In her heart, Heidi Groulx has always had a soft spot for music. Since she was young—growing up in the north suburbs of Chicago and then Colorado—Groulx had her sights set on becoming an accomplished singer.
She practiced her art through grade school and high school. And as an undergraduate student at the University of Southern California, she majored in vocal performance and music education.
Upon graduation, Groulx worked hard to become a successful singer. She spent the two years after college going to auditions, pounding the pavement and waiting tables to pay the bills. But, as she put it, “It’s a hard life.”
When Groulx accepted the fact that achieving financial security with a singing career was unlikely, she decided to set her life on a different path. “But what?,” she said. “I had spent my entire life thinking I was going to be a musician.”
Groulx decided her best option was to go to graduate school and study either law or business. Ultimately, she chose law because she thought it would be the best fit for her skill set and she was interested in music law.
Groulx attended Northwestern Law to complete her J.D.—bringing her back to her Midwest roots, where she would begin to build a successful legal career.
me about your career path immediately after law school?
I always wanted to do litigation—and when I graduated, there weren’t many litigation jobs but lots of corporate jobs—so I ended up at McDermott Will & Emery in Chicago for a short time doing corporate work. While there, I quickly realized I really wanted to focus on intellectual property.
In law school, I had written my law review article about a case in which singer Tom Waits had sued Frito-Lay and its advertising agency for imitating his voice in a Doritos commercial. And he won. He claimed his voice was so unique, it amounted to an unregistered trademark. When I wrote that law review article, I realized that I wanted to focus on non-technical IP work—specifically trademarks and copyrights.
Then I moved over to Sidley for about five years and worked in their trademark and marketing group. I did trademark prosecution and reviewed IP assets in mergers and acquisitions.
During that time, I had also gotten married. My husband got a job with HP, so in 1999 we moved to northern California—and this was right after I had my first baby.
While in California, I did a little bit of remote work with Sidley and then I took some time off. When my daughter was about a year old, I took a part-time position with a small law firm doing trademark work.
You worked for quite a few small start-ups early in your career. How did those come about?
Through my kids’ preschool, I started meeting a lot of Silicon Valley parents that were starting up technology companies. They needed legal help so I built a practice as a solo practitioner on an ad hoc basis. I did that for four years.
Then, from 2003 to 2008, I had a part-time contract attorney position with The Gap doing marketing and trademark work. After that, I worked for a startup called Mozes, a text messaging marketing platform geared toward the music industry, where I basically served as their acting general counsel.
At the end of 2008, I moved back to Chicago because I wanted to raise my kids in the Midwest. I worked with Axiom Law in Chicago from 2010 to 2016 and was assigned to several great companies—Allstate, Accenture and Intel to name a few—that had exciting technology projects.
My last Axiom gig was with Motorola Mobility in 2016. Work with Axiom was getting harder to come by and, although I was going on interviews for other positions and getting close to offers, I wasn’t landing the positions. Professionally and personally, it was a difficult time.
How did you end up at Maven Wave Partners?
In early 2017, I was working as a contract attorney for a marketing company. They had a permanent position available but they ended up hiring another lawyer that had more international experience than I did. I was completely devastated.
Two days later, Mike Evers called me. I didn’t know Mike at the time, but he said he found my LinkedIn profile and believed I might be the perfect fit for the senior counsel position available at Maven Wave. We met and he told me about Maven Wave and I told him about me.
I asked Mike to give me feedback about how I came across. He was very honest—he told me I was a little quirky and lacked confidence. He said, “You don’t come off as your resume reads. You have amazing experience and you are the perfect fit for this position.”
Maven Wave wanted to hire a lawyer who had consulting firm experience, which I had. They gave me a shot. And, Mike was right, it has been a great fit. About a year after I was hired, they gave me the GC title.
(Editorial note from Mike: “Heidi had been told “no” a few times and that showed up in an interview context. But interviews also reveal talent and potential. She just needed a win, and since getting it, the placement has been very successful.”)
What are some of your biggest challenges?
First of all, I am the only lawyer at the company.I came in as a technology transactions lawyer, but I really had to learn to do everything that a growing company needs and also know when to consult outside counsel.
I have also been trying to put legal processes in place. We have about 200 employees in the U.S. and 75 in India. So I work with folks internationally in a totally different culture.
I work closely with the senior management team, which—before I was hired—was used to doing a lot of their own legal work. One of my biggest challenges has been convincing them of risk areas. Information security and data privacy matters, for example, are huge for us.
What do you love most about being an in-house lawyer?
At a lot of companies, the sales team doesn’t really get along with the legal team, but I have a great relationship with our sales team. And I love being a part of the business, what we do and knowing soup-to-nuts how deals have to run. It would be difficult to go back to a law firm.
Please tell me about the mentors you had growing up in your legal career.
Michelle Warner, who I worked with at McDermott, Will and Emery and later became the GC at USG, was very helpful to me as an in-house lawyer. She graduated law school only a couple years ahead of me, but I had stepped off the career path for quite a while. I was able talk to her quite a bit about the challenges of being in-house. She was extremely helpful. Since I am the only lawyer at Maven Wave, I often consult colleagues at other companies, such as my friend Dirk McElravey, who is associate GC at VMware. He has been a really good source of information and advice.
What’s your life like outside of work?
I have three kids. They are 20, 18 and 15 and although self-sufficient in some ways, still require a lot of my time.
I still do a lot of music. I sing in two bands and have an acoustic duo. I was part of a really fun HR initiative at my company. The idea was to get people out of their comfort zone. One of the founding partners and I ran the music part of the program together and created three bands. We taught people how to be in a band and each band learned five songs. Then we did a live performance at Bottom Lounge. It was really fun!
What advice would you give a young lawyer who wants to be a GC someday?
Don’t stay at a law firm too long and don’t be afraid to change jobs. Millennials are better about this, but a lot of my generation stayed in the same job for a long time. You don’t need to do that anymore. There isn’t as much value in staying at the same place for 20 years. When you get your first in-house job, find a mentor or someone within the company and ask questions. Being eager to learn goes a long way in showing your leadership you are invested in your career and in helping make the company a better place.