Matthew Goldberg discusses his career in corporate law and as in-house counsel from its beginnings, through his time with startups in Silicon Valley, to his current executive role as Vice President and General Counsel at ServiceSource International
Although the Bureau of Labor Statistics has repeatedly corrected or dismissed the claim, one oft-repeated trope Americans are treated to is that they will, on average, have something on the order of six or seven “career changes” in their lifetime. While the definition of what constitutes a career change as opposed to merely going from one job to another has always been murky, the mere preponderance of these surveys and this conversation suggests a conventional wisdom beneath it all—namely, that we do shift gears quite a bit from the time we start working until the day we finally finish.
While these changes can be the result of career detours, roadblocks or a simple desire for something different, it’s safe to say that such volatility wouldn’t be the preferred path of most.
In his own career as an attorney, ServiceSource Intl.’s Vice President (VP) and General Counsel (GC), Matthew Goldberg, has had moments where circumstances could have forced him to change course. Crediting a vision that he cast during his time in law school, however, he shares how he has managed to stay on a fairly direct route to where he is now—and all that he’s learned along the way.
Merging Business & Law
Speaking about his lifelong inclination toward law school, as well as his long held interest in business and entrepreneurship, Goldberg explained how he came to find a real home as a corporate lawyer, where he could blend his professional passions and skills.
“I was an undergrad at UPenn’s Wharton School, majoring in Entrepreneurial Management, and for some reason I always knew law school was in my future as well,” he said. “So at the time, it seemed to make sense—getting the business education as an undergrad, then going to law school after. I don’t think I knew anything about joint JD-MBA programs at that time, so this plan made sense.”
“I didn’t realize I wanted to focus on corporate law until the summer between my second and third year, working as a Summer Associate at a firm in Philadelphia,” Goldberg said. “Like many students, I really had no idea what corporate law was when I was in school, and really only knew of litigation as what a lawyer did. But once I stated doing it, I realized that working on business deals was a more natural extension of my education and interests.”
“[Corporate law] is just so different than what you always imagined being a lawyer was when you were growing up. You think of lawyers as being litigators in court and no one [in TV or film] ever shows you what it’s like to be a corporate lawyer,” he continued. “You have no real idea about what it is until you’re doing it, and even when you’re getting a taste of it as a Summer Associate, you don’t realize where you’re adding true value until you start practicing. But from a personality perspective, I could see the match between myself and the corporate lawyers at that firm.”
Venturing to the Valley
Following the completion of his juris doctor at George Washington University School of Law, Goldberg moved west to Silicon Valley, working to help grow startup companies, both successful and unsuccessful. He detailed those experiences, in terms of what the environment was like and what he learned from each.
“Working for startups is great because it has an all-hands-on-deck feel,” Goldberg said. “You need to use whatever talents you have. Yes, you will handle all the legal aspects if you are working as a lawyer in that environment, but you can also add value with business development, marketing, raising funds or any other area important to the business where you have some skill. So you can use all your skills, which can be energizing. As companies become bigger, though, there is more of a need to be singularly focused on your specific job function.”
“For Silicon Valley, in particular, as a lawyer, the firms here were willing to give you more responsibility as you earned it, rather than lockstep your responsibility at first year, second year, etc. I liked that. I never would have succeeded doing document review or diligence solely for my first few years. I would have grown frustrated. But here, as a business lawyer, you could take on a startup company as your client from the beginning, own the relationship and grow with them. It creates a faster and more enjoyable learning curve that way. Lawyers who are trained out here also have a tendency to be more open-minded about different ways to solve problems.”
“With startups, there is risk,” Goldberg continued. “Obviously many don’t work out. But I am glad I took the risk when I was able to, and saw what that world is like up close. Now I am working as GC for a global public company, and I am learning that this has its own set of challenges—for example, scaling a business globally and the need to be 100 percent rock solid in your legal advice.”
Global Perspective & Common Sense
Matthew’s road to his role as VP and GC of ServiceSource could have been indefinitely detoured by economically detrimental events. His tenacious desire to be a corporate lawyer, in the midst of a rough patch, helped him move ahead undaunted and add valuable skills he would bring to future corporate positions, such as his current role.
“I moved out here [to Silicon Valley], and then the bubble burst and 9/11 hit and work basically dried up. I found myself working at a small firm, not doing exactly what I was interested in doing, and again I started thinking that I really enjoyed corporate work for startups and felt pretty certain that was what I wanted to do,” Goldberg said. “But then there was sort of a lull in that work, so I had to find a way to keep moving forward in my career and add experiences that would pay off in the future, since what I wanted to do wasn’t completely available to me at the time. It seemed as if the international law route would be an intellectually interesting and fun use of my time, but also I could see a path where that would help me down the road [as an in-house business lawyer.]”
“Pretty early on I realized that being an in-house lawyer was an end goal of mine, and that helped the most,” Goldberg added. “When I hit rocky parts of my early career, I was able to know that that was my end goal and allow my path to diverge a little bit, but then I could bring it back in the right direction because I knew what and where I wanted to end up. If you don’t know where you want to end up, it’s hard to develop some sort of consistent path. Life or random events will derail you a little bit, and the only way you can get yourself back on is if you know where you want to go. It seems somewhat obvious to say, but I think the people that have trouble with their careers sometimes just don’t have that perspective on what they want to end up doing.”
It was during this time that Goldberg earned a master of laws (LL.M) in Transnational Law from Temple University Japan, where, incidentally, ServiceSource now has an office.
