In this episode of Lessons I Learned in Law, Scott Brown speaks to Amy Wallace.
Amy is Chief Legal Officer at Yoto, a tech company that creates a screen-free audio player for children, providing a world of stories, music, activities, podcasts, radio and other inspiring audio for kids.
Amy shares the three lessons he has learned in law including:
Amy also talks about her experience on-boarding at Yoto during the pandemic, and reveals why her family at home speak ‘Greek-lish’.
Presented by Scott Brown of Heriot Brown Legal Recruitment.
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Scott Brown (0:03)
Hi and welcome to Lessons I Learned in Law with me, Scott Brown. I'm a recovering lawyer turned legal recruiter. On this podcast, we like to share with you some of the highs and lows learned from leaders in the legal community. We're going to be sharing inspiring stories and anecdotes about their career paths and open conversations, and hopefully talk about some of the lessons that they've learned in law through their career. I'm delighted to be joined today by Amy Wallace. Hi. Hi, Amy. Thanks for joining me.
Amy Wallace (0:31)
Scott Brown (0:32)
Amy is Chief Legal Officer at kid’s tech company, Yoto, which is a screen free, audio clear and platform built for kids. Your two is leading the charge on a screen free revolution for kids. We'll hear more about them later. Amy started a career in private practice training with Olswang before moving on to big tech and media with roles in Sony Music, 7digital and then most recently, AI technology company Onfido, where she held the position of General Counsel. So Amy, delighted to have you joining me and look forward to hearing your lessons. We'll also hear a little bit about Amy's background, and her life outside of law, her positive life choices in our career, how she's managed with onboarding your tool remotely. And also learn about a bit about Greek English, which is a language I think that’s used in your household. So we'll just jump straight in. Amy, if you could share your first lesson with us, please.
Amy Wallace (1:31)
Sure. So yeah, happy to be here. My first lesson I would say is, there's something for everyone in law. So I think I'm a very reluctant lawyer. I decided to sort of go into law, you know, why don't I do a law degree? Yeah, that sounds interesting. I, you know, I've got the grades for Okay, I'll just, you know, figure out what I actually want to do afterwards. So it did the law degree. And then I thought, Okay, well, you know, there's some bits of law that I'm interested in, I quite like IP, you know, Okay, why don't I try and get a training contract? And then I'll see, I'll then I'll decide what I want to do after that, because I still don't know. And then I did the training contract. And I said, Okay, well, why don't I try it in house. And I kind of figured out that actually, maybe in house in a media or technology company was somewhere I wanted to be. So I guess I was kind of getting closer to it. But I was still a very reluctant lawyer. I wouldn't ever want to describe myself as the lawyer. I tried to kind of keep that in the background. And I think, you know, that's continued on for quite a while until I realised that actually, I was enjoying what I was doing. But I think it took me a while to get to where I am. So to kind of actually be not I wouldn't say the word proud being a lawyer, but not embarrassed or ashamed. No, I'm kidding. But yeah, I mean, I think I've realised as time has gone on just how different you know, the different specialisms are and how different it is to be in, you know, in private practice versus in house, but also having, you know, a big company and a big legal team and a big corporate organisation. And because I've been there and done that, as compared to a start-up, how life is just so different in those places. And I think I'd like to go back and tell the me, you know, when I was kind of applying to law that those glossy law firm brochures, and those kind of, you know, Ally McBeal and all the cliches on TV, they're really not representative of the majority of lawyers out there. I mean, we all know, there's no dancing babies and everything else. But I think you know, that the people out there, right, I know, and see, and some private practice, lawyers definitely kind of live that cliche of being extremely busy and extremely miserable, and extremely kind of proud of being that busy and miserable. And I think, you know, actually, there's just so many other places they could be, and so many different types of laws they could be doing, maybe that's obvious, but I, I certainly would like to share that with myself and say, you know, that's just kind of an unending level of possibilities. Really, yeah. And like roles that you could do in companies, you could be out, if you're not happy, like, you know, just like, have a look at what's out there, have a look and sort of see the different types of law, different areas you could be working in.
Scott Brown (4:08)
Yeah, it's easy to think that you're married to the perception or the first choice that you've made in law, I think people sometimes make that mistake or come to that conclusion. But where did you first feel that this was the this was the case and you didn't belong in in that background?
