Rebecca Tweneboah: In-House Attorney, New York City Football Club
#BakersDozen is a series of interviews with leading professionals in the fields of law, consulting, finance, tech, and more.
Tell us a bit about yourself and how you came to be in (or a customer of) the legal business?
To tell the truth, it was by happenstance really. I graduated from undergrad where I played varsity soccer all 4yrs and hadn’t quite given thought to what I wanted to do afterwards. I escaped to Australia for 6 months and told my parents when I came back I’d go to fashion school, and let’s just say they were less than please with the idea, so I came back and ended up in law school, and that’s how it began.
As for ending up at NYCFC, it was my mentor, Michael Grohman at Duane Morris, who introduced me to the MLS Commissioner and through a winding road I was recommended by head of legal for MLS to NYCFC, and here I am. Right place, right time, really – that’s generally how these things work out.
What do you do for a living right now?
I’m an in-house lawyer at New York City Football Club. I also started my own fashion line, Moi by Yaa, we create African-inspired garments using traditional African fabrics where all of the clothing is made in Ghana.
What has been your greatest triumph and your greatest success in the legal services field and what did you learn from each?
My greatest triumph and success has been launching my own business that invests back into Ghana, a country of origin for me. My legal background really helped me be able to maneuver in a different legal environment and figure out what I really needed to know. But I’m most proud of seeing ordinary people wear my clothing and how something so simple as clothes can connect two worlds to each other.
Do you think the legal industry is headed in the right direction, the wrong direction – or which direction?
I think it’s headed in both a good and bad direction, simple admin jobs will be lost in a few years and so too high level contract jobs. Due to the pace of A.I. and machine learning I believe we need to work alongside these technologies to enhance what we do opposed to being completely shut out and made to be redundant.
Who – or what – inspires you – and why?
I think people that are fighters, people that overcome obstacles to get to where they are, who constantly believe in themselves and who fight for that belief everyday – channeling that energy, that fire…that’s what keeps me going.
What advice would you give to the younger generation contemplating law as a career?
I would say make sure you really want to get into the industry before doing so – the idea that you can just get a law degree and do anything with it is true, however, you’ll also be lugging that law school debt around with you too – so get a mentor, or an internship in the field prior to entering law school and make the best choice for yourself.
Additionally, look at how innovation and tech are currently changing the legal landscape. And ask yourself, what jobs will be needed in the next 5 years? What can I specialize in now that would be in great demand 5yrs from now.
How ready for change do you think the legal industry is?
I don’t think it’s ready yet, but ready or not change is definitely coming, I think it’s going to take this generation and the next to change the perception of tech and embrace how it can help revolutionize the industry.
Is more – or different – leadership required? In what ways?
It depends on what capacity we’re talking about – I think the law is a fascinating place in the sense that there are so many directions you can go, and because of that there are so many leaders with multitudes of experience to draw upon. As far as tech in the legal industry is concerned, I believe it’s going to be the up and coming generation of lawyers, who aren’t afraid of change and grew up in a time where many industries were being disrupted, to really have an aptitude and desire to create this change.
How deep do you think will be the inroads of technology in the industry?
I think the introduction of A.I. technology, which may ultimately take some low level and mid- senior level jobs will be a disruptor, but also exciting. Machine learning, which may even do our jobs better than us in the future could be interesting, as this tech will eventually have the capacity to do certain legal tasks (such as researching, drafting and briefs) quicker and more efficiently than we can now, since the machines are constantly learning and will be better equipped to keep up with all of the changes in the rules and laws.
But I also strongly believe that a lot about being an attorney is a relationship, a trust between a lawyer and a company or a firm and a client that is invaluable. It is that relationship, that understanding of what the other wants, who the other is and how to achieve the desired result that can’t be duplicated.
In ten years, do you see an industry much as it is – or do you see new players, new technology and an altered state?
Definitely see an altered state. I think the old guard has clung onto the status quo in firms and at companies. But I think that change is coming to every industry, and it’s coming fast. Granted lawyers hold the keys to the law, so don’t think we’ll ever legislate ourselves out of a job, but change will come.
What type of change is harder to say – I think again anything that helps save money and make the process more efficient. Especially so far as small businesses are concerned, any tech that helps these companies address their legal issues in a cheaper and efficient way will be a game changer.
Are consultants and lawyers looking increasingly similar? Should the distinction continue?
I mean, what is a consultant anyways…nobody really knows, so whether or not the role of a consultant and a lawyer are looking increasingly similar or not I’m not sure. However, many times a lawyer is a consultant by virtue of being a lawyer, you’re consulting the client or an organization, so I think in many respects a lawyer can take over the role of a consultant, however, we may have to employ an Excel spreadsheet consultant!
What are your thoughts on the increasing availability of data to guide client-side procurement of legal services?
