As seen on Modern Counsel.

By Billy Yost.

Adam Frankel didn’t start working for a US-based company until eight years into his legal career. His multinational work is extensive, having risen through legal roles in Dutch, Swiss, French, and Israeli multinational telecommunications and software companies and start-ups.

One thing has remained constant for him: be humble and kind. To Frankel, those words matter most.

“I feel like the best lawyers who I’ve negotiated with are also the kindest and best people,” he reflects. “I think that translates to your work product. Just be a normal person, whether you’re entering a heated negotiation or a routine interaction. Just be kind.”

If that outlook seems somehow naive, simply look at Frankel’s résumé to see how that approach has played out. The attorney was recruited by Boston-based NWN Carousel to act as its inaugural general counsel for a business that was already two decades old.

“We didn’t have a legal department when I joined,” Frankel says. “It was a several-hundred-million-dollar business that was running fine without a legal department, so I’m not trying to sell myself as some kind of savior. But I definitely saw some opportunities to help NWN grow.”

Consider the challenge: a twenty-year-old business with a defined culture that was humming along was suddenly welcoming an outsider—an attorney, nonetheless. Someone that could implicitly be thought of as an obstacle in the way of the business if Frankel made the wrong moves early.

Frankel was careful not to rock the boat until he invested time in meeting people across the business. He fought the urge to staff-up his department as quickly as possible, instead taking the time to survey the situation, develop meaningful connections, and spend six months understanding the company’s business, risk profile, and find the gaps he could help fill.

“Learning the business through contract work is a great inroad to being a successful in-house lawyer.”

Adam Frankel
Adam Frankel
Adam Frankel, General Counsel, NWN CarouselPhoto by Vail Fucci

The GC says he sought out as many data points as possible inform potential hiring decisions. His world was awash in spreadsheets, matrixes, and breakdowns of functional areas for months. The road map slowly came together, and Frankel says he worked in tandem with NWN’s CFO to help build out his larger vision.

Just as things started to be made clear, NWN acquired cloud communications and infrastructure services company Carousel Industries of North America Inc., nearly tripling its employee population. Along with a legal assistant and an assistant general counsel, Frankel was able to upskill an incoming Carousel paralegal in tech transactional work.

The internal legal team is currently four people, a lean organization by any metric, but four years in, he seems to have passed the trial by fire. All the while, the GC has been implementing an internal legal program completely remotely. NWN Carousel is a hybrid company, which gives Frankel the opportunity to be the kind of parent he wants to be.

“I don’t think I’m working any less, but I am working more flexibly,” he explains. “I’m able to get my kids off to school in the morning, work all day, and if I need to work a bit after I put them to bed, I do. This place is amazingly accommodating in that regard.”

Frankel offers practice and thoughtful advice for young attorneys. “When you’re starting out with any company, contracts are really the gateway, the lens to learn everything about a business,” he says. “You see the risk profile. You see what the company is willing to assume. You see what the business cares about commercially. And you can even learn about how the organization views the legal team.”

“Just be a normal person, whether you’re entering a heated negotiation or a routine interaction. Just be kind.”

Adam Frankel

The GC adds that contracts are a hub that interacts with sales, human resources, finance, engineering, information security, and most of the rest of the organization. If you want to learn about your business, start with contract work and work your way out.

“Contract work helps you interact with everyone, and once you find out what you really are into and want to focus on, then you can specialize,” he says. “I think learning the business through contract work is a great inroad to being a successful in-house lawyer.”

Lastly, for those on the eternal grind, Frankel, a young lawyer himself, stresses the need to take a minute to breathe. You might be prepared for a promotion, “But you can’t always be on a rocket ship,” the GC says. “I know you want that next opportunity. But sometimes, a little patience goes a long way.”

Adam Frankel Fosters the Next Generation of Dead Heads

Outside of work, Adam Frankel is a live music fanatic. He recently brought his son to Fenway Park to watch Dead & Company play a farewell show in Boston. He’s hoping to pass that love of music onto his kids, though he didn’t make them stay for the full second set.

“It was a cathartic experience to expose my son to something I’m so passionate about. He’s only seven, so it might have kind of stretched the bounds of negligent parenting, but we left during the second set to get him home for bed,” he says, laughing.