fully appreciating the business objectives.
“As in-house counsel, you really have to act more like a holistic problem-solver and partner with the business,” Alley says. “You’re part of a team and you have to keep that in mind. Part of your role is to mitigate risk, but when you’re presenting the business team with associated risks, you need to always be presenting potential solutions as well. Our company makes innovative products that meet the needs of people, whether they are enjoying hobbies, maintaining their properties, or earning their livelihood, and our job is to support the business and facilitate getting these products to the market.”
Dority & Manning, P.A.:
“D&M celebrates the well-deserved recognition of our client and friend, Ben Alley! Having worked with Ben for several years, I can attest to his exceptional leadership and guidance at TTi.”
–Thomas Huycke, Principal