Amy Wallace (4:23)
I think I found, you know, private practice, there was just such hierarchy. And that's, you know, I think it was partly sort of joining the world of work. I think, you know, I did feel wow, okay, I didn't realise this was quite as much of a man's world in a way, you know, it was it was quite, yeah, it's quite a big feeling to have. So saying, Oh, wow, you know, okay, I can see that loads of female junior lawyers. And then, you know, you go higher up the pyramid and you get to the top, there's very few women up there. And that's not just law firms, you know, it's quite a business. And, you know, so sort of thinking, Okay, how do you square that circle, or how does that work out. But also, I sort of realised that to climb up that pyramid in private practice, I do think that's a lot of menial work as a junior lawyer. And a lot of the things that people are praised for a skills that will actually only get you so far. So, you know, attention to detail, and, you know, being very good at paginating documents and things like, which, you know, I mean, anyone can do and force themselves to do, but I, I found that I'm not very good at pretending to like things that I don't like. And I think other people are better at that. And I sort of have realised that I need to really love doing something or really feel there's a point to doing it. And if I think something's pointless, and someone's asking me to do it, just for the sake of it, then I'm just not very interested in that. So I think I realised that I needed to be somewhere where I felt that people were valuing the same things I valued, and that I was doing things. So even if there were small things, and I wasn't saving the world, that those things kind of mattered.
Scott Brown (6:01)
Yeah, making a difference. That's a good point. And then, you mentioned working your background, you've worked in both in an in house context in larger companies, and then in smaller, high growth, businesses, what are the differences in those in those positions?
Amy Wallace (6:17)
So I think I mean, I definitely wouldn't change what I did, I think I learned so much from going into a big organisation at Sony Music, it's quite siloed, there's Sony Pictures, Sony, PlayStation, Sony Music, there will have Sony companies, there's loads of staining companies that, you know, I certainly didn't know about, you know, making medical instruments and, you know, looking at financial products. And, you know, this was such a rigour in terms of how all of the information is managed, how decisions are made such a structure, it just makes a lot of sense, I think that you learn things that are really useful for later life. So I think you can learn so much from going into a high growth start-up environment. But I think it's also useful to know what the kind of old school record, you know, rigorous, sorry, approach should be the way you'd like to get to. And I think that's something that I definitely sort of put into play when I was at Onfido. Because we're, you know, it wasn't a start-up and I joined us 250 People, it's definitely a scale up. But you're still operating at great speed, and trying to kind of do huge things that a bigger company would employ much, you know, 10s of hundreds of people to do. It was 450 people by the time I left, and that felt like a big, you know, growth period.
Scott Brown (7:37)
Yeah. Huge. And did you find, I guess, some people have said in the past that being in a larger company, you see what good looks like in that context and you brought that across
Amy Wallace (7:48)
I definitely thought through some of the things I witnessed, and the ways of working and the really smart people I worked with, and I kind of tried to bring that across. I mean, I think as well, efference, obviously fearful of the bureaucracy, and the lack of speed that a big company may have. And the fact that there is, you know, just like a law firm, there's much more of a hierarchy. So whilst there's I think there were some good points, do you have to also think, know, what do I want to sort of avoid doing, I suppose, and where do you kind of want to use your stiff advantages and agile start-up and not get into the patterns of kind of ways of working, you might know, but you know, you need to question why am I doing that? If actually, no one's gonna read this document, because I'm in a small company. You know, there's, it's all very well, doing beautiful summary, but if no one's actually going to open it. What's the point? Yeah.
Scott Brown (8:38)
If a tree if a tree fell in the woods, yeah, that old, that old thing, and being reluctant lawyers have been a time where you've thought about chucking it in or leaving, leaving the lawn pushing something different?
