Lawyers are often thought of as terrifying, stern, bespectacled types. SmartRecruiters’ Valerie Bertrand proves you can know your legal jargon and how to have a good time.
If you work for a company that conducts any business in or with Europe you’ve no doubt heard a certain acronym thrown around the office with increasing frequency, and intensity: GDPR.
If you haven’t, you might want to start shouting it yourself, because avoiding the General Data Protection Regulation could prove very expensive.
At SmartRecruiters, we’re living in a GDPR-stress-free zone, thanks primarily to our Head of Legal, Valerie Bertrand.
Valerie joined SmartRecruiters in August 2017, following successful careers in both the public and private sector. To us legal laypeople, the day-to-day work of company lawyers can seem slightly mysterious, even a bit daunting. I spoke with Valerie about how she came onboard and how her legal work has changed through the years. The first topic, unsurprisingly, was GDPR:
We recently attended a TruBerlin event in which a lot of conversation was concerned with GDPR. What has been the general feedback to GDPR in tech circles? Fear, confusion, readiness?
I think European companies are really focused, though it depends on each country. We had three webinars in December about GDPR; in France, England and Germany. You can measure the interest by the number of attendees. In Germany, there were more than 200, which is quite big. In France there were around 70, and 60 in the UK. We also ran a webinar for the US, but the audience wasn’t so big.
A lot of companies are concerned because they may not be compliant.
You mentioned the UK. Do you have any inkling how Brexit could affect GDPR?
I had this question raised at the UK webinar. I think a lot of people are concerned. I cannot predict the future, but in the UK you have an authority for data protection already, the ICO. And so far they speak a lot of about GDPR. It suggests they are telling UK companies to be compliant. For UK businesses, they’ll continue to transact business and process candidates from Europe. So I think UK companies have no choice but to comply. Let’s see.
A quick perusal of your resume shows you’ve also done legal work government institutions. What are the biggest differences you’ve found in tech and recruitment?
Before SmartRecruiters I was with the German Institute for Urban Affairs, an entity with funding from local authorities to conduct scientific research. I was in charge of tenders, contracts, checking supplier terms, vendor conditions and so on. You have to apply rules, and you have a time-frame you just have to comply with. For government, you have a lot of time, and a lot of people involved at every step. It’s positive sometimes because you have time to think about your project, but here, everything is for today, or tomorrow, so you have to act much quicker.
Are there any unique challenges to SmartRecruiters?
I decided to join SmartRecruiters because I knew I had a lot to do in the beginning, since the legal function was new here. The were no lawyers, so I had to build from scratch. That was the big challenge and still is the big challenge.
So this is different to what you’ve done previously in this sector?
Yes. I worked for Lumesse before, which had a big team compared to here. I had four people with me. I know the sector, so the industry of SmartRecruiters is not new for me, but the project here is innovative and novel compared to what I’ve seen in the past.
And you prefer this freedom compared to, say, working in the government sector?
Yes. One of our values is that ‘you are your own CEO’. And I like this. Especially when dealing with this volume of work, it’s very important to like what you do.
What was it that made you want to work in legal?
After college I had no idea what to do, to be honest. So I chose law at university because I thought, “Yeah, why not?”. I discovered different faces of the profession, like, in France, you have solicitors, but I didn’t want to go to courts and plead and so on, but I chose to work as an in-house counsel because I like to work with different profiles – engineering, sales, finance. I like to advise people and not only work on the big matters.
So if I was launching a tech startup in Berlin or elsewhere, and I asked you for some legal advice, what would you tell me?
Make sure you have all the intellectual property rights to develop your business. With technology especially, you have to protect your intellectual property and make sure it isn’t owned by someone else. Sometimes you attend conferences and hear presentations of products and you think “that is not new”. So make sure your business is really new and fully protected.
Legal can sometimes seem quite dry and serious. What do you do to in your free time?
The classic one. I have two kids – 15 and 10. It is not a secret they keep me busy. Music is a big passion for me, so when I have time I like to go to concerts.
Oh really? What kind of stuff?
Everything, but especially indie. Y’know, all The Smiths, all Oasis. But also artists like Rufus Wainwright and MGMT. I also like theater and movies, but if I have to spend money on an outing, my preference is a concert.
What was the last concert you went to?
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. But before that was a classic one, The Rolling Stones in Paris.