In this installment of The In-House Advisor, we interview David Morris, General Counsel of Vivid Seats (NASDAQ:SEAT). David is Vivid Seats’ first general counsel, having started at the online ticketing e-commerce marketplace Vivid Seats in June of 2021 – during the company’s SPAC merger transaction that led to Vivid Seats going public in October of 2021.
Before joining Vivid Seats, David served as Vice President and Associate General Counsel at TripAdvisor Inc., a global online travel research and marketplace business, where he worked from 2008-2021 on a wide variety of commercial, regulatory, and corporate matters for TripAdvisor’s global hotels, flights, and vacation rentals marketplace businesses. David worked in various roles as the company grew from 200 to over 3000 employees, the latest as Vice President and Associate General Counsel. David also has been a longtime board member of the Doug Flutie Jr. Foundation for Autism, a nonprofit named after the son of the former National Football League quarterback, and the Brandeis University Alumni Association.
Prior to his tenure at TripAdvisor, David served at Invensys, PLC from 2003-2008 and began his legal career at the law firms of Wilmer Hale and Hinckley Allen.
The In-House Advisor: The role of in-house counsel has changed a lot over the years. How do you see that role changing going forward, and how can today’s in-house counsel prepare for those changes?
David Morris: There are two trends that I think about most: first, lawyers as strategists and second, better leveraging legal ops.
Lawyers as business and risk strategists means hiring and training emotionally intelligent lawyers who focus on becoming experts in the business, not just experts in their areas of the law. Strategic lawyer give informed strategic recommendations, not just a set of options for business decisions.
Leveraging legal ops means embracing the use of technology to increase efficiency, improve decision-making, and allow senior lawyers to focus on the matters that truly move the proverbial needle for the company, whether that technology may be AI-powered contract review, databases to monitor potential legislation, Board portals, or offshoring e-discovery.
IHA: As a more specific follow-up, Covid-19 has led to many short-run changes in how in-house counsel operates. Which of those changes do you view as positive and which do you think will stick?
DM: It feels like the clearest and most obvious change is the move to hybrid and remote work. For example, I live in Boston yet work in Chicago one week per month, where our main office is located. My team is located in various locations, and I’ve been working with a geographically dispersed team for a long time. Smart companies know that attracting and retaining the best talent rarely means sticking to only one geographic area.
While there are important advantages to meeting in person on a regular cadence, there are many ways to virtually foster rapport in between those in-person gatherings. The hybrid and remote work trends are here to stay in the tech world.
IHA: What should in-house attorneys not say or do to try to show their value?
DM: Don’t give long-winded legalese explanations to try to show off how smart you are. The business wants to see that Legal understands how to be a true partner and grasps the business goals. Sending a very long Big Law-style memo is unlikely to help demonstrate that.
Also, lead with the headline and don’t bury your recommendation at the end of an email. Explain issues as concisely as possible up front, with bullet points to support the lead. Remember that business leaders are generally busy and are not waiting for legal advice with bated breath. Talk in their language and give them the data points they need in a clear and accessible fashion. You can always add more details later…after you provide the “Cliff Notes” summary and recommendation they are really need.
IHA: You have been an in-house attorney for almost 20 years. How have you been able to thrive in that role and what advice do you have for other in-house counsel so that they, likewise, can succeed?
DM: Listen deeply to your business peers and actively seek out feedback. The most important feedback is finding out what you don’t do well; that’s how you improve and step out of your comfort zone. Do your best to provide clarity to your team and explain the “why” whenever you can. Lead with authenticity but be nimble and flexible enough to match your leadership style to what’s needed in each moment.