Amy Wallace (8:50)
Yeah, I mean, I definitely thought, you know, oh, if I'm not happy doing this, but will make me happier. I had all this had all of that existential angst. I think, though, I realised that there was two aspects that I really enjoyed in the end. And I tried to think about those bits of law, like the things that I enjoyed, you know, I actually geek out if drafting free drafting documents, you know, and I would never think I would say that, but that's something that you know, I had a really great colleague who just always pushed me to do that. Why are you trying to find a Preston just write it, you know, write it yourself, cobble it together, just have it go. And I think it's working with people, like I just really enjoy solving problems and working collaboratively and kind of having fun at work. So I think that was what was hard when I say no more. I think I was also just being Junior, you know, you're more worried about how you appear at work. You're not sure exactly how to present yourself. You don't kind of bring your whole self to work because people say these days. So I was I was in that kind of scares, I suppose, like period of time where it felt it felt difficult to just kind of be me, whereas now it's like, you know, that whole cliche if you spent more hours with your colleagues or there may be more hours with your laptop at the moment, or hours with your colleagues than you do your family, you know, sometimes in a week, and if you're not having fun, and you're not, you know, joking around, you're not trying to get through stuff together, then what's the point? So I've found that kind of the personal interactions and being part of a team, that's, for me, the fun bit, and I think, being in a chaotic start-up style environment, where you can also try and lend a hand and sort of just, you know, not just be a lawyer, and draft contract and get involved in late stage, but be involved early on, and like lead the direction of things. That's what I really enjoy.
Scott Brown (10:45)
Moving on to lesson to share that with this piece.
Amy Wallace (10:49)
So, you know, I think one thing that I learnt philosophy early on was sort of being sued, you know, gives you bruises. So it gives you, you know, kind of takes gives you that sharp and take a breath, like, Ah, you open that document, Oh, wow. Okay, we're being sued. And this is in house, you know, where it's you where it's a small team, you know, or even a bigger team. And something happens, you know, I was helping out with significant litigation at Sony Music helping manager across the world, a lot of those were kind of larger lawsuits that have been going for a significant period of time, even then, you know, I'd have potentially joined it in five years in to the ongoing litigation, but, you know, twist in the tail, and I'd be kind of in there, you know, really worried or excited. At a smaller company, though, it's even more the case, you know, you could potentially be totalled by a bit glossy, you know, that could be it, you know, yeah. And, and I found that, that really makes you look at the contract that was drafted, whether you yourself did the drafting, or someone else did it. I think, you know, it's not the case, I can a law firm where you finish a project put, and, you know, I had colleagues say, never read the contract after it's been signed, because you'll always find something, just don't read it, put it in a drawer, never look at it again. That's just not something you can do in an in house environment. Yeah. And the amount of times I've had to kind of review My own drafting and say, was that good? Cause? Did I do that? Well, or my colleagues drafting? And, yeah, I mean, it really makes you think about, like, what could go wrong? And what's important as well, and it stops you focusing on just kind of those petty academic legal battles, the sake of it, when you say, is that what we'll be arguing about? And courts? Were in front of a mediator? Probably not. Yeah. Like, who pays who, when? And how? Yes, you know, the rest of it is less important.
Scott Brown (12:42)
Yeah, that makes sense. So it sounds like it'd been a lot of litigation in your in your in house career.
Amy Wallace (12:47)
I mean, I'm not a litigator. But I suppose I did a little bit of IP litigation. And I've worked with some good litigators. And yeah, I think when you're managing all of the affairs for a company, particularly in an IP, intellectual property, heavy business, or one and kind of cutting edge environment is just sort of par for the course. So I don't think I've necessarily had more or less than any other person, but it's just, it being more in your head. You can't just think, Oh, well, it's the company. So you know, it's either you're drafting your friends drafting. It's, you know, you're trying to solve it transferred out for the company, you're reporting on it. You're telling people what the risks are, you're talking to the board? It's sort of all you.
Scott Brown (13:30)
Yeah. How does that feel? I can imagine there might be a feeling of angst, if it's something that you've drafted or contract you've been involved in negotiating?
Amy Wallace (13:39)
Yeah, I mean, there's definitely pressure. I would say, though, I generally operate on a kind of I just don't like finger pointing at all. I think that there's always a reason why something has been drafted the way it has, I would say generally, I mean, it's, I've worked at smaller companies, where you just don't have much bargaining power. So you're often kind of in a corner to get a deal done. So my focus is always just kind of like, what's the best result for the company? How are we going to get there? Okay, it says there. So, you know, we've had this issue, you know, where do we want to end up? Let's take a step back. So from the beginning, thinking about the bigger picture. And, you know, I mean, as they always say, the only person who wins and kind of accepted litigation as lawyers, and it's not the in house lawyer winning. That's the story of winning. And anyone, then it's sort of, you know, you'll be advised against really pursuing a legal claim, unless you're absolutely sure. So most of it is around sort of settlement negotiations and trying to bring a closer to that litigation yourself. So yeah, I mean, I find it I think it's interesting, I think you see the kind of the best and worst of human nature, and those high pressured sort of environments. Again, I would say that I think as long as it's not sort of an existential threat to the company, and people are able to kind of laugh about it. I think you can kind of try and get through as if it's just like a small Speed Bump.
