Loni Mahanta, managing counsel, employment at Lyft, was the lead in-house lawyer on Cotter v. Lyft, a federal employment misclassification suit regarding the status of California Lyft drivers, which settled for $27 million, leaving the company’s business model intact.
The No. 1 issue that keeps me and my clients up at night is …
Well, I’m just back from maternity leave, so it’s mostly my baby keeping me up at night. But Lyft faces cutting-edge legal issues that we constantly work to stay ahead of, whether it be navigating worker classification matters, novel local ordinances, or regulatory issues.
Who’s the best leader you’ve seen in action and why?
The firm where I worked before going in-house, Folger Levin, has many strong female partners, including Lisa van Krieken and Jiyun Lee. I worked closely with both of these women, and they showed me leadership qualities that I seek to emulate now that I manage other attorneys—strength of conviction, composure in stressful situations, clear feedback in real time, and intentional and direct mentorship.
Do lawyers bear any special responsibility in addressing gender stereotyping and discrimination in tech?
Lawyers absolutely play a role in dealing with discrimination in tech. As lead employment counsel at Lyft, I care deeply about ensuring that our company supports and promotes the women of Lyft. I consider it part of my duty as a lawyer, as a woman, and as a senior member of the company to ensure that we have strong avenues for individuals to raise any issues they might face, and that Lyft as a company is being systematic and deliberate about diversity and inclusion efforts.
If I could change one thing about working in tech, it would be …
The biggest challenge for me working in tech is the difficulty in unplugging. There is an unspoken assumption that everyone is online at all times. It is far too easy to fall into the habit of compulsively checking email at all hours, when, in fact, some things can wait.
What piece of advice do you have for young lawyers in tech?
Network! While I was also given this advice when I was a junior attorney, I didn’t really know how to implement it. It did not feel natural for me to just start talking to people out of the blue. My advice to young lawyers that might have those same feelings is twofold. First, try asking for advice. It’s a great way to connect with someone more senior than you, and people love to help others—far more than you’d think. Second, don’t worry too much about planning the conversation, just reach out. Some conversations will be great, some won’t. The point is to expand the universe of people that know a little bit about you and what you do.
If I weren’t working in tech, I’d be …
Running a restaurant that showcases the food of northeastern India.