Confessions of a General Counsel:  It’s Not All About The Law

snowboardIt's not all about the law. All of us know this truth, but it is easy to lose its thread when we're lawyering. There are many reasons to stray outside of the legal arena. We add more value to our clients when we speak their language. We create more opportunity for ourselves when we welcome new pursuits. Plus, the reason that perhaps resonates most loudly is this: we can grab goodness and have some plain old fun.  

Looking for a way to take a detour from piles of to-do lists, case law and legislation?  Here are three time-tested suggestions.


What's blockchain technology? Ask Diana Stern who recently launched a consulting business to help answer that question. Distributive helps its clients to optimize art(sm). It works with engineers and members of the entertainment industry to optimize emerging technologies to enhance the production, financing, distribution, and monetization of audiovisual content.  

Diana's curiosity sparked when she learned about blockchain from a podcast and did legal research for the Bitcoin Foundation during her first year of law school. Since then, she has shared her expertise with executives who want to understand this emerging tech. Diana, who has won awards for her poetry at Johns Hopkins, sees parallels between poetry and her consulting business. In her words:  "A great poem expresses complex concepts in a succinct, impactful way -- giving readers an 'aha!' moment. " As a consultant, she helps developers and executives understand the blockchain and say, "Aha!"  

By the way, here's some additional cool information about Diana:  she will soon earn her law degree from U.C.L.A, she's taking the bar in July, she's a member of the fall 2016 first year class at Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP and she serves on the Ms. JD board of directors.


Who hires lawyers?  The answer is often business people, so we should get to know them and understand what they do. Besides, lawyers are business people too. The day will come if it isn't already here when your career will require you to execute on things like strategy, accounting, marketing, and project management. The sooner you start exposing yourself to these disciplines, the better prepared you will be to add value.

I had the good fortune to spend a few days last month with law students at Boston University School of Law and pre-law students at Columbia University. The advice I gave them?  Take classes that are not part of the law school curriculum. Try the business school where a case study means something very different than it does in law school. Take a class in the communications school, or learn about software development. Find a course in something that scares you or take one that satisfies a curious itch. Then take every opportunity to work on projects with your classmates, listen to them, learn how they think, practice the business language that they use.

For those of us for whom law school is many years in the past, it's never too late. The next time you plan continuing legal education requirements, sprinkle in some non-compliant (but super valuable) courses. Many of the business schools have executive education programs in finance, strategy, leadership, project management, and technology. If you don't want to sit in a classroom, you can utilize self-pacing online services like to explore more technical subjects. Go to a local meet-up in a subject that interests you. Join a non-profit board. Or identify someone in another department who is looking for a mentor but also can give you insight into that department's perspective. The possibilities are endless.


I moved to California to snowboard. Honest. My friend Mindy and I used to ride every weekend in New England. I loved it so much that I ended up teaching snowboarding through a program that exposed kids to the wonder of a board, fresh powder, early mornings, glorious vistas and healthy days on a mountain. One day I decided that I wanted to ride every weekend in Tahoe so I moved to the Oakland-San Francisco bay area. A simple decision based on a hobby led me to Silicon Valley, an immensely satisfying career and my family.


The answer is a simple one if not always an easy one to live. Stay interested in what interests you. Hang out with people who will hire and inspire you. Have fun. I promise that if you do these three things your legal career will be more rewarding -- and you might end up doing something wonderful that you can’t imagine today.

What's it all about for you? 


Delida Costin is the former general counsel of Pandora Media and  She is also a proud alumna of Boston University School of Law. She often speaks about leadership, legal practice and diversity.  

Learn more about Delida on her website:

Follow her on Twitter: @delidacostin


Julie Cummings

Another great article!  For me, it’s about being open to whatever new adventure may await. Whenever I pause to look back at my life’s path,  I notice that many roads I took began by taking an unexpected turn.

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