Scott Brown (15:01)
Yeah. And I mentioned you've joined your tour over the last year or so. And how was it? How's the onboarding been in that? 2020 2021? Period?
Amy Wallace (15:11)
Yeah, it's been interesting. So I sort of, I started fires in a company a couple of months before I officially joined, then I joined in June. So you know, it feels like a lifetime already. But it's not really been that long. But yeah, I mean, it's only, you know, a small company. So, company was around 30 people, when I sort of spoke to them earlier this year, and it's now around 60. So it's still tiny, but you know, has doubled. And I think that, you know, everyone sort of just really wants to sort of spend time together and actually get to know each other, and not just seeing the kind of zoom, you know, shoulder shots at shot of other people. And, you know, particularly in that sort of start-up environment where you don't have the muscle memory of having a long standing employee base or an organisational structure or way of working. You know, it was a product that was thought up in 2014 15. And then came to market and kind of a Kickstarter form, but actually was launched during the pandemic. So, you know, the whole company itself has really just been going in a kind of pandemic mode for most of its life. So we all met up actually last week and went glamping together in the countryside, which was great. But you know, it's quite a baptism of fire to go from meet only meeting a couple of people. So we've started going into the office, but you know, lots of people work remotely, and it's a remote first business, even pre pandemic. So going from that to sort of suddenly spending 24 hours together in close proximity in like, yes, in the countryside. Yeah. It's quite an extreme change.
Scott Brown (16:48)
Yeah. singing around a campfire. Yeah. Is there any of that going on?
Amy Wallace (16:53)
There was dancing on the dance floor, sitting around the campfire, yeah. I don't think there was singing but maybe I was in bed by that point.
Scott Brown (17:01)
Yeah. Good, good. Was it a welcome night away to get a proper night's sleep with your two young kids?
Amy Wallace (17:10)
Yes. I mean, I did say that I was unpleasantly surprised to see that my dad was right next to the fire pit because I thought that's why people would end up staying up late. Or saying, you know, I'm going to be out there like an old lady screaming, you know, keep that noise down. I just really want my sleep. I ended up staying quite late. But anyway, I just put my earplugs in there were no screaming babies. So I was thrilled. I certainly well, yeah, I took my own hot water bottle with me.
Scott Brown (17:38)
Oh, it sounds like a good time those nights. So we're just blessed to get a full night's sleep. So I can definitely draw parallels with that. I mentioned in my intro before we started recording, you were talking about speaking Greeklish in your family home? What's the background there?
Amy Wallace (17:58)
Yeah, so my husband's Greek. And we sort of spoke before we had kids, I think I was pregnant. And we're talking about, you know, wanting, you know, our kids to be able to speak Greek? And how would we do that. And, you know, I don't think we did extensive reading. But I did some Greek lessons myself. But I'm terrible. I can understand quite a lot of like, easy conversations in Greek. So we basically decided we'd just do kind of one parent, one language. And then my husband would speak Greek to the kids kid at that time, and I would speak English. And so we've done that. But now, you know, having spent a bit of time in Greece, my daughter speaks fluent Greek, which is amazing. And I can understand enough that they, you know, can't get anything past me. And I can hide a reply in Greek English. And I can serve Auto Translate on my phone and stuff like that. And so it's we speak this mixture at home, which, you know, I kind of don't think about that much because I understand what's going on. And then if my family there, we sort of join them into conversation. We're like, Yeah, so what do you think about that? Yeah. Do you think we should do that and they look at us? Well, I don't know. ‘Cause you're speaking Greek. So how would I know what I'm agreeing to? I'm like, Oh, yeah. Okay. It's because I'm kind of hearing it and then I'm speaking in English. So I think we're speaking in English.
