As Head of Legal at Tines, Sarah Irwin supports a myriad of operations and teams, providing guidance on everything from contracts and procurement to corporate governance. In this Q&A, Sarah shares more about her day-to-day and the unique challenges of starting and heading up a legal department in-house at a technology company.
Can you tell us a little more about yourself?
I joined Tines three months ago as Head of Legal and am the company’s first legal hire, tasked with building out the in-house function from scratch as we rapidly scale. I began my legal career as a barrister in England, where I grew up, and moved back to Ireland eight years ago when I cross-qualified as a solicitor. Since then, I have specialized in corporate/M&A law in private practice and worked exclusively with technology companies ranging from early-stage to exit. I gravitated towards acting company-side (rather than buyer/investor) because I enjoyed helping founders with legal aspects of growing a business, fundraising, etc., they may not have had to deal with before. Mostly though, the experience made me realize how much I wanted to work in-house to support that journey from the inside, which is why I am where I am now. When I am not lawyering, I can be found lifting weights (no really), on a reformer pilates machine, walking (ideally by the sea, whatever the weather), with my pals at the pub or a nice restaurant, or at home looking after the tiny rescue kitten I recently adopted.
What does a typical workday or week look like for you at Tines?
It involves a bit of everything at this unique stage of our growth, and you have to be able to turn your hand to anything in that context, which I find super exciting! My main priority is partnering with my colleagues in the sales team to help with legal aspects of getting deals done and optimizing for short sales cycles. A close second is advising on various aspects of expansion into new jurisdictions - for example, navigating employment, tax, and privacy law matters, and compliance. After that, I deal with whatever arises on an ad hoc basis, which can be anything from corporate governance to GDPR to achieving blue tick status on Twitter! I have to be highly commercial and solutions-focused because of the speed we are growing and operating. No one has time for legal essays – present the solution, the actionable steps to achieve it, and then help your colleagues action them as quickly as possible before the next thing lands on the desk!
What’s the coolest thing you’ve worked on to date?
Hmm, I’m not sure any legal work can be described as “cool,” but I certainly enjoy supporting the sales team behind the scenes with the legal side of bringing on board exciting new customers. I speak several languages, have lived abroad, and love traveling and experiencing different cultures, so for me learning about jurisdictional differences as we land and expand in new parts of the world is cool.
Who or what has influenced you most when it comes to how you approach your work?
This is a tough one as my legal career has been non-linear, and I am grateful to different people for how they have influenced how I approach my work now. I have a thick skin and naturally stand up for things thanks to the judges I was in front of in London when I was a barrister. In private practice here in Ireland, I was lucky to have worked with some of the best corporate lawyers in the country. They introduced me to the vibrant technology sector here and are largely responsible for the passion I have for acting company-side and watching a business grow. I also have an amazing global network of GCs who help me deal with the unique challenges of starting and heading up a legal department in-house at a tech company. The rest is all me, though – there can be a negative perception of lawyers (not at Tines!), so I like to show my personality, which influences how I approach my work too.
What drew you to Tines?
Our co-founders, Eoin Hinchy and Thomas Kinsella. As a corporate lawyer, you know how to identify and when to take a chance on a company on a promising growth trajectory, world-class product and customers, solving a problem in the market no one else is, and so on. Though all those things are crucial, the key differentiator that drew me to Tines was what our co-founders are all about. They have a winning combination of ambition and sincerity and have built a fantastic culture at Tines that they insist on preserving as we grow. Everyone is encouraged to use their voice, bring their authentic self to work, and own whatever their area is. That all flows from Eoin and Thomas. It is not enough anymore to simply wow and attract people with a great name or product – that will get them in the door, but in order to retain them, culture is everything, and the most successful businesses know that. All in all, it's hugely exciting to be a part of it!
We’re hiring! Interested in joining the Tines team? View current openings and apply here: https://www.tines.com/careers