Could you talk about your journey to impact investing?
My journey to impact was largely unplanned. While my role at RPCK for the past seven years (now as a Partner) advising on impact investing and multiple bottom line transactions is an essential part of my identity as a human being and an attorney today, the path I took to arrive here was circuitous and involved lots of twists and turns that you might not expect from someone who started out in a pretty traditional legal role.
I began my law career at a big law firm, like most of my colleagues at RPCK. I practiced in Kaye Scholer’s New York office after law school for over nine years, where I honed my legal skills and worked on a broad variety of corporate transactions, including cross-border mergers and acquisitions, capital markets transactions, venture capital, general corporate, and others. It was a great firm, I became a talented attorney, and from the outset, I thought my career path was pre-ordained. I expected to work hard, do quality legal work, become a partner and continue in that position for the remainder of my legal career. But after keeping my nose to the grindstone for over nine years, I had an epiphany. One day, I realized that I was working incredibly hard doing sophisticated legal work at a high level, but that I no longer found joy or a sense of purpose or meaning in the work I was doing.
So, I left law and took a hiatus with the intention to reconnect with myself and explore endeavors that I found personally satisfying and enriching. This led to a bit of an entrepreneurial walkabout, and I became a bit of a serial entrepreneur. I started a beer brewing company with a friend. I opened up an Italian ice and ice cream shop for a national franchise on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. Being the “ice cream man” for a neighborhood of kids and families was certainly enriching and satisfying, and I honestly thought that I’d left my legal career behind me.
But…once a lawyer, always a lawyer. I actually realized over time that I very much missed practicing law and that being a lawyer (more specifically, a corporate lawyer) is an essential part of my identity. I understand that, for better or worse, solving complex legal problems, drafting transaction documents, and all that goes along with being a sophisticated transactional attorney is my calling and is what gives me pleasure and satisfaction. I think my brain is just wired that way.
But, after having been away from the law for quite some time, I just wasn’t sure how to re-insert myself in the legal world in a way that would allow me to satisfy my rekindled urge to be a corporate lawyer and address the meaning I was missing in my prior big firm experience. I made one more left turn before I finally discovered RPCK and impact investing and I went back to practice corporate law at another big firm. After just a few short months, however, it became clear that I needed to find, essentially, a different legal experience if I was going to successfully return to the practice of law.
It was a headhunter who introduced me to Chintan Panchal, co-founder of RPCK. I didn’t know anything about impact at the time, but I knew immediately that I was drawn to Chintan’s conviction to grow a world-class law firm that combined big firm expertise and sophistication with this fascinating and rapidly expanding arena of impact investing and multiple bottom line transactions. I came to realize, after many discussions with Chintan, that a career at RPCK would address all of the essential elements I’d identified as necessary for me to dive into the next phase of my legal career. RPCK provided an opportunity to practice sophisticated and cutting-edge transactional work for passionate clients committed to solving complex and pervasive societal and environmental issues, work alongside highly-trained, passionate and collaborative colleagues, and be in an atmosphere that values my holistic development as a human being and a work/life balance in a way that allows me to be a committed husband and father while pursuing an immensely satisfying and fulfilling career.
So, unlike many of my colleagues, RPCK was and is my first foray into impact investing, and my path here was anything but straightforward or intentional. But, looking back, I can’t help but think that it was somehow pre-ordained that I found my way to RPCK and have the opportunity here to do highly sophisticated work that fulfills me intellectually and personally and that allows me to have a rich and rewarding personal life!
What is your role at RPCK?
I’m a senior partner at RPCK. It’s my responsibility to make sure that the important legal work we do for our clients adheres to the strict standards of quality and excellence to which we, as a firm, hold ourselves accountable. In addition to working directly on matters for clients, I oversee our legal team, and it’s my job to make sure that RPCK attorneys have the support, mentoring, infrastructure, and tools they require to allow them to do insightful, excellent work for our clients and to continue to grow their knowledge base, capabilities, and skill set every day.
My practice here at RPCK is fairly broad. My diverse experience across a number of areas of corporate law has allowed me to work on behalf of our clients on a wide variety of complex matters. Lawyers at most big firms tend to get siloed and to work exclusively within a pretty narrowly-defined practice area. Here at RPCK, we cross-train and value our attorneys’ ability to work across a variety of different practice areas in order to allow us to do whatever our clients need to address the important and complex issues they’re seeking to solve.
