How I learned to read contracts

Johanna RobinsonLegal, Project Management

When I was a baby project manager, I was fortunate to work for a hypergrowth biotech startup. In the time that I was there, we grew to over 3,000 employees.

In a hypergrowth startup, the usual startup problems to be solved are compounded by urgency and scale. But there are some benefits too. Suddenly there are funds available for many of the things that just weren’t possible in the early stages.

One of the things we added was a legal department, and there was a whole paralegal assigned just to help manage legal stuff for my team. Her name was Maureen, and she was an expert in contracts.

It seemed like there was always a backlog of contracts to be reviewed, and that was usually one of the bottlenecks in moving along a project. So I asked Maureen if she could teach me some basics that would help her review the contracts more quickly. That was the beginning of a fantastic mentoring relationship. I would review the contract and propose redline edits, Maureen would review my work, and then she would teach me what I missed or got wrong.

I loved it. Eventually, our fancy legal department even built some legal training into our new employee orientation training.

On our Tech School program this week, I shared some of the legal concepts I learned from Maureen. I hope these basic concepts and the real life examples from my career will equip you to navigate legal aspects of your own startup journey.