As legal counsel and chief compliance officer at Star Mountain Capital, Austin Ericson ensures the firm and its employees comply with applicable laws and regulations at a company—and in an industry—that’s constantly growing and evolving.
He understands that strong relationships with his business colleagues aren’t just a luxury but are critical to success.
“To be effective, first you need the information. A lot of that comes by being accessible to people, no matter what level they’re at in the business,” Ericson explains. “A lot of times, you can learn things that are going on just by being willing to talk to someone who’s junior, taking them to lunch, and getting a feel for what they’re seeing.
“There’s formal ways to gather information—committees, weekly calls, and email updates—and there’s informal,” he continues. “Often, the informal—coffees, water cooler, firm events—helps you get information before you would otherwise so that you can help steer decisions early on.”
That’s one of the many gems Ericson has relied on to be a strong in-house counsel and business partner at the firm. Star Mountain Capital currently provides strategic debt and equity capital to private business that have at least $15 million of revenue while offering liquidity solutions to investors and fund managers.
Another is tied to the way Ericson navigates the myriad of responsibilities he oversees. On any given day, he could be working on allocation and valuation of investments, monitoring employee compliance, or reviewing marketing materials or requests for proposals for potential investors, and more. Recently, he’s been focused on new US Securities and Exchange Commission private fund rules and ensuring Star Mountain is prepared for the changes.
As an in-house lawyer who wears a lot of hats, he emphasizes that it’s important to remember to put on the right one for the right client.
“Managing the attorney/client relationship can get complicated, whether you’re at an asset manager or a law firm,” he admits. “At an asset manager there’s generally a management company, the founder, the funds, the employees, all of whom need help in a different way. At a law firm, there’s partners, associates, paralegals, and, of course, clients.”
Star Mountain’s outside counsel recognizes Austin’s skills at balancing the interests of the various stakeholders within the organization. “Through his practical and commercially minded approach, Austin has become a trusted part of the Star Mountain team, and is therefore well-positioned to ensure that the firm’s obligations to its clients are always treated as paramount,” notes Ed Nadel, partner at Lowenstein Sandler LLP.
Having a strong team is vital, too. Since Ericson joined the company, he’s had a chance to shape his team, which consists of two dedicated resources with assistance from another half dozen in the financial operations group. He leads with an understanding that everyone is different and has their own unique strengths and there’s different ways of leveraging them.
“Some people like working early, others prefer to work late,” he says. “Some are more in line with the compliance side, which can be very by the book like a science, versus drafting a policy or a contract, which is more of an art. We hire people for a certain role, but we know they might need to shift to different responsibilities based on what their good at and what they enjoy doing.”
Before coming to Star Mountain Capital, Ericson developed his legal expertise during a career journey that saw him serve as a transactional lawyer at McDermott Will & Emery before moving in-house at H.I.G. Capital as an assistant general counsel. In both roles, one of the most valuable lessons he learned was about “understanding who you’re there to help.”
“When you’re a junior associate, you may not be interacting with the named client. So, while they’re technically your client, you have to adjust your mindset to know, ‘my client is this company, but I’m working with this partner who oversees the relationship as a whole,’” he explains. “Similarly when you’re in-house, your client is the advisor, but, ultimately, you’re making decision and deals on behalf of the investors and making sure they get good legal representation, are aware of the risks, and are being treated fairly.”
Ericson believes that young lawyers can gain a lot of valuable experience from starting their careers at a law firm.
“You get exposed to formal trainings and people who are specialized in a variety of areas,” he says. “You also learn that you need to be available for your clients, especially in private equity. You might be working on vacations, but if you don’t have that instilled in you early, I don’t know if you ever will. When you’re in-house, its harder since you don’t have a partner over you, and you need to have a more responsible and client-serving mindset.”
He also wants others to understand the value of asking for help.
“Lawyers love to think they’re smart, but when you’re a junior lawyer, you’re not—even if you might’ve been the smartest coming out of college or law school,” Ericson says. “You have to be willing to humble yourself and ask questions and know who to ask.”