LifeLock General Counsel Confronts Challenges By Going Big
After Clarissa Cerda accepted the general counsel position at LifeLock, Inc., she did something a little unusual: she attacked the companys biggest problems by teaming up with her boss. The Phoenix-based identity theft protection company was facing 14 class-action suits, and a competitor lawsuit, on top of an ongoing government inquiry. There were times when Cerda, already a veteran GC, joked with the companys chief executive that she didnt know if shed been hired just in the nick of time or a day too late.
So how did Cerda handle it all? When it came time for court proceedings and meetings with regulators, I took my CEO along, she recalls. A lot of people thought I was crazy when I decided to do that.
Presumably, CEO Todd Davis knew what he was signing up for when he brought Cerda aboard the fast-growing enterprise. An expert in intellectual property, she is also skilled in shepherding technology companies through the often-rocky maturation process. When she interviewed for the GC spot at LifeLock, she asked Davis: Do you want someone just to come in and clean things up, or do you want a partner to help build a culture of compliance and set the right tone at the top?
He chose the partner option. Three-and-a-half years later, Cerda continues to build out the companys legal department while heading up its government relations component, and its clear Davis chose someone whos not afraid to think outside of the box.
Cerda had her reasons for bringing the CEO so far inside the in-house legal tent, the principal one being to explain, sans legal spin, why missteps could have occurred in a young company. In our case, it was the zealousness of a company that was trying to provide a solution for a big problem: identity theft in the United States, she says. I wanted to be very transparent. I wanted to be very collaborative. I wanted to work with the regulators, and I wanted them to understand that if there were any issues, we were prepared to address them.
The GC, awarded Intellectual Property Attorney of the Year in January by the Association of Corporate Counsels Arizona chapter, got started on the tech track early. She credits her mentorHarold Shapiro, a former chairman at her old firm of Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal, in Chicagowith pointing her in that direction in the early 1990s. Tech is the next place, he told her. If you want to be relevant, there are going to be very few women involved in that field.
Cerda became adept at lending a broad guiding hand, working with companies from the startup phase, through rounds of angel investments and venture capital infusions, up through a companys next step whether that meant becoming a strong private company, being sold to a public company, or becoming a public company itself through an IPO.
I was the lawyer who stayed with the clients all the way through their growth spurt, Cerda says.
She kept on that path with two general counsel jobs at technology companies. Cerda first cut her teeth at Open Port Technology, Inc., which delivered voice over Internet protocol (better known as VoIP) communications services.
Initiate Systems is where Cerda learned how to become a business executive who helps shape and lead a company. You learn to really assess risk, and you learn how to be cost effective, she says.
So it wasnt just for any companyparticularly one embroiled in so much litigationthat Cerda was willing to put her name on the line. But when LifeLock came knocking at her door, she paid attention to two factors in particular: 1) the company had grown from zero revenue to $50 million in 37 months, a tremendous spurt; and 2) the impressive caliber of the board, which includes Governor Tom Ridge, and at the time also included ex-Google CFO George Reyes. (Cerda herself is a director on the board of the Minority Corporate Counsel Association).
In turnand owing to her own due diligence on the companyshe saw LifeLocks legal troubles not as the result of a bad actor, but more akin to that of a teenager who didnt make all the right decisions, but really had their heart in the right place.
With the companys government affairs department under her domain, Cerda has taken a proactive stance on developing relationships with government stakeholders. She has pursued private-public partnerships with regulators, and partnered with state attorneys general to provide training on identity theft to law enforcement.
Cerda is also making sure the company remains an active participant when it comes to the ever-changing and complex subject of privacy, a hot topic among Washington regulators this year. We agree that the time is now for greater consumer transparency, she says. I always say: I am a privacy lawyer, and I dont understand half of the privacy policies I read.
Imagine instead, she says, a standardized, transparent rating system for websites that uses visible icons on the page. Rather than expecting consumers to read through pages and pages of legalese, recognizable icons could help consumers quickly identify the level of risk to their privacy when they visit a site.
Recently, she told the Federal Trade Commission as much in a set of public comments that included a mock-up of such icons. We think the solution merits consideration, she says. It solves transparency in a quick, simple, scalable way.
She knows it might be difficult to get people on board with a simple solution for such a complex problem. But has that sort of challenge ever stopped her before?