Not well-versed in this area, but my general motto is that the more information and options available the better, and then it’s just a matter of judgment.
Lawyers have typically regulated to keep non-lawyer investors out but that’s a two-edged sword these days. What are your thoughts?
I think lawyers are keen on keeping a space for themselves. If there’s anything we’ve learned in this new-age of tech and data, it’s that everyone is replaceable, so why give others the chance to realize the same may apply to lawyers too!
What’s the one most significant factor that will drive change in your view?
I think a disruptor that manages a way to provide quality legal support for a fraction of the cost on a consistent basis over time will massively change the legal landscape and cause firms large and small to reassess how they provide legal services.
Are we seeing the demise of the “profession” and the real emergence of the “business” of law?
I think the legal “profession” akin to the M.D. “profession” will always be a part of the business of law, so you cannot have one without the other. However, with that being said, I think the business of law is taking a front seat in the sense that nobody will care how good you are at your job if the business aspect isn’t up to par.
What do you consider is the greatest challenge facing the industry?
I think the industry needs to make way for new faces with fresh ideas and a different view of the world, so long as it’s business as usual we’ll continue to show up late to the ‘tech party’.
What do you see as the greatest opportunity for the sector looking forward?
Greatest opportunity in my opinion will be for the smaller attorney to start to make a name for him/herself and for the small business. I think tech will really help the small guys win on the service and client side.
Do you think law can improve its track record on diversity and inclusion? How?
I think it can, but again, the old guard is literally that and it’s old Caucasian men that tend to be in positions of power in this industry. Studies show that women believe diversity is important in the workforce at about 80% compared to around 20% for men, so there’s your answer right there. But we’re making strides and I think the future looks bright.
Will the current regulatory framework around law help or hinder it in the future
I think the current framework creates a lot of roles for attorneys, however, the recently elected President and his team seem keen to change some of these trends that have made the market bullish on lawyers in many sectors, especially so far as the regulatory sector is concerned. However, at the end of the day, it’s still lawyers drafting legislation, and we’ll never draft ourselves out of a job – I’m sure they’ll come up with something.
Who do you think are the greatest influencers on the industry these days?
Probably the clients – I think the lawyers go as the client’s go, and in this new-age I think more and more clients are becoming aware of options available to them that won’t cost an arm and a leg, so how firms and other lawyers address this will be interesting to see.
If you had to do it all over again, would you? Or what would you do differently?
I don’t think I ever answer these questions the way the interviewer would like – But I have to say that I wouldn’t do it over because this is how I did it, this was my road and I guess it could have been a less hilly or bumpy at times had I gone a different route or made different decisions, but where’s the fun…where’s the experience in that.
If a law firm was a startup pitching for investors, would you be an investor?
I would if it was a law firm mainly based on using technology to solve problems and draft contracts. I think that will scale quite easily and be relatively well received. Human interaction is important, but could be minimized.
If you weren’t doing this, what would you be doing?
I’d probably be a professional soccer player somewhere on my last leg looking to get into politics.
What would you like to be known for?
I think my problem-solving ability and ability to adapt to various situations, people and circumstances – I think adaptability is a very under-valued skill.
What would surprise everyone if they knew (they may now)?
I think that I’m a home body that doesn’t really like to go out that much. People always think I’m a social butterfly that knows everyone but given the choice, I really like to keep to myself.
What’s your favorite hobby or activity outside of law?
Running – I just love long runs, especially around Central Park, really helps clear your mind.
I also love speaking and writing on issues relevant to Ghana, its people, politics and economy.
What’s your favorite sports team?
Black Stars and Chelsea (both football teams – real football, not American)
Whats your favorite city?
Kumasi, Ghana – my dad is from here and it’s a place where I always feel welcome, free and home.
What’s your favorite food?
Difficult, difficult question – if I had to choose just one I would say, I can’t
From Ghana it would be red-red, which is this black eyed peas and ripe fried plantain dish that is a-mazing
From Jamaica – it would be fried fish and festival
From NY – it would be the pancakes from Yatenga, a restaurant across the street from my apartment!
Whats your nickname – and why?
Beckster – My dad started calling me this because he thought I was such a speedster on the football pitch – speed is all but gone, but the nickname remains.
Rebecca Yaa Serwah Tweneboah is owner and creative designer of Moi by Yaa, an African-inspired clothing company, and an attorney for New York City Football Club, a newly established MLS team in New York City. In her in-house role, Ms. Tweneboah works on corporate governance, intellectual property and contract issues and advises departments on how to tackle challenges both domestically and abroad. She also played soccer at Notre Dame, where they won a National Championship, and for the Ghana Women’s National Team. Her favorite quote is, “…for (s)he preferred in everything to be, rather than to appear” – Voltaire.