Founded in 2001, Glendale, Calif.-based LegalZoom.com Inc. is a ­specialist in online legal services. The ­company says that more than 2 million customers — mainly consumers and small businesses — have created their own legal documents online and accessed LegalZoom’s network of independent attorneys on a subscription basis. Via the LegalZoom website, customers can start a company or create personalized living trusts, powers of attorney, wills and divorce papers.
The company, which employs more than 600 people, delayed plans last August for an initial public offering expected to raise as much as $96 million.
Chas Rampenthal joined LegalZoom as its first general counsel in 2003, becoming corporate secretary in 2007. Today, the company employs a legal staff of 16, including Rampenthal and 13 other attorneys. The first years of Rampenthal’s career at LegalZoom were devoted to "getting state bar associations and practicing attorneys familiar with our business," he said. "I spent some time to ensure that they understood that LegalZoom was not engaged in the practice of law and did not provide any legal advice to customers."
The department serves the company’s legal needs and also handles research and development of its products and services. Rampenthal regularly speaks to legal and consumer groups about the company’s mission. "It’s one of the cool aspects of my job," he said.
He handpicked every member of the department and applies a management model learned during his years as a naval officer. "I was put in charge of teams of people who had technical skills I lacked, like fixing radios. I realized that true leadership doesn’t come from barking commands and pulling rank; it comes from fostering a relationship of trust across the entire department. There is no place for micromanagement if you want to change the world — you just can’t do it on your own."
For fun, the department organizes regular lunches and the occasional after-work happy hour. "I find that the fun things we did as a smaller department, like going to Six Flags, are tougher to plan when you have so many people."
For corporate work, Rampenthal uses a Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton team led by partner Tom Hopkins, who Rampenthal calls "a great attorney and savvy businessperson" and "my go-to guy when I need a sounding board."
Peter Kennedy at Graves Dougherty Hearon & Moody in Austin, Texas, handles regulatory and litigation matters (roughly half of LegalZoom’s employees are in Texas). "Pete was the first outside lawyer I hired. He was one of the lead lawyers who worked on a case for [legal publisher] Parsons against the Texas State Bar in the late ’90s, and was instrumental in the decision of the Texas Legislature to exclude publishers and software from the definition of the practice of law."
For other litigation matters, he has used Robert Thompson at Bryan Cave, Alycia Degen at Sidley Austin and Patricia Glaser at Glaser, Weil, Fink, Jacobs, Howard, Avchen & Shapiro.
Rampenthal keeps an eye on outside legal expenses by identifying repetitive tasks and keeping them in-house. "Grooming top-notch in-house lawyers helps us retain institutional knowledge and build a knowledge base to make the department more efficient," he said.
As for what he looks for in an outside firm, he said, "If a firm doesn’t get what we do, then there are plenty that do. I have to know that someone fighting for me believes in my company." Regarding fee arrangements, "not all firms are cut out for alternative fees, and I respect that. However, the ones that are willing to take on some of the risk for a legal matter will generally get my attention."
The company has been moving toward providing access to attorney services. Rampenthal said, "Much of the regulation of the legal profession is directed toward attorney conduct, so we are taking the same care to ensure that all of our offerings, including access to attorneys and legal help, are legally and ethically compliant."
He has volunteered his own time to support entrepreneur-focused organizations. "I maintain a budget to give to organizations that have a goal of increasing access to the law and giving consumers more choices."
ROUTE TO THE TOP
Before LegalZoom, Rampenthal already had a full ré sumé . By 21, the Santa Ana, Calif., native, who grew up in St. Louis, flew P-3 Orion surveillance aircraft for the U.S. Navy, including service during the first Gulf War. He earned an undergraduate degree in economics and math from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville in 1994. After graduating from the University of Southern California Gould School of Law in 1998, he worked for the former Thelen Reid & Priest as an associate in construction and corporate litigation. In 2000, he joined Testa Hurwitz & Thibeault in Boston as a corporate associate. In 2002, he left to form his own law firm dedicated to serving small companies, and then joined LegalZoom.
Between 2007 and 2009, Rampenthal served as the host of Legally Bound, a weekly legal call-in advice talk show on KTLK and KFWB in Los Angeles.
"As a teen, it was never my plan to be a lawyer," he said. "Most of my immediate family had not gone to college, so getting an advanced degree was really not the first thing on my mind. But one of the pilots I flew with in St. Louis convinced me to study for and take the LSAT with him. Even though he backed out, I went forward and got into USC."
Rampenthal considers himself a corporate generalist. Testa Hurwitz "stressed a well-rounded approach to corporate law," he said. "Additionally, my short stint in litigation gave me a different perspective on my corporate practice. I had been involved in disputes that arose out of sloppy contract drafting, and I understood the reason for many of the boiler­plate clauses in contracts. I tried to communicate this in easily understandable terms to clients, so they knew why I drafted or revised their agreements."
Outside of work, Rampenthal concentrates on being a "good dad" to his 19-month-old son with his wife, Yin Zhen, also a USC law grad. They are expecting a baby girl in April. "We are big fans of food, and like to think that we are pretty adventurous eaters."
Travel is another priority. "We went to the Maldives on our honeymoon and have traveled to China — Beijing for the Olympics, Guangzhou to visit family and Hong Kong to shop and eat — Singapore, Thailand, Hawaii, Mexico and all over the U.S. We hope to expose our children to other cultures through travel and food — but mostly food!"
LAST BOOK AND MOVIES
The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right, by Atul Gawande. As for movies, "with an infant at home," entertainment time "is mainly Netflix at home after the baby goes to sleep."