- Kristin Sverchek, Lyft’s general counsel, plays a crucial role in helping the ridesharing company tackle legal and regulatory issues, including recent litigation over driver classification in California.
- She spoke with Business Insider about the many hats she wears at Lyft, and how her background providing legal counsel to Silicon Valley startups comes into play.
- As GC at a perpetually innovating tech company, Sverchek said she has to constantly “re-envision the way that old laws could apply to a new business idea.”
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
No one said being the lead lawyer for a company like Lyft would be a cakewalk.
“I’ve already had to think about employment and litigation and patents and trademarks. And it’s only 10:30 a.m.,” Kristin Sverchek, the ridesharing company’s general counsel, told Business Insider over a video call.
There’s no typical day-to-day for Sverchek, who heads a team of around 150 people that spans almost every legal discipline, from corporate product to intellectual property.
“I’m essentially running an in-house law firm,” she said, adding that she delegates “nearly everything” to her team, which she’s helped build from the ground up since she joined the company in 2012.
Sverchek also reports up to the executive team, strategizing with leadership on any big issues they foresee coming down the pipeline, and has regular touchpoints with the board and audit committee.
“Lyft is a company where the legal function really matters,” said Sverchek.
Lyft, along with other gig companies, has faced mounting pressure from regulators, the court, and the public to classify its drivers as full-time employees. In August, Lyft and Uber narrowly avoided a shutdown in California due to an emergency stay in their court battle over driver status.
The company’s legal team is also focusing on the Proposition 22 ballot initiative, which provides drivers independence plus benefits, the GC said.
Sverchek’s experience working with startups in Silicon Valley has enabled her to better help the company navigate the rocky regulatory landscape it’s found itself in.
After graduating from the UC Hastings School of Law in 2007, Sverchek landed a job as a corporate and securities associate at Gunderson Dettmer, a law firm specializing in the VC and tech market. Actually a biology major in college, she thought she’d go into IP, but found herself being drawn to the corporate aspect of law.
“I loved the idea that I was meeting these really enthusiastic founders to help them achieve their goals, whether through raising money or through entering into commercial contracts,” she said.
Making the switch from outside counsel to in-house lawyer
When she moved to Silicon Legal Strategy, which counsels tech startups, entrepreneurs, and investors, Sverchek represented investors in the $1.2 million series seed round of Zimride, a B2B ridesharing platform for companies and universities, in June 2010. Soon after, the Zimride co-founders asked her to come on board as their GC.
Sverchek quickly realized that the role of in-house lawyer was significantly different from that of outside counsel.
“I naively assumed that it would be like just showing up to a different office one day for work with the same job,” she said. “I had to learn to be a little bit more business-minded than I had been in the past.”
The business mindset meant learning how to work with different teams, which often had different goals, while keeping the big picture in mind. As outside counsel, Sverchek had been giving more narrowly-focused legal advice, whereas in-house, she found that she had to think more about the downstream effects and broader business implications.
“And I had to think about a whole new set of stakeholders — I had to focus more on the user base, for example,” she added.
Lyft off: problem-solving as a ridesharing company’s general counsel
When Lyft launched in 2012 to near-instant buzz from the media, Sverchek said that its co-founders, Logan Green and John Zimmer, called her up “constantly” for advice on how to navigate the legal issues that cropped up.
At the time, the concept of ridesharing was brand-new, and state and local municipalities grappled — and are still grappling — with how to regulate gig companies, she explained.
But, when they asked her to join full-time as their GC, Sverchek initially turned them down.
“I was happy with where I was,” she said. “But ultimately I did some soul-searching, and decided… that I’d regret saying no more than I’d regret saying yes.”
Sverchek eventually joined Lyft in November 2012, and soon began helping the company navigate tricky legal issues.
“At a company like Lyft, you’re doing a lot of things for the first time,” she said, describing the then-startup’s constant innovation — from expanding to bikes and scooters and unveiling self-driving cars.
“Every time something new happens, you’re like, okay, let me distill this to the basic legal issues and pull out what I can,” Sverchek explained. Without legal precedents, she had to “re-envision the way that old laws could apply to a new business idea.”
This has especially been the case as Lyft, which went public at a $24 billion valuation in 2019, continues to tackle regulatory obstacles. “It’s a very busy time,” she laughed.
“The company can’t survive without the legal function, and that’s only become truer over time,” she said. “We are a company that faces difficult-to-solve legal and regulatory issues. And I pride myself on being a thought partner who is able to help the company solve them.”