By the time Christopher Mermigas stepped into his second assistant general counsel role at Valid in 2015, he didn’t have the background one would expect of such a leader. He had worked in IT, network security, law enforcement, government, and private practice; served in-house, and owned his own business. He devoted his legal career to practicing various facets of civil and criminal litigation—from prosecuting crimes, foreclosure defense, and loss mitigation to constitutional commerce claims, drafting laws, labor disputes, and more.
It was an eccentric and well-rounded journey that prompted his mentor, Joseph Taylor, at Valid to call him “the next generation of general counsels.”
“Joe made it clear,” Mermigas recalls. “He said, ‘You are what the future is going to be, that tech-focused business partner GC.’”
Fast forward and the mentor couldn’t have been more spot on. Since then, Mermigas served as general counsel, corporate secretary, and data privacy officer while at Valid. In 2022, he came to RSA Security, an identity and cybersecurity powerhouse, to serve as head of legal, where he’s part of a paradigm shift in the function. Mermigas has not only the technical know-how and the industry expertise to understand the business and its challenges but also a proactive approach to addressing its needs.
“There are different types of in-house counsels. The old-school approach sees legal as a service, where corporate depends on legal to provide results-oriented service as if you were going to an outside counsel. The future type of GC is a proactive legal business partner. I’m more proactive,” Mermigas explains. “It’s our role to provide holistic legal and business advice and counseling necessary to advance and protect the company. In today’s digital age, this requires in-house counsels to not only have a strong handle on technology but also business administration and operations.
“You have to get involved early and understand where your business colleagues are coming from so you can give the best advice you can or guide them through the process to ensure they are on the correct path,” he continues. “It’s more frontloaded work, but at the end of the day your colleagues see the deals run faster and more smoothly.”
That mindset is especially critical at a company like RSA, which provides an AI-powered identity platform to protect the world’s most secure organizations. RSA is one of the largest identity and access management (IAM) security companies in the world, and Mermigas’s perspective has helped transform legal, building up its processes, procedures, and infrastructure in ways that have made the function more agile than before.
“I receive a great deal of positive feedback. Our turnaround times on contracts is now two to three days when it used to be two to three weeks,” he says. “We’re more involved with the sales team and getting contracts completed on their timelines rather than ours. Our customers are also happier to close deals faster.”
Moreover, Mermigas focuses on weighing the legal risks with the business needs and finds creative ways to resolve these risks while still closing the deal. “There are thousands of ways to say yes but only one way to say no,” he explains. “We just have to figure out which yes also works for the other side.
“Law and cybersecurity both tend to have a reputation for slowing the business down,” he adds. “Like the solutions that RSA provides to its customers, I want my team to find ways to help our internal customers speed up. Neither legal process nor good cybersecurity architecture should slow down your organization—when done well, they should help you move faster.”
Mermigas also works to set the tone for his team through a lead-by-example leadership style. He places a great deal of emphasis on cross training his teammates, so that “everyone is on the same page and allows the team more flexibility.”
“I won’t ask someone to do something that I’m not prepared to do. On the legal team, we all roll up our sleeves to get the work done. Everyone’s equal,” Mermigas says. “Everyone knows what each other is doing. Also, it’s important that the team knows that no one is correct 100 percent of the time. I want them to question each other and me. Constructive conflict is essential. As legal professionals we are trained to ask questions, analyze, debate, and provide resolutions. If we do that, we’ll get to a better, more clarified answer.
“In-house counsels should never be the barrier for business,” he continues. “I’ll continue to make my well-rounded and eccentric background an asset to my legal career to be the first line of defense and a business enabler.”
The Facts on AI
The growing prevalence of artificial intelligence (AI) in the business landscape—and dominant topic of conversation—makes it seem exciting, risky, and unfamiliar. But Chris Mermigas points out that it’s not as novel as we think.
“I’ve been vocal that today’s AI isn’t really anything new. We’ve had this capability for years,” RSA Security’s head of legal observes. “People are up in arms about ChatGPT-4, but you can generate similar results if you know how to use Google Search properly. I characterize ChatGPT-4 as a progeny of Siri and Google Search. In any case, AI is a great tool, but it shouldn’t be a decision-maker. It should be used as a data point that requires independent verification. Nothing in law is white-and-black, with few exceptions. That’s what leaders should keep in mind as they consider using it.”
“Congratulations to Christopher Mermigas on his profile in Modern Counsel. We’re proud to be working with Chris and his colleagues at RSA Security on their day-to-day legal needs.”
–Robert Blasi, Chair, Patent Practice