In our funds formation practice, I work with sponsor clients to structure, document, negotiate, and launch investment funds that accept capital from a broad range of investors (development finance institutions, family offices, foundations, high-net-worth indviduals, etc.) and deploy capital through a wide variety of investment strategies (venture capital, private equity, debt, revenue-based-financing, etc). I also work on behalf of family offices, development finance institutions, foundations, ultra-high net worth individuals, and other investor clients to negotiate and close their commitments to investment funds. In our venture capital practice, I work with funds, family offices, and other investor clients to make venture capital investments through SAFEs, convertible notes, and series preferred stock investments, both in the U.S. and emerging markets. I also work on acquisitions and divestitures in our mergers and acquisitions practice and on the broad range of projects we undertake for our social enterprise clients in a general corporate or general counsel capacity. Working simultaneously at a senior level on such a wide array of different types of transactions can be challenging, and it keeps me on my toes. I find it immensely stimulating and rewarding, and the experience allows me to view the issues and questions presented by our clients with somewhat of a practice-area agnostic lens to help think out-of-the-box to find the appropriate legal tools or mix of legal tools to help them achieve impactful outcomes.
Why should a big firm lawyer choose RPCK?
I get asked this question quite often by candidates and even clients. We are a purpose-built firm from the bottom up. Impact investing isn’t something that we’re squeezing into a corporate practice or dabbling in through some pro bono work. RPCK is itself a social enterprise devoted to generating impact through the work we do for our clients. We exist to partner with our clients, who are passionate visionaries working to solve some of our planet’s biggest social and environmental challenges. Our role, and the way in which we achieve this impact, is to help these clients achieve impactful outcomes by doing excellent, thoughtful, and insightful cutting-edge legal work. I think that this makes RPCK a unique and innovative firm and that we offer an opportunity for well-trained and talented lawyers that doesn’t really exist elsewhere in the market.
I believe that RPCK is a great fit for lawyers like me, by which I mean big firm lawyers who have honed their skills and developed a sophisticated legal toolbox but are looking for a platform where they can deploy those skills and use those tools in pursuit of a higher and more meaningful purpose than they can currently find in a Big Law environment.
We seek out classically trained attorneys with big firm expertise because, in order to be a great impact attorney, a candidate must first and foremost be a well-trained, technically excellent and talented lawyer. So big firm lawyers with these sorts of credentials who are in search of greater purpose and meaning in their careers are a perfect fit for our practice. We take what we do really seriously and are deliberately building out a world-class team of lawyers. We’re proud of this sophisticated approach and, although we’re a “boutique” firm, we spend most of our time going up “against” opposing counsel at the top Amlaw 100 firms, and I’m also proud to say that we have a great track record of achieving impactful and game-changing outcomes on behalf of our clients.
So you came to RPCK without any experience in impact investing. What was that transition like? And what do you enjoy about impact?
This is a great question because, again, we look to recruit exceptional attorneys of all stripes, not just those that have worked on impact investing matters in the past. Once I came to RPCK, I quickly became attuned to the unique lens through which we need to view transactions when working on behalf of our impact investing and social enterprise clients. Understanding the impact that our clients are seeking to achieve, how it drives them, and how to bring a multiple-bottom-line lens and perspective to the legal work that I do has allowed me to work effectively on behalf of our clients. It’s important to come at this authentically and holistically so you can really understand things like proper impact measurement and metrics, how the desire for financial returns interacts with the desire for social or economic impact returns, and how to bake impact outcomes into the fabric of a deal. Our clients are doing important and impactful work about which they’re very passionate, which has made it easy to partner with them and develop a personal commitment and focus my legal work on helping them achieve their impact outcomes.
But my favorite part of what we do is tied not just to the impact but to our ethos as a firm in terms of what it means to be a great practitioner. At big firms, you tend to work on behalf of large institutional clients who engage the firm to complete executable legal tasks that have been structured and vetted by the institution. In that capacity, lawyers act as legal instruments. But here at RPCK, we truly get to be thought partners alongside our clients and collaborate with them to develop the best strategy and structure to achieve desired impact outcomes. Our clients tend to be individuals and social enterprises rather than large institutions. Being a thought partner on the impact side of the equation means understanding the bigger goals that our clients are working towards, whether it’s ocean plastic remediation, an innovative public/private partnership to stamp out malaria, or setting up a new impact fund with a particular focus on impact outcomes.
These goals are often quite complex and may involve a range of financial returns, too, from concessionary to market rate. Our job is to help clients think through these complexities. In this sense, we’re sort of like the old-fashioned notion of attorney as consigliere, which is a really satisfying part of the job.
You’re the father of two young kids. What’s it like balancing your role as a father while being a partner at RPCK?
Many of us at RPCK have young families, and we love that. Chintan and I are both dads and are committed to living our best lives. So the birthday party or parent-teacher conference is just as important as the client meeting. We all take that view and help one another out. This way, we get to be happy at work and enjoy our families!