As the role of ALSPs continues to grow in the legal industry, Paragon is on a mission to provide legal professionals with meaningful work outside the traditional path. They pride themselves on delivering the highest quality talent and service by providing interim in-house counsel to leading corporate legal departments.
Kirk Williams joined Paragon in March 2020 as Senior Counsel. With an impressive background as a corporate and securities generalist, Kirk now handles matters in a number of areas, including corporate governance, securities, and M&A. Over the past year and a half, Kirk has successfully supported three Paragon clients and continues to support two of those clients through his current engagements.
Above the Law recently sat down with Kirk to discuss his experience at Paragon, how COVID has impacted legal work, the ever-elusive work/life balance, and more.
Q: What initially got you interested in law?
I’m the first in my family to practice law. In high school, I really liked the idea of having a career in a profession and was considering both engineering and law. During college at Stanford, I decided on law and attended NYU School of Law.
Q: Can you talk a bit about your career progression? Was there anything in particular that made you gravitate toward your current areas of practice?
I started reading finance periodicals and finance nonfiction, some time in my late teens. I read The Wall Street Journal pretty religiously and I had some subscriptions to personal finance magazines. The summer after my junior year in college, I was lucky enough to get an internship at Skadden in New York through an organization called Sponsors for Educational Opportunity, which is now called Seizing Every Opportunity.
I spent 10 weeks in New York at that prestigious law firm and I even got a chance to meet Joseph Flom in person. I’ve been enamored with finance, M&A and corporate governance work ever since. The next 25-plus years in Silicon Valley working on M&A, VC, and public offering matters only increased that interest.
Q: What do you like about working in the tech sector? Can you name any specific challenges and rewards during your time in this field?
I’m a technology geek at heart and I love the tech sector. I love the constant evolution and continuous improvement that takes place in the tech industry. I enjoy learning about new technologies and researching the latest technologies and trends. It’s been rewarding for me both personally and professionally.
In terms of specific challenges, unfortunately the technology sector isn’t the most diverse, and that’s been troubling for me. In my over 25 years here in Silicon Valley, I’ve rarely had the pleasure of working with colleagues of color in executive meetings or board room settings.
As for rewards, I genuinely enjoy what I do. I know a lot of people who don’t, so I consider myself very lucky. I love to learn and take on new challenges.
Q: What led you to Paragon, and what is it like working there?
What ultimately got me to Paragon is a relationship. Over the years, I’ve kept in contact with one of the Paragon attorneys who’s responsible for recruiting, and every few years we would check in with one another. One day, the opportunity and the timing were just right.
I really liked the idea of the flexibility of being a consultant and easing back into a corporate position. I had tracked the Paragon client they wanted to set me up with for several years, so it was a perfect opportunity to get to know the industry, the client, and Paragon a little better.
I enjoy the clients with whom I’ve had the opportunity to work. The folks at Paragon have done a great job of matchmaking in terms of both the work needed and the personalities involved. I also think Paragon has been very supportive and proactive in terms of staying on top of potential issues and problems before they arise.
Q: What was your favorite Paragon client/engagement you worked on? In what Paragon project were you able to provide the biggest impact for the client?
For me, the ideal engagement is one where I’m always learning. I enjoy it when the client treats me as part of their team. Each of the three Paragon clients I’ve worked with so far have done a great job of keeping me actively engaged at the appropriate level. Paragon does a good job of vetting their relationships and listening to what the clients want before matching us up with engagements.
As for the biggest client impact, I recently got some feedback from a client that the quality and the insights that are currently being presented at their board committee meetings are a marked improvement from what they were doing in the past. That made my day, and I felt really appreciated for the work that I’ve been doing there. There’s another client where I parachuted into a situation where they had very little infrastructure and very few personnel focusing on corporate matters. There I was able to put in place necessary policies, procedures, and infrastructure for several months until they were able to hire the necessary support staff for the organization and attorneys to keep moving forward.
Q: What skills have you learned at Paragon and how have you applied them to future roles?
I’ve always enjoyed being in the office and had honed my office presence. I never thought I could be as effective in a remote role. Having started with Paragon at the beginning of the pandemic, though, I quickly learned to adapt and realized that I could be just as productive or even more productive working remotely than in the office sometimes. I’ve learned that I can also have Zoom presence. It will be useful to apply all of that to future engagements.
While I do think that there will always be room for in-person collaboration, I’ve come to realize that, for some things, you can be more efficient and effective with remote work. Being outside the office is okay at times.
Q: Having worked in-house, in Biglaw, and now with an ALSP, what have been your impressions of how diversity and inclusion efforts have progressed throughout the legal industry during your career?
We all know we have a lot of work to do on multiple fronts. One nice thing I’ve been noticing lately, though, is an increase in women going to law school, joining the legal profession, and working at tech companies. I also heard recently that, for the first time in 2020, newly minted female GCs outnumbered their male counterparts. Hopefully those trends continue.
Unfortunately, though, we’re not seeing similar strides among people of color, and I would love to see improvement and an uptrend there. The law firm I went to right after law school was thankfully very good on the diversity front, but that was unusual and, in retrospect, it had to require a huge amount of effort. My in-house experience has been more of a mixed bag, and diversity wasn’t always great. I truly believe that the movement needs to come from the top. Leadership needs to believe for themselves that diversity and inclusion are beneficial to the organization.
Q: There’s no question that COVID has changed the industry’s calculations regarding work-life balance. What are your passions outside of work? How do you balance top-level legal work with other pursuits?
I love basketball and I’ve helped organize youth basketball leagues as a board member for National Junior Basketball. I’m a lifelong martial artist with black belts in both Tae Kwon Do and Hap Ki Do. One of my guilty pleasures is reading Barron’s from cover to cover with a cup of coffee on the weekend. I also love me some Napa Cab, and I make opportunities to drink some nice bottles with friends and family.
As for work/life balance, I think people have done a good job adjusting now that we’re 19 months into COVID. In the beginning, it was harder to have boundaries, but now I feel like I can leave work alone at a normal hour and not respond until the next morning if someone does email me late at night. I’m making a point of getting back to hobbies and seeing family and friends.
Q: How do you see the legal industry evolving in what will likely be a workflow that includes some remote component, particularly with regard to tech? What legal trends do you think will be important in 2022?
I believe distributed, hybrid workforces are going to continue to evolve. I think legal teams and corporations will define their successes by how they can find chemistry and creative ways to work with one another, get things done, and hit their metrics, even as some people are resistant to come back to the office.
I hope we’ll continue to see the number of women and people of color GCs increasing. In terms of technology, I think data will continue to be more active than it’s ever been. We are collecting more data than ever, and I think we’ll continue to struggle with who owns it, how to secure it, how to keep it private, and more.