Don’t forget what really matters in life — When anyone dies (famous or in our families), we are all reminded of how short and fragile life is. The most important things in life are our health, our family, and our loved ones. We work to live, not the other way around.
As a part of my series about “5 things I wish someone told me when I first became an attorney” I had the pleasure of interviewing Sachin Bansal.
Sachin Bansal is the General Counsel (GC) at SecurityScorecard, a global cybersecurity firm backed by Google, Sequoia, Riverwood and other leading investors such as Intel and Moody’s. He has a long and successful track record of both public company in-house and top law firm experience, including Davis Polk & Wardwell and Paul Hastings. He graduated magna cum laude from Duke University and magna cum laude from Duke University School of Law.
Sachin is not your standard lawyer — he’s professionally trained, and a regular performer (and show producer) of stand-up comedy.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit more. What is the “backstory” that brought you to this particular career path in Law?
Thank you for having me. My parents immigrated to the U.S. in the 1970s with nothing but a suitcase and hope. My father achieved the American dream by climbing the corporate ladder for decades as an in-house money manager, and my older brother (and only sibling) was an investment banker before pivoting into strategy consulting.
I always thought I’d follow in these “business” footstops, but I grew up reading John Grisham’s legal thrillers and was fascinated by what happens in American courtrooms, and how the law can solve problems, especially for the most vulnerable and helpless in our society.
My college years at Duke propelled me into the law — I studied public policy and became a policy wonk. Duke’s law school was across the street from the public policy building so as silly as it might sound, I was drawn to it and I only applied there; interestingly during law school, I was a writing tutor for Coach K’s Duke basketball players!
After many years of working on a wide range of legal issues ranging from bankruptcy to appearing before government regulators, I took a step back and realized that the “lawyer of tomorrow” needed sharp skills in cybersecurity, intellectual property, and data privacy. This drew me to jump into “tech law.” On top of that, several close to me founded and sold tech companies. By osmosis, I had the tech bug and that’s where I wanted to spend the rest of my career, which brought me to SecurityScorecard, the global leader in cybersecurity ratings.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your law career?
In 2013, I signed up for an introductory workshop to learn stand-up comedy from the world-famous Comedy Cellar in New York City. I had always admired stand-up as an art form since I was young, and I was also fascinated by the fact that a comedy “class” existed, let alone was offered through my favorite comedy club. Each week for several months, a small, eclectic group of us wrote original jokes and performed for each other, and ultimately we “graduated” with two student shows on the Comedy Cellar stage.
I suddenly loved being a performer and also knew this was a crash course to becoming a better public speaker. Suddenly I was balancing a continually demanding legal career with a creative side project to hustle for stage time in New York City, one of the toughest places to make it in “show biz” and overcrowded with aspiring comedians. I’m really grateful to many supportive friends (and family) who politely sat through the early years of my performances, which ranged from mediocre to downright awful.
Ultimately, through years of hard work and experience, I have gotten more comfortable onstage and to my surprise, it has made me a better lawyer who can write more concisely, think on my feet, and sometimes even leverage humor in difficult situations. And similarly, legal skills such as attention to detail have made me a stronger stand-up comic and particularly as a show producer.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
The most exciting part of my job is explaining what cybersecurity risk ratings are and why they matter; ratings are at the core of what SecurityScorecard does and we created a new market since our founding in 2013. Our core mission is to make the world a safer place, and we truly believe that what we do helps companies be more secure against the bad guys who will stop at nothing to keep hacking and attacking.
I geek out on the intersection of cyber law/policy and cyber ratings. Currently, such laws are a patchwork of rules across the federal government and states; for example, different agencies have differing cyber mandates. But one common theme is an increased regulatory focus on third-party cyber risk management and cyber ratings neatly address that issue. I expect we will see more companies publicly disclosing their cybersecurity ratings, and a greater scrutiny on vendors and third-parties to maintain good security scores.
What are some of the most interesting cases you have been involved in? Without sharing anything confidential can you share any stories?
In 2012, I was part of an alumni, student, and faculty team with Duke Law’s Wrongful Convictions Clinic that freed LaMonte Armstrong, a North Carolina man who had wrongfully served 17 years in prison for a murder he did not commit. I began working on LaMonte’s case as a third-year law student and continued serving on the team as a pro bono project at the law firms I worked at — I am grateful for Davis Polk and McKool Smith for letting me do that.
Our team ultimately achieved LaMonte’s freedom through cooperation with the new police and District Attorney who found that a palm print at the crime scene was a match to another man who had been convicted for another murder and had died several years earlier — not only was our client completely innocent, but he was serving time for a dead man.