Scott Brown (19:15)
Amy Wallace (19:16)
Yeah, no, it's been good. We're finding it's not something you just do. I think there was that I had this presumption that if you're in kind of a mixed family where you can speak a native language to a child that it's just that just happens. Oh, wow. Look at these trilingual children you know, so amazing, you know, in other countries and actually, it just it does take a lot of effort. We've kind of really put time and energy into our kids speaking another language but I think it's so important. I really wish that I did.
Scott Brown (19:42)
I think it's brilliant. We've got some friends that are a German and Scottish guy. And yeah, they’re similar, so one speaks German one speaks English and it's good to see. Yeah, Scottish, yeah. They’re, yeah, blessed with that, unfortunately, it's interesting to see because they just speak the kids still speak English, but they just understand everything in German. And I'm sure, I'm sure it will click certain point. You were saying you grew up in Singapore?
Amy Wallace (20:15)
Yeah. My parents were sort of living in Asia, moved to Singapore with my dad's job, went to an international school there. And yeah, my family were actually from New Zealand originally. Not that you can tell by my very British accent. Yeah, when I got my citizenship in the UK, I actually sort of put treats out like I bought all the most British things I could think of and said, Oh, you know, this is just to celebrate that I've got my British citizenship and all the people there like they said they didn't the kind of like raffle straw poll in the office like where she actually from She sounds so English anyway. They're all like you from Zimbabwe. They're just guessing all these places that might have a kind of British accent. So that was quite funny. But yeah, no, I didn't I loved it. I grew up there till I was 18. Actually just had we were we should have just had a sort of 20 year that shows you how old I am. 20 year high school reunion, but obviously with the pandemic, I could not fly back to Singapore. So that was all on see.
Scott Brown (21:13)
Right. So when I add on Zoom after victo 30 or 40 to see people London thing I'm sort of similar but as London your London focused that you spent you spend some time in, in Greece in work. Work remotely? You were talking about as well. Friday?
Amy Wallace (21:30)
Yeah, yeah. So I mean, kind of love living in London hate living in London. At the same time. I think like most Londoners, you go through kind of ups and downs where you love it's a city with so many options, so many opportunities. But yeah, you know, it's like, terrible weather. And, you know, just everything's so expensive. And all of the things with small children, where it becomes like, less easy, I think, yeah, to live in a big city. But yeah, I mean, we one of our kind of COVID, silver lining for us was the opportunity to work remotely from Greece. So I was on maternity leave last year. And we went and kind of worked from there. My work was looking after two small children. My husband was working remotely. And he kind of thought, you know, let's do it again this year. And it's not without its challenges, childcare being one of them. working remotely, kind of from different places, but totally worth it. Yeah, really, really nice to kind of get away from the mic, you know, one mile facility of my house that I'd otherwise been in, and sort of seeing family was the most important thing as well.
Scott Brown (22:42)
Back to lessons, lesson number three.
Amy Wallace (22:44)
Yeah, sure. So, yeah, I mean, I think my biggest lesson is, you know, if a deal doesn't seem to make sense to you, it's probably because it doesn't make sense. So I think in the beginning, I'd always think, Oh, it's just me, I just, you know, she's stupid, or anti Junior, or I don't know, the whole you know, whatever it is imposters, you know, quants imposter complex, like it's this area of law that I don't understand. And, you know, must be because I don't get it. And there will be smart commercial people are going to tell me how it really works and why we're doing this thing. And I just found, the more that I've gone on them, the more that you kind of you're asking question after question. Yeah, I think so I think but why are we paying that to that person? Or, but what are they doing for that? Like, oh, how do we figure out if that's a good job? Like, when? When should we pay the money, you know, and you just can't fit it together? And the more people that you ask more stupid questions, and the questions get stupider and stupider. But why, you know, like a small child, but why, why, but why? And if you still can't get any answer or any sense from it, I think that's when I sort of started saying to myself, Okay, am I missing something, you know, to saying, cars on the table that I just can't figure this out? Why are we doing this? You know, a lot of the time, someone else will say, Yeah, I don't know why we're doing it. You know, you can kind of have that heart to heart with someone outside, maybe if the deal team to saying this deal doesn't really make sense for us. Or it's because, you know, no one really understands they're kind of all trying to pretend that they do, because they've been thrown into something as well. And you're maybe the person who's like, kind of Bert, you know, bring the bad news. Sort of, no one gets it. But yeah, I mean, I think the thing I always say, which is probably extremely annoying, but I think it makes sense to me, which is just, you know, I can't write the story until you've told me the plots. Like if you don't know what the heads of terms are, you don't know what the point of the deal is. Like, I can't magic a contract up that makes it look official that makes everything look like it makes sense. If it just all falls apart when you start pulling the strings then it's not going to work. We're all going to end up in some big kind of fight because also the chances are on our side we don't even really understand it, then probably applies to the other side. And then probably between the two parties. They don't have See agree on what they're agreeing?
