2019 Northwestern Law MSL Entrepreneurship Trip — Gusto

By Hao Gao & Shalin Shah

Day 1 – Monday, March 25: Gusto

On the team’s first evening in the Bay Area, we began the trip by visiting with the legal team at Gusto, an innovative payroll and HR management solutions provider that serves small businesses. We ventured to the historic maritime industrial district in Mission Bay, where we found ourselves in a massive, stunningly converted warehouse. There was an ambiance of creativity and success amid the mesmerizing contrast of rusty metal cranes with shiny glass walls and colorful furnishings. Immediately upon entering, we knew this company was unique.

Gusto offers a proprietary cloud-based platform to assist small businesses. While payroll services are the primary offering, the company has expanded its capabilities with other HR services, such as onboarding and benefits. Consistent with its Bay Area roots, Gusto utilizes innovation with its software and technologies to ensure the best services for its clients. The company’s goals are to provide its clients with peace-of-mind and use these services in a way that boost the client companies’ cultures.

Gusto prides itself on its own unique culture, which seems to be a factor driving the company’s value creation. Their 8-member legal team is affectionately referred to in the office as the “Legal Eagles.” Fortunately for us, four of the Legal Eagles spent some time sharing their experiences and wisdom. Liza Haskell, the Head of Legal, Megan Niedermeyer, who will be transitioning into the Head of Legal role, and two members of their legal counsel team Zachary Kousnetz and Chelsea Turner contributed their perspectives.

Meeting with the legal team at Gusto was incredibly insightful for understanding how a successful in-house legal team fits into a company. Members of this team are not just lawyers, but also business partners and problem solvers. If a legal team seeks to create value, they must understand business operations to reduce costs and also know the products and how to protect them. Rather than just telling employees what they can and cannot do, excellent in-house counsels are expected to guide employees on how to work with the law and regulations. Gusto’s legal team demonstrated a high level of synergy with the company’s employees. Working directly with the engineers to brainstorm new ideas and inventors on patents are prime examples.

We also began to learn about the interactions between in-house and outside counsel. Liza pointed out that in-house takes on the role of a generalist, managing the various legal areas involved in a company’s operations. Where specialized expertise is needed, outside counsel is brought in to help. Megan emphasizes the importance of bringing in good outside help that is respected by internal stakeholders. Managing outside counsel and getting them to work effectively with employees within the company highlights that the key to success for an in-house legal professional is “social and cross-functional change-management skills.”

On behalf of the Northwestern MSL, thank you so much to Liza, Megan, Zachary, and Chelsea for inviting us to Gusto’s headquarters and sharing your experiences. It was inspiring to learn how a company’s legal department can function as an in-house consulting firm that collaborates with all departments in the company, effectively driving value creation and pushing forward company goals. We all look forward to seeing Gusto’s and the Legal Eagles’ continued success.

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