Here at Topia, we are incredibly fortunate to work with intelligent and accomplished people. Today, we are honoring Elaine Foreman, Topia’s first General Counsel. Elaine is an experienced in-house attorney and brings nearly 20 years of experience in Fortune 100 enterprise-level legal experience to Topia. She oversees all legal and compliance matters for the company.
Last week, Elaine won the 2019 Aragon Research Women in Technology Award in the legal category. This award reflects the achievements of women who have demonstrated outstanding personal and professional growth and significantly contributed to the technology industry. We are proud of her and all she has accomplished in her career and here at Topia. To celebrate her win, we put together a Q&A to tap into her insights about the world of corporate law, her thoughts on work-life balance, and much more.
Without further ado, here are five questions we had for Elaine.
What drew you to work as an in house lawyer, and in particular, at technology companies?
I am fortunate to have had a varied career, having worked for the U.S. government, a major law firm, and large public companies. As a law firm lawyer, my role was often “cleaning up after the parade,” where I would come in after the fact to fix problems. Doing this made me realize that I wanted to be at the forefront and to lead the parade. I desired to drive strategy to avoid future problems. I chose to jump into the technology world, because I felt that it was where the most innovation was taking place.
In less dynamic areas, the legal function can be a bit boxed-in and seen as a necessary evil. At technology companies in general, and at Topia in particular, I have experienced a willingness to hear my perspective––not just as a lawyer, but as a valuable contributor to the business.
How does working at a company compare to other forms of legal practice?
As General Counsel to the business, I am a strategic partner across the company at all stages. Most law firm lawyers are brought in to advise on particular issues, such as completing an acquisition or filing a patent application. In my role, I participate across the organization so I can pick up on things earlier. That is the most significant difference.
For example, at Topia, I was involved in the evaluation of one of our acquisitions (evaluating the benefit of the combination). With that background, subsequent conversations about what contracts and resources were needed to take those products and services to the market were both more nuanced and quickly resolved. Topia’s executives have thought-provoking and wide-ranging conversations about all of these issues. My perspective is welcomed and appreciated, whether it pertains to a legal issue or not. That is not the kind of thing that most law firm lawyers get to do!
Of course, I am also responsible for what some might see as the “boring” aspects of being a lawyer. Even there, however, I try to use tactics such as compliance to utilize as strategic differentiators. For example, I worked closely with the People & Culture team to develop an employee handbook and Topia Code of Conduct. These documents are more than a set of rules––they are ways that we embody our values. I am proud that we included a volunteer time-off policy and a generous parental leave policy.
What do you find most interesting about working at Topia?
So many things! The first thing that drew me to Topia was the business proposition. I admire when outsiders can look in and say, “why didn’t I think of that?”. In my opinion, that is one of the indicators of a successful business––and I think Topia is just that sort of company. Of course, the global mobility function should be automated and pleasant for both the administrators and users!
Next, I love the opportunity to work on a diverse set of issues. The legal function is still small at Topia, so I work on everything from corporate to commercial to IP matters. The breadth of the work has stretched me intellectually and made me a better lawyer.
Finally, I work with a great group of people (and a few dogs) around the world. Not only do they challenge me, but we work collaboratively together. Oh, and they are pretty fun to hang out with, too.
How do you balance the workload of running a legal function and personal life?
As a lot of others have said, I think the concept of work-life balance is a fallacy. In short, it is pretty much impossible to keep everything in balance. There are times in both my personal and professional lives where more is needed. When I am lucky, they happen at different times.
I find that communication and flexibility are crucial to making my professional and personal lives peacefully coexist. I have said at home, “Next week is going to be crazy, I would appreciate your help.” Conversely, I have said at work, “I will be out for the next few days because my son has something going on.” Both my family and colleagues are understanding and supportive, and for that, I am fortunate. All that said, I find vacations, exercise, and time spent outdoors are restorative to all aspects of my life.
What recommendations would you give to other women growing a career in a corporate legal department?
I have three main pieces of advice I would like to give to other women growing their corporate legal careers. First: Trust yourself. You have gotten to this point in your career based on your abilities. Second: Be generous with your time, your advice, and your abundance. Your willingness to help others is not only the right thing to do but may help you down the line. Third: Take risks! If you don’t fail occasionally, you are probably missing out on some things.
Thank you, Elaine! We wish you our biggest congratulations on this incredible achievement. For more information about the 2019 Aragon Research Women in Technology Award, please visit their website.