Scott Brown (25:01)
Yeah, that's just assumed. Yeah. And you'll be back to getting more bruises and litigation. When did you get the confidence to push back? Or to have that to have those conversations? Yeah,
Amy Wallace (25:13)
I think, generally in an in house environment, no one likes like the smart Alec lawyer, the person going in like, I don't think you know what you're doing. So I think you're sort of going to be successful when you're just more curious and interested and trying to help. Like, I want to honour help figure this out together. But like, help me make this make sense. So I think it's, it's easier if you're coming at it from that direction. I don't necessarily want to kind of I don't want to kill a deal. I don't want to stop a deal dead. I don't want to do any of these things. I just want to I want it to make sense. I want to be able to explain it to myself. So I guess that's, that's the direction I've come from. But I think as you say, Yeah, I've got more confidence, maybe sort of stop asking and asking and asking. And at an earlier stage, say like, why are we doing this? Yeah, you know,
Scott Brown (26:00)
yeah, I guess in private practice, you're never going to be trained to do that. You'd be a turkey asking for Christmas to say, this doesn't make sense. Why are we doing this? We'll stop instructing you that I think that would be the answer.
Amy Wallace (26:11)
I think a good private practice lawyer would do that. So I think someone who's strategic who's thinking on their client's behalf, I think they absolutely would. But again, I think that would be more of like partner level, I think it was someone who knows the client, you know, so I think when you're at a junior level at private practice, you just don't see that as much because you're much more kind of given instructions that you do a little bit sick, but yeah, I mean, I agree. Like you wouldn't necessarily kill a deal. You just try and figure it out.
Scott Brown (26:39)
Yeah, yeah. Cool. Well, thank you for sharing those. Just to wrap it wrap it up. As you've said, You're a reluctant lawyer. What do you think you would be if you weren't a lawyer where might your career have gone?
Amy Wallace (26:51)
God, that's a good question. I mean, I think when I was a child, I really wanted to be an astronaut, right. And then I want to be a writer. But you know, the only the furthest I've ever got, like, writing my book is the first sentence so okay, very well. It's all up here. So you know, that the genius isn't my head? No, I really don't know. I think yeah, I think I'd like to be some someone who, in theory travels a lot into something very distinguished. I, I went through a period of looking at the economist, those pages in The Economist where it says, like, Would you like to apply to become, you know, the head of the Bank in Rwanda? And I think yeah, I'm actually the person who goes yeah, okay. I think
Scott Brown (27:33)
Well, that's good. Yeah, it's good to have something and travelling and obviously with the astronauts say the things that I've seen at the weekend thing was Elon, Elon Musk their first space tourists came back to came back to Earth.
Amy Wallace (27:48)
I've been watching vigil though, and the thoughtful days confined spaces. I know it's an aircraft, you know, rocket, not a submarine, but I think they're quite similar. So I'm, maybe I'm reconsidering my choice?
Scott Brown (27:59)
Yeah. Okay, fair enough. That's all we've got time for today. Thanks. Thanks, me for being generous with your time and sharing those stories and lessons, it's been really good to find out more and to hear more about your tool. Good luck in the new role. It seems that there's a lot a lot going on and a really exciting time to be part of the part of the company.
Amy Wallace (28:17)
Great. Thanks so much for having me.
Scott Brown (28:23)
I'm sure you'll agree that was great to hear from Amy about how passionate she is about working in tech and within start-ups, and working with a business that she really has values that she has her own personal values are aligned with. Thank you for listening to lessons learned in law. To find out about all of our guests head over to heriotbrown.com/podcast. You can find all the episodes from series one and two on there. And please rate and review the podcast. Don't be shy. I'm Scott Brown. Thank you for listening.