Jason Leiser is Senior Counsel for Flynn Restaurant Group, an operator of thousands of franchised restaurants with brand affiliations including Pizza Hut, Wendy’s, Applebees, Taco Bell, Panera, and Arby’s. He is also the co-founder of One Pencil Project, a nonprofit that conducts education research and manages numerous international philanthropic programs.
We recently sat down with Jason to discuss why remote work is game-changing for job satisfaction, how entrepreneurial parents led him to a career in the law, and how the flexibility of a Paragon role allowed him to operate a nonprofit and spend four weeks in Africa — all while still tackling high-level legal work stateside.
Can you tell us a little bit about how you got into law and how you started working in the areas you’re working in now?
I come from a line of business owners and entrepreneurs on both sides. My father was in the consumer electronics business when I was growing up, but he sold that business in the early 90’s and pivoted into commercial real estate. I picked up things at the dinner table, both on the entrepreneurial side and the real estate side.
These days, I mostly do leasing work, but in my career I’ve done a combination of contracts and commercial real estate. When I went to law school, I started looking at different areas of the law and all the different ways that you can make an impact on this world, and that interest carries through today.
But I wound up in an area that was most familiar to me, namely commercial and real estate law.
After law school, what was your general career progression and what led you to Paragon?
I went to the University of Connecticut School of Law, and immediately after graduation I worked for a hotel developer and management company in Connecticut called the Waterford Group. It was an amazing experience. They had about 30 hotels that they operated, many of which they also owned. I was the only attorney in-house and it exposed me to an enormous variety of commercial work. I partnered with some outside counsel who were mentors to me.
I ultimately decided to leave the Connecticut area and got an opportunity with eBay, which brought me out to Salt Lake City. I was supporting their global real estate team, and also provided counsel to the team managing eBay’s global infrastructure and data centers. I performed a variety of roles on a contract basis until just after the pandemic hit.
Someone from Paragon reached out to me — I was pretty happy doing what I was doing, but I was really interested to see what types of opportunities they had and was actually very impressed with the level of sophistication and the types of roles that were available. They had an enormous demand for people who have my skill set, and, within a couple of weeks, I had several interviews.
What was it about Paragon that made you think it would be a good fit?
In addition to looking for fulfilling professional work, I needed the flexibility to travel and work remotely. About four years ago, my former partner and I created a nonprofit organization called One Pencil Project, and it was really important to me to be able to spend time on that. Paragon was able to accommodate that requirement.
In addition, the compensation and opportunities were excellent, with sophisticated work and interesting people. At the same time, they were really supportive if I wanted to work part-time or travel, even when I needed to go to Africa for four weeks with my nonprofit.
Other employers might push back on that, but Paragon let me work around it. They’ve been really supportive of my interests.
Tell us more about the One Pencil Project nonprofit.
One Pencil Project provides school supplies, academic scholarships and other forms of support to thousands of students from indigenous communities in Namibia, Angola and Bolivia. The populations supported are partners in expansive and ongoing scientific research being conducted by members of the One Pencil team in the fields of anthropology, economics and psychology.
What’s been your favorite Paragon client or engagement?
I’ve only had two engagements. They’ve both been real estate-heavy, with interesting leasing work.
The first engagement was with a financial services organization. It was a terrific assignment and I enjoyed the people I worked with — but it was a short term engagement while someone was out on leave. When that one came to an end, it wasn’t even a couple weeks until I had several other opportunities.
The second engagement was working with Flynn Restaurant Group, and I later joined their legal department full-time.
What skills did you learn while working at Paragon that helped prepare you for your full-time role?
One of the most interesting things about interim support attorney-roles and Paragon in particular, is the opportunity to work with several organizations over a relatively short period of time. It’s definitely a challenge to “helicopter” in, learn institutional operating procedures and make an immediate impact, but adapting quickly is a skill I am thankful to have developed. Each organization has its own institutional practices, processes, and procedures, a unique business model and risk tolerance, and the perspective gained is invaluable and highly transferable.
Work-life balance is a popular topic, especially since the pandemic. How does that factor in your life and what are some of your interests outside of work?
I think the paradigm is probably changing, and people’s expectations are a little bit different than they were pre-Covid.
I’ve been fortunate to work remotely in Mexico for about six weeks, in Israel for a couple weeks, and a few months in New Mexico, in addition to going to Namibia. It’s a privilege and one I don’t take lightly.
Paragon and my clients always knew where I was and that my work would always be done to the same high level.
In addition to my nonprofit, I love exploring the Mountain West. I spend a lot of time hiking and biking. I also enjoy traveling and spending time with friends and family.
How do you see the legal industry evolving in what will likely be a workflow that includes some remote component?
I think the quality of life you get with remote work is game-changing
The legal industry has had some bumps in the road as far as work/life balance goes, and some firms are notorious for not having it. I think as that changes, the industry can attract more people to the field.
I do also see the flip side of it, as employers are concerned about how they can build connection and loyalty through remote work, so there needs to be a balance.
We might need to come up with new and innovative ways to really create a connection between people who are not sharing the same physical space.
What legal trends do you think will be important heading into 2023?
I think that’s an interesting and challenging question, given the enormous amount of uncertainty in the economy, with changes in the stock market and the rise in interest rates. How much are employers going to be investing in new talent?
That may lead to even more Paragon-type work environments or more temporary and contract-based work.
I’m hopeful that the work I’m currently doing is recession-proof, but in the real estate realm, I think it’ll be interesting to see how office space settles out as the paradigm shifts to more remote work.
What does office space look like going forward? We should have a clearer answer to that in the coming year.