LaMonte was more than a pro bono client for me — he was a friend from the day I met him in August 2007 and even though he’s no longer with us since August 2019, he remains in our team’s hearts and souls. More details about LaMonte’s case can be found in his profile on the National Registry of Exonerations.
Which people in history inspire you the most? Why?
Mahatma Gandhi, prior to becoming a prominent civil rights activist in India, was a longtime lawyer in South Africa before he returned to India. I admire him for his lifelong focus on nonviolence, a core belief of Hinduism, which I practice. My favorite Gandhi quote (and there are many): “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” The simple meaning of this phrase is that instead of complaining, be willing to change within yourself first before seeking such change in society.
What advice would you give to a young person considering a career in law?
My first question is: are you sure you want to go into law? In part, I am kidding, but in part I am not — the law is a difficult profession: oversaturated, blemished by cheap billboards and ambulance chasers, and some who measure success in terms of how many hours billed. On the other hand, the law is incredibly versatile and law school doesn’t mean only working for a law firm. Many also pursue MBAs and move into careers in business, or great roles (and hours) in academia, or satisfying jobs in government or nonprofits.
My biggest piece of advice is that even after finishing law school and years into practice, pivoting into something new and different is entirely possible. I am a perfect example of this — I avoided bankruptcy class in law school but that was unexpectedly a big part of my early legal career, and after more than a decade of being a Wall Street litigator, I became a Silicon Valley tech lawyer.
If you had the ability to make three reforms in our judicial/legal system, which three would you start with? Why?
- More judges of color need to be nominated and confirmed to serve in U.S. federal courts. While there has been strides toward appointing female judges, recent administrations could have done better.
- Increase transparency in our public courts. There is an overall lack of data on several key metrics, such as plea bargains, and very limited livestream access. Even simply making court records fully searchable and freely accessible by the public will help build greater public confidence. A pending bill, the Twenty-First Century Courts Act, will help address these issues.
- Rethink our approach to incarceration — we’re the world leader in putting people in jail: 2.2 million individuals in our prisons and jails, a 500% increase over the last 40 years (and not surprisingly, incarcerated individuals have been at the highest risk of contracting COVID). Mass incarceration has not necessarily led to public safety, and disparately impacts Black men. In particular, we need to eliminate certain mandatory minimum sentences and shift some of the state fiscal burdens that prisons impose and invest instead in interventions for younger individuals since research shows crime peaks in the teenage years.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
My friends and family know that I am a sucker for good causes so I do my best to donate when I am approached. But since I am not Jeff Bezos, I know that my time is the most valuable commodity I have to offer. As a result, I’m a believer in karma: if I help someone with a quick phone call and offer them advice (because they asked for it) based on my own experience, I “pay it forward” because I will be seeking someone else out in the future for help. Candidly, this is harder as you get older and the personal and professional demands increase, but I do my best.
I know this is not an easy job. What drives you?
I am not motivated by money. If so, I would not have jumped from an investment bank to a tech startup. Nor for that matter would I have become a lawyer since other paths are more lucrative.
I am most driven by solving problems. To me, this is the core of what a good lawyer is: finding solutions. This is why as a general counsel, I focus on being a business partner.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or an example for each.
- Build relationships — Having an IQ is table stakes, but what will differentiate you is the EQ. Most importantly, build relationships across different levels and functions.
- Set deadlines — Oftentimes you are not told when something is due, but setting your own deadline will ensure it gets done. Star Wars’ Yoda famously said there is no try, either do — or do not.
- Believe in yourself — You will quickly begin a comparison game to others who make more money than you, or are more successful. Focus on your own journey and your own path, and know that you got to where you are because of who you are.
- Take time for yourself — I’ve learned a lot from my CEO and he reminds us that is a reason why on airplanes we are told to put on our oxygen mask first before assisting others. We can’t be effective if we aren’t taking care of ourselves. For some, this means going for a run. For others, it could be yoga or meditation. Find a few “self care” things and make it a point to do them as often as possible, ideally each day.
- Don’t forget what really matters in life — When anyone dies (famous or in our families), we are all reminded of how short and fragile life is. The most important things in life are our health, our family, and our loved ones. We work to live, not the other way around.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂
I am a huge fan of Mark Cuban — he is the perfect blend of business, entrepreneurship, and sports (as the owner of the Dallas Mavericks). He is a self-made man who sold garbage bags door-to-door as a kid. He is known for saying that the one thing in life you can control is effort. And he quotes his father, who like mine, believes that only hard work reaps rewards.