Have a Plan & Trust Your Gut
In terms of the advice he gives to prospective and current law school students at speaking engagements and also to young lawyers on his team, Goldberg again stressed the importance of having a plan you believe in.
“My general message at law school discussions is for people to trust their instincts and shape their careers in areas that get them excited. It may be a long-term plan, and you may not be able to get the exact job you want right away, but if you look at others who currently have jobs that you like, you can then track their career path. Everything should in some way be able to tie to want you want to do down the road.”
“For example, with an in-house attorney, when you look at job postings for those positions, companies will list various experiences they want, such as time at a law firm, time in house, international experience perhaps, and then other possible areas of focus. So it isn’t just something like being at a law firm for 10 years, then going in-house. Most companies would prefer a broader range of experiences,” Goldberg said. “I kept that in mind when shaping my career, taking time to get an international LL.M degree and spending time abroad when I could, since I felt like that would help me down the road in my career.”
“Networking certainly plays a role in all of this. It is amazing what you can do for yourself just by getting out to events, shaking hands and letting people know what you are interested in doing. Most lawyers and other professionals have been helped by others in their careers at some point, so they are more than willing to offer advice to you where they can.”
Referencing guidance he’s given to a younger attorney he works with now at ServiceSource, Goldberg said, “Ninety percent of the time and maybe more, my advice feels very common sense-oriented, but it is common sense from the perspective of a lawyer who understands the risks involved and things of that nature. A lot of your job is to look at decisions through a certain lens and provide advice with that point of view since not everyone is thinking in those terms. It’s not rocket science all the time. So you really think through if something makes sense to you or if something seems off, and often the best indicator is your gut, in the event that something doesn’t seem right. I always recommend that you trust that feeling.”
Goldberg has lived everywhere from Pennsylvania, New York, Washington, D.C., and Silicon Valley/San Francisco to London and Tokyo. In traveling along his career journey, he’s learned and experienced many cultures and approaches to business and leadership. Still, since that summer associateship that first piqued his interest in corporate law, he has never once taken his eye off of the prize. He’s been able to provide ever better service as an executive and counsel, because he’s always remained tethered to the source: his passion for corporate law. ♦
How to Run a Lean Legal Machine
We asked Goldberg about how he leads the small legal team of a global company to handle all of its duties, getting the most from a team of limited size. Below is what he shared with us.
“Efficiency is key, so we focus on things like having standard business agreements that are balanced so they can, as much as is possible, limit negotiation on basic terms. I also try to educate our sales team on what they can do to help use the legal team’s time more effectively by being prepared with business terms and flushing out key issues with customers before we start the contract drafting process.”
“As far as running our legal team, we have a multifunctional group in that everyone works on incoming business deals and backs each other up where needed, though folks do have ownership of certain areas so they focus on making it work as smoothly as possible. For example, deals in EMEA (Europe, the Middle East and Africa) vs. APJ (Asia-Pacific Japan), deals for certain product offerings, or things like IP filings. This helps drive consistency and faster processing for everyone.”
“I am also a big fan of sharing knowledge. With our Human Resources group, for instance, I’ll include them in legal discussions with outside counsel when fringe issues arise so they can become as educated as me on the subject and therefore be better suited to address it themselves going forward. This then limits what has to go through legal in the future.”
“And no matter what, you need to have trusted legal advisors outside of the company—specialists who can take on projects and oversight when needed.”
Starting Out In-House vs. Working at a Law Firm
When asked about the training of new law school students, Goldberg cited the main things young lawyers generally learn working at firms, and what those who move straight in-house would need to be taught by their superiors in order to have an equivalent.
“I would not be surprised to see more lawyers begin their careers in house, but that puts more responsibility on the in-house legal team to help train that lawyer,” he said. “Thinking about what a law firm really does from a training perspective, I see two main things:
- The experience and confidence gained from working in a fast-paced, demanding environment where attention to detail and proper client interaction is vitally important.
- Developing knowledge in a specific area of practice so you have at least one area of expertise. After that, even if you were at a firm, you will still need to learn the specific issues of any business you join.”
“The best way to get something done is to do it.”
Books I recommend…
I just finished “Here, There and Everywhere: My Life Recording the Music of the Beatles” by sound engineer Geoff Emerick. Great insights on collaboration and the creative process in general.
Things I carry with me…
iPhone and sunglasses (a must in California)
Apps on my phone I can’t do without…
MLB At-Bat (can listen to Phillies games anywhere), Dropbox, a handful of music-related apps, Viber, Surfline
I start my day by…
Doing one minute of stretching and one minute of plank—wakes my whole body up in two minutes.
I don’t consider my day done unless…
I’ve at least responded to every important email.
My day to day world is centered on technology and innovation, so what Elon Musk continues to do post PayPal with various forward thinking start-ups in important new industries is certainly impressive. Bill Gates also comes to mind as someone who is taking his fame and money and truly trying to make the world a better place.
My definition of retirement…
I’ll never be fully retired since I will always have something going on, but having enough money so I could do exactly what I want to do with my time would be nice. That said, I do carve out space in my life now for pursuing passions. No reason to wait until “retirement.”
I unwind from my day by…
Playing guitar; going for a run with my dog
One of the best lessons I’ve learned in my career is…
Never lose your cool.
It’s 5:00 on Friday, and my drink of choice is…
Guinness or Fat Tire
Matthews's Key Partners:Anderson Mori & Tomotsune (Outside Counsel – Japan) | Goodwin Procter (Outside Counsel) | Wilmer Hale (Outside Counsel) | Wilson Sonsini (Outside Counsel) | Mintz, Levin (Outside Counsel)
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