Lessons I Learned in Law

Charlotte Pham on why relationships form the cornerstone of your legal career

December 23, 2021 Heriot Brown Season 2 Episode 8
Lessons I Learned in Law
Charlotte Pham on why relationships form the cornerstone of your legal career
Show Notes Transcript

In this episode of Lessons I Learned in Law Scott Brown speaks to Charlotte Pham, Lead Commercial Counsel for the EMEA team at TikTok.

Charlotte is an experienced lawyer working in global technology and content businesses. Charlotte has built and led teams inside hypergrowth businesses working with China and the US. 

She is also Founder of the Mary Keller Network for Women in Technology, Tech London Advocate and previously a legal mentor at Rise London.

Charlotte shares the three lessons she has learned in law including:

  • Keep going ‘til you find the right environment for you!
  • Look for the opportunity in everything, and make the most of every situation.
  • Build relationships above all else. The time you invest in people will pay dividends.

Charlotte also describes what it was like working for Tik Tok during its explosion into the mainstream.

Presented by Scott Brown of Heriot Brown Legal Recruitment.

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This episode of Lessons I Learned in Law is brought to you by Beamery.

Beamery is an AI-powered talent platform, designed to hire candidates faster, develop the skills of your workforce, and increase employee retention.

Find out more at Beamery.com

Scott Brown  (0:03)  

Hi and welcome to Lessons I Learned in Law with me, Scott Brown, founder of Heriot Brown In-House Legal Recruitment. On each episode of the podcast, you get to hear my conversation with top legal mind as they break down three of their key lessons that they've learned in law and in their in their career that goes with that. With any luck, you'll be informed and inspired, and hopefully armed with a bit more knowledge to help you along the way if you're your own career path. Then my guest today is Charlotte Pham. Welcome, Charlotte. Thanks, Scott. lovely to be here. Charlotte is lead commercial counsel at the social media sensation TikTok which has been on quite a growth journey, both pre and during and post pandemic. So I'm sure there'll be a lot to Lot to glean out of that and learn from from Charlotte as to what it's been like being on that rocket ship. And Charlotte started her legal career at BLP leading international firm, which now BC LP, and during that time, had some comments at BT, The Guardian and Tesco before moving in house to her current role. With each guest. We also like to find out more about their their life outside of the law. So we'll find out a bit more about Charlotte's home life and how she manages to juggle her demanding legal career with a family life with two young daughters and her studies in languages pretty moving into the legal profession. Charlotte, let's kick off with lesson one.


Charlotte Pham  (1:34)  

Thanks, Scott. So my first lesson is really to keep going. It's to keep going until you find the right environment for you. I think when you're starting out in your, your career, you you can't predict what's going to suit you. And you don't know when you're going to hit your stride. And I think those early days of being a lawyer, you know, they can be really, really tough. And so I suppose my message to people would be to sort of keep the faith until you find your direction. So before I became a lawyer, I really wanted to be a journalist. And I, as you mentioned, I studied French and German. So I was abroad for part of my degree. And in my third year of university, I was in Paris, and I managed to do an internship at the Guardians offices. And you know, I had a fantastic time there. I managed to get some pieces published. I remember interviewing some interviewing a boy band and writing an article writing an article for the April Fool's edition about the French, no Liberation Front, and I just had the most fantastic time. And so I had my heart really set on becoming a journalist. And, but I'd already signed up to go to law school. So after law school, I went and after law school, I started my career in an inner city firm. And my my first seat was in banking. And I think within the first 10 days, I'd already done to all nighters. And I think my heart just kind of became heavier and heavier over that over that period. And I think I knew at that point, that practising law in that way, was not going to be for me, it wasn't going to give me the kind of satisfaction that I was looking for. But I did keep going. And I'm really glad that I kept going, because it probably took me maybe sort of three years post qualification to get to the, to the place where I hit my stride and started to gain some confidence. And after that, things really started to kind of fly for me, and I started to love it. But you know, it was quite a long journey. But you know, now been a lawyer for 20 years. And now I would say that I would have really regretted sort of giving up on it too early. So I think, yeah, it's an encouraging message to sort of try and tunnel a path through to something that you're going to love.


Scott Brown  (4:04)  

Absolutely. So with those all nighters, like, how did you come to in which which team did you qualify into? And how did you how did that journey happen and identifying where you wanted to be?


Charlotte Pham  (4:16)  

So I am I qualified into a big TMT group. And it was it was a tough time actually. So I qualified in 2010. Lots of people weren't kept on. So we were all all people who work at and we're just very lucky and grateful to have jobs. And when I had done my seat in that department, I've been in the kind of in the sexier end of media basically. So I'd done some publishing contracts and I sat with a music lawyer and it was a year of it was the year of Pop Idol. I think it was cool that if anybody who's listening to this is going to be old enough to remember that early, early generation of those of those shows. Yeah, and kind of you know, grandmother of X Factor etc. And I remember sort of sitting in a room with with Gareth Gates and wil young. And so that was really fantastic experience. And then when I when I qualified the spot that that was available was in was in public sector IT outsourcing it there is a difference between those two worlds. And so it did take me some time to adjust. And then over the course of the next three years, I kind of worked my way back to doing things that I that I loved more. And I went through for many years, I was just a pure tech lawyer actually. And actually, I grew to really love love tech once I once I've moved away from from maybe the sort of the deals that I did at the beginning of my career. And so that's how I've kind of ended up where I moved from then lots and lots of tech deals into more sort of media and content deals. And that was the kind of perfect the perfect journey to where I am now.


Scott Brown  (5:59)  

Yeah, I guess I guess there's a lesson there and not a thinking yourself or pigeon holing yourself in that early stage and knowing that you're learning valuable, you're learning valuable things and skills in the in the profession and drafting that are going to stand you in good stead regardless what the contract might be about.


Charlotte Pham  (6:20)  

Absolutely. So I would say that to lots of junior lawyers, if you can't qualify into the thing that you want at first, you know, I suppose as far as that presumes a second lesson, but it's it's about looking for the opportunities that are available in your current environment. Whether that's skills, or relationships, or learning from talented people in the business, or getting opportunities for development, or maybe a stepping stone to where you want to go next. But it's it is there is so much opportunity if in most positions, if you're if you're looking for it. So focusing on what you can get out of something is is just just super important for moving forwards.


Scott Brown  (7:06)  

Yeah. Tell me more about the studies studies abroad. How did how was that? How did you find? How did you find studying abroad,


Charlotte Pham  (7:14)  

I just loved it actually. So I've always been a very international person. So I grew up because of my father's job. I grew up in the Middle East and went to an international school and did my A levels at the French LISI. And then it just was a natural continuation of that kind of very international environment for me. So I spent time in both France and Germany, France, I was in Paris, and I did my garden and then and then in Germany, I was in Berlin. And it will it wasn't really that long, actually, since Berlin had opened up. And I was living in East Berlin, I was living in this wonderful kind of very sort of trendy area called Prenzlauer Berg, where it felt like you were uncovering a piece of history because actually, lots of people from the West had not had not lived there because it was kind of closed off. So it was just it was just really, really stimulating. And it was a time when Berlin had a I mean, it's probably still does have I'm too old to go clubbing now, but at the time, it definitely did have that kind of wonderful, vibrant tech scene. And, you know, every night you could go somewhere different and there be clubs and really usual unusual locations. So whether that was, you know, warehouse, famously, they had the warehouse clubs. But you know, I remember there was also one of the converted public toilets, and there was just this kind of amazing feeling of kind of freedom. And in the city at that time. I think it was also the stage of my life, you know, I didn't have any responsibility. So as a student it was it was it was a fantastic time.


Scott Brown  (8:47)  

Sounds awesome. I've only visited Berlin I’ve lived there did a year abroad as well. And I would thoroughly recommend it to anyone again outside your comfort zone and Yeah, but that sounds that sounds great. Like a great time to be there. Have you found your your languages? And that that background? Has that been something you've applied to your legal profession?


Charlotte Pham  (9:08)  

So yes, my role does cover multiple markets. And so I am frequently called on to be able to understand things in French and German so and to list I can listen to, to sort of meetings in French and German and understand them but I don't I don't draft in the language. I'm not I'm not qualified in the jurisdiction. I don't take meetings in the language, but my language has never have nevertheless been really useful. But I think the most useful thing about those kinds of early international experiences is they really build you for an for a career in in in an international organisation. It's been really great for me to come to an international organisation and it feels like coming home in some ways


Scott Brown  (9:56)  

to tell us about lesson lesson two, you touched on it there I submit that.


Charlotte Pham  (10:01)  

So I think that's, for me, it's about when you can't control everything holding on to what you can control, and making sure you're getting something out of every situation that you're in. So to not apply too much of a simplistic kind of judgement to a situation or a set of facts, because something is rarely as simple as it's a good job or a bad job, or a good opportunity or a bad opportunity, it's more around finding the opportunities within, within the circumstance that you're in. And you will never love everything about a role that you need to learn to kind of take something from it for yourself. So in order to carry on carry on growing you, you need to sort of look for what's available to you. And I think in a long career, you need to be really pragmatic, you know, you need to realise that this is a marathon, not a sprint, and it if you want to keep going at it at this career. And if you don't want to keep going in the same linear way, whatever experiences you're in skills you're taking and putting in your toolkit, you're putting it in your toolkit for the next part of your career, whatever that might be. So it's always to sort of think about what you can gain from an opportunity to keep moving forwards because you may not be growing in one area, but there may be an opportunity for growth in another area, you may be able to acquire new skills. So I suppose it's to look for the opportunity in in everything.


Scott Brown  (11:30)  

Really good advice, from from what you said, sounds like you're constantly looking to progress. But at the same time that you have to step back and be kind to yourself and give yourself credit for the stuff that you are doing well. And what you are learning Do you have any methods for doing that or to any any things that have worked well for you, in your in your career?


Charlotte Pham  (11:53)  

I suppose I I like to look at other I look at other people who've been very successful who or who I admire. And I'll often with other people I know or people I don't know. And I'll often look at, you know, what journey is led them to where they are and actually off, if you look at a lot of people's career paths are often not completely linear. Yeah, there are these kind of jumps that people make that you may not be able to explain from looking at, you know, purely from their profile. But what you realise is that from talking to them, it is that they have built up a kind of set of skills or contacts or something, it may be a very unpromising situation that has then enabled them to leapfrog into another situation. And I think career counsellors and career coaches are often really good for pointing that kind of thing out as well. But I think it's about bringing a kind of maturity and a perspective to the situation that you're in to try and work out what what you're getting out of it really and what it can bring you


Scott Brown  (12:59)  

making they do. Yeah, and being open minded. Have you set yourself in the past targets for where you want to be in the next year? Or in five years time? Is it something that you've you've worked on?


Charlotte Pham  (13:11)  

Well, I'm always a bit wary of talking about a five year plan. I think that has other connotations, doesn't it? But I so it's not quite as specific as that for me. It's about continuing to grow is it constantly constantly learning something if you are not learning anything, and you are not getting something else out of the role, then that for me is a kind of a real alarm bell but but yes, I think like all ambitious people, I have an idea of where where I want to go but it's not quite as simple as a five year plan. Yeah, following the river. I think it is probably best Yeah.


Scott Brown  (13:47)  

Follow Yeah. Follow it. Follow your nose. No makes make sense. Tell us a bit about TikTok and that you must have jumped out of your your comfort zone slightly there. So I understand you were a second second lawyer in a meal. Is that right?


Charlotte Pham  (14:01)  

Yeah, that's right. I was the EMEA GCS first recruit. And so I was there when we were not very many people in, in Europe, you know, maybe under 200. And now, and obviously now we're way over 2000. So I've seen a lot of growth in the last kind of two and a half years. And, you know, I've also helped helped to build up a legal team from scratch. We just didn't have one in the region before. So it's been an amazing, amazing experience. But yes, out of my comfort zone on a daily basis. Learning new things all the time building the plane while you're trying to fly it


Scott Brown  (14:48)  

must be it must be scary. And incredible, incredible growth story. Did you did you have a feeling when you joined there that it was or prior to joining mean as to where it was going.


Charlotte Pham  (15:01)  

So I have always been really passionate about about social media and the sector. So when this opportunity came to join, I absolutely jumped at the chance. And I did have a feeling that it would would be very successful. However, I think the success that it has enjoyed sort of since locked down, I guess, surprise, the surprise, even me. So I always knew it would be successful. But the the way it exploded into the mainstream, sort of over that lockdown period was, was wonderful to see.


Scott Brown  (15:36)  

One of the big success stories out of lockdown, in terms of the target audience were very well, very well timed. But yeah, it's been great to keep track of it and see you see things grow. I imagine the rule is very demanding, growing at that pace. How do you? How do you manage things with your family life? So we're talking? You've got two young daughters? Yeah, it


Charlotte Pham  (15:57)  

is a demanding role. What I would say is that it's that old adage, isn't it wishes that if you find a job you love, you'll never work a day in your life? And I think, yeah, it doesn't feel obviously doesn't feel I hope that all the time, but it does, it does, it does feel like that a lot of the time, because one of the things about where I am, is that everybody is very, very passionate about about the company about the product. And working in an environment where there's so much kind of positive energy. And where people are energised by building things, is is really refreshing and gives gives you momentum really, so hours and situations that may seem you know, difficult, in other circumstances, just the it's softened by by the kind of passion that you have for the role. And by the kind of high quality of the people around you. I think one of the lovely things about being in a, an organisation that's that's relatively new, is that you you're no one is institutionalised, or sort of disenfranchised yet, so people come in with the opportunity to make an impact and you know, really with the wind beneath their wings wanting to go somewhere. And that is just really refreshing to be a part of. So I think a lot of being able to cope with a demanding job is is about the environment that you're in. So if you're energised by the quality of the people, the canvas of issues, you have to work on the ability to make an impact, then really, you've won half the battle because because mentally you want to be there and you you're engaged in what you're doing. In terms of how you how you balance that practically, with with a young family. Well, I mean, those those questions are probably the same for everyone in in any kind of environment and in different sectors. I have a lot of a huge support network. So they say you know that behind? What did they used to say they used to say Behind every successful man was a successful,


Scott Brown  (18:09)  

man. There's a yeah, there's a great woman Yeah, and even greater women. Yeah,


Charlotte Pham  (18:12)  

I think yeah, exactly. So I'm gonna flip I'm gonna flip that round. Obviously, it's my husband's a huge source of support to me and my my family are a huge source of support to me. So I'm very fortunate to to have a big support network. But I've always done this. I've always worked since my children were born. So actually, for me, it's just what I do. I may not have worked at the pace always that I work now. But it is I wouldn't say it's easy for me, but it is it is also second nature. I think


Scott Brown  (18:43)  

you just have to find it find a way sounds good. I think the last time I heard that quote of behind every every man there's a there's a there's a greater woman was I was I'm terrified of heights and I was on a I was on a walk in Peru and I absolutely froze on this cliff edge. And my wife partner at the time was stood behind me and an American guy like sauntered past them. Made that that's my immediate thought of that just on the edge of a cliff.


So moving on, Charlie, can you tell us lesson lesson three?


Charlotte Pham  (19:27)  

Yes. So there are so many things that I I could have spoken about. But I suppose one of the things I wanted to talk about was a lesson that I've learned in terms of being successful in an in house role, which you know, success and in house role looks quite different, I think to success in in private practice role. My sort of lesson for that is really to build relationships above all else. So you know that the time that you invest in people will pay dividends in that environment. And I think that's probably In lots of lots of circumstances, but particularly this environment we're talking about. So don't spend all your time buried behind your computer giving brilliant legal advice, just get a relationship with the people you work with every day. And that will make them see you as so much more than a mouthpiece for legal advice. And then that that connection will just make it much easier to have a successful in house career, they'll bring their problems to you, they'll want to talk to you for reasons not just connected with, with the law, they'll talk to you about a wider range of issues, you'll be able to add more value by having those kinds of conversations that that aren't immediately about a single the single issue in front of you. So it's to really sort of try and develop your relationships and embed yourself in the business that way,


Scott Brown  (20:50)  

how did you go about doing doing that? What what's worked for you.


Charlotte Pham  (20:54)  

So I was really lucky, because I came in so early, I've got fantastic connections with the other people who were here really early on, but obviously, our organisation has kind of grown a lot. So in a very short time, and it's it's sometimes hard to keep up with the growth and to work out who you should be making connections with. But what I would say is that you, you only need a few very good connections, because actually they can connect you to other to other people. So you know, there are these there are these super connectors that in any organisation and I think a relationship with one or two of those is usually is usually enough.


Scott Brown  (21:34)  

Yeah. How would you find legals perceived within within tech within? Obviously your experience within TikTok, but how do you feel as an advisor within within that organisation?


Charlotte Pham  (21:44)  

So I think I think we're really lucky where we are, because we are, there's a good perception of our of our sort of department within, within the org, and we are, we're versus embedded with the business, we're not seen as separate. We, we do a lot on the commercial side of deals, which is, you know, really satisfying for the lawyers who work on it, but also, you know, helps with not being seen as being apart from the business. So we were brought in early, we're there all the way through. And we are we are well respected. So I think I think we are really lucky there. I imagine each organisation has its own dynamics, I've been in organisations in the past where you'll perhaps doesn't have isn't isn't as well regarded, or is seen as a sort of a checkbox or a gatekeeper at the end. You know, but that that isn't just isn't the case where we are, I think we do a lot of work to try and make sure that people understand the value that we bring. And I think that's that's a big challenge for a lot of in house team just really communicating the value that legal brings. But we've been fortunate that we seem to manage to do a good job of that. And as their relations with the business are really good, actually.


Scott Brown  (22:54)  

Yeah. Interesting to know that the relationships are still key, particularly during during lockdown, where everything's been remote, those those those relationships are still so important. And I guess you have to have a sincerity and it has to be a genuine interest in learning about people. And that's where, as a lawyer in house, you're more human than perhaps an advisor externally in private practice. Would you? Would you agree with that? Oh,


Charlotte Pham  (23:20)  

gosh, absolutely. Absolutely. So, you know, the relationships you have are, are everything really, I think in in house. And I think one of the things that I really wanted when I was in private practice was to have those kind of closer relationships and to, to sort of be along for the whole journey of you know, of doing something, bring it to fruition rather than just working on it and never really seeing it again. And that's one of the really satisfying things about being part of a story in the way that I am now. And I think for any in House lawyers, you know, you're part of, of that story. And it is, you know, huge human beings love stories out there. We love to, we can only kind of make sense of the world and in stories and narratives. And I think, for a long career or a career, which is demanding and therefore, you know, a very big part of who you are in your life. It's satisfying to be part of a bigger journey and a bigger story to fit yourself inside that.


Scott Brown  (24:21)  

Yeah. Awesome. TikTok’s team hiring looking for people to join the team. What's the best way for people to hear about those types of opportunities?


Charlotte Pham  (24:31)  

Yes. So actually, we have quite a few open roles in the broader team. We advertise them on LinkedIn, but we also put them on our careers page. And people can also get in touch with me if they want to talk about any of those roles. Obviously, I'd be I'd be happy to chat to them. But yes, keen for people to reach out if they're interested.


Scott Brown  (24:52)  

Sounds like a great place to be and lots of lots of interesting work to do. Well, thank you for thank you for joining me today. Charlotte was great to learn more about your, about your career and and hear about some of your experiences, particularly with an in house context.


Charlotte Pham  (25:08)  

Thanks, Scott. Thanks so much for having me. I've really enjoyed this podcast series. I was thrilled, thrilled to be part of it.


Scott Brown  (25:14)  

No, it's great to have you. Thank you for it. Thank you for joining. It's those those little stories, I think, well, I've heard from some of the guests as well, it's quite therapeutic to, to jot things down and write about stuff you've learned as well. So hopefully you found that. Yeah. Thank you, Charlotte. That was great. Thank you for sharing those insights and the lessons that you've learned in your career to date. It's fascinating getting an insight into what it's like to work at such a fast growth, high speeds business like TikTok, some really great things there. And thank you for listening. If you'd like to find out more about any of our guests or listen to episodes previous in the series, head over to heriot@brown.com/podcast. We'd love to hear your feedback is great to hear positive news and how the podcast has been received. So please, rate and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. I'm Scott Brown. Thanks for listening.