With an ever-increasing pool of trained professionals and a shifting economic landscape, modern careers in the legal field often look very different than they once did. In the past, a law school graduate could find a stable and lucrative career at a firm, but more and more of them are turning their sights to other professional paths. To see how a law degree can benefit those pursuing other careers, we looked to the career of Greg Blatt, a longtime business professional who pursued paths outside of the typical law career.
Though Blatt went on to head companies such as Tinder, Match.com, and IAC, his professional life began more traditionally. To earn his degree, he first attended Colgate University to pursue his Bachelor of Arts in English literature, with a minor in economics. Not knowing exactly what he wanted to do after graduation, he spent two years working odd jobