A Unique Path to Product and Business Counsel at the Heart of Silicon Valley
By Axiom Law
Chad Woodford’s career hasn’t followed the traditional path we’ve come to expect from lawyers, which usually involves going directly from undergrad to law school, before settling in for the long haul at law firms or moving up through a variety of in-house positions. Instead, this software-engineer-turned-attorney paved his own way, working for various tech companies for six years before heading to law school at the University of Colorado at age 29.
Since then, his journey has brought him into a number of different legal and leadership roles within the tech sector. Chad is especially passionate about having served as product and business counsel for some of Silicon Valley’s biggest tech giants. He’s also a devoted yoga and meditation practitioner and teacher, bringing mindfulness to the legal profession, his local community, and beyond. In other words, Chad isn’t your traditional lawyer – which is precisely what makes him so valuable to his clients and peers.
“I very much like the model Axiom offers,” says Chad. “You’re very connected with clients, and what we’re really offering are legal professionals who’ve been around the block in the industry, have solid experience with major tech companies, and can hit the ground running because of that experience.”
Making the switch from engineering to legal
After earning a B.S. in electrical engineering, Chad began his career as a software engineer and went on to work for several companies within the technology space. But as the years passed, he couldn’t help but feel like the right profession for him was one that offered problem-solving on a broader scope.
“I wanted to work with clients on complex challenges beyond just making widgets in a cubicle,” says Chad. “And it was clear in the late ’90s that there were not nearly enough lawyers, lawmakers, and policy folks who were well-versed in technology. I also love writing and was attracted by the way that lawyers use words as their stock in trade.”
The next right step for Chad seemed clear. He applied for law school and went all-in, joining a law firm as a summer associate while earning his degree. He also spent time as a legal intern focusing on state and federal communications law, before stepping into his first official legal role – intellectual property manager for Wind River Systems, a leading software development company. It was an experience that sparked a strong interest in IP counseling.
He soon made his way to Fenwick & West LLP, where he spent the next four years working on tech transactions, intellectual property counseling, and IP support for M&A transactions. It’s where Chad says he really learned the ropes and began loving the work. He eventually went in-house with Dolby, where he continued managing transactional responsibilities, along with copyright and IP counseling for the marketing team.
Soaring with Silicon Valley startups
While Chad was working at Fenwick & West, some now-well-known tech startups were just coming to life in Silicon Valley. He had heard whispers of an emerging social media platform called Twitter that was still at the ground level, and he inquired about coming onboard. It took some persistence, but he eventually got his foot in the door in a product and business counsel role.
“Something about it really captivated me, and I felt strongly that I wanted to work there because it was going to be something,” says Chad, whose predictions regarding Twitter’s success turned out to be spot-on. “I joined during the early days, when things were very much at the ground level. It was a life-changing experience.”
Chad was one of five lawyers and reported directly to the general counsel, providing support to the advertising, revenue product, and sales teams. He played an active part in the company, which grew rapidly and ultimately went public.
“It was chaotic and fast-paced, but also very character-building,” says Chad. “But I was working way too hard and putting in 80 hours per week. It wasn’t sustainable.”
When he heard about a local informational Axiom event, he decided to check it out, and ended up leaving Twitter in search of something different. He joined the Axiom team in October 2013, because the engagement model offered an opportunity to build varied experience at different companies and time to pursue his interests outside of law.
Building a career based on product, software, and legal expertise
Chad got to work quickly with his first engagement with Axiom – serving as product counsel for another major tech company. His background also came in handy as he provided counsel to the engineering team. Describing it as a “wonderful and amazing engagement,” Chad stayed on for two years before his personal life took him to the East Coast.
He moved to New York City, but couldn’t practice law until he ironed out his New York license, which took another two years. In the meantime, he assumed the role of head of product and chief privacy officer for One More Company (now defunct). Chad spent his days working on product development and design, as well as weighing in on legal strategy, security, and data privacy. From there, he jumped over to Tech:NYC, a nonprofit that supports the New York tech industry through policy work and meeting with lawmakers and stakeholders.
But the West Coast soon called him back, so he returned to California. “It was a little bit of a return to my roots, in a sense,” says Chad. “What I missed when I was in New York was doing that product counseling work, especially for companies I was excited about. I also missed working in the heart of technology, which is Silicon Valley.”
He rejoined the Axiom team in June 2019, taking on product counseling at another major social media company. Earlier this year, he also began an engagement with a well-known online marketplace within the travel industry.
“I continue to value the quality and diversity of clients that Axiom has, as well as the flexibility Axiom offers in the ability to take time off between engagements,” he remarks.
Blending mindfulness and legal work
Axiom’s model also lends itself to a higher level of flexibility for Chad, in his day-to-day and his greater career path. An important part of Chad’s life is yoga – both practicing and teaching. His passion has taken him on multiple trips to India, where he’s delved deeper into yoga’s roots and different yoga lineages. A particular type of yoga called Sattva resonated with him so much that he’s created his own hybrid form of the practice that he calls Elemental Yoga, which he teaches in the San Francisco Bay Area and on retreats around the world.
Chad is also an active writer and, in addition to his yoga blog, is currently working on a book proposal about yoga.
What’s in store for the legal industry
The future of legal is one that’s continually shifting and expanding. Chad sees legal services as becoming more and more competitive, with prices likely dropping for hourly work. He also recognizes that the way we work in general, as a culture, is changing. An increasingly large part of the workforce is interested in remote work and flexible hours – in other words, in the opportunity to find their own unique blend of professional and personal life.
Axiom is certainly blazing a trail here with its forward-thinking model, leaving the door open for experienced legal talent to use their skill sets in ways that support business innovation for companies across a variety of industries. Link up with the Axiom team today to learn more.
Lawyer Naomi Gaffney has deepened her experience at Axiom where she practices financial law.
Key learnings on serving, and building a career, as a product counsel, from Axiom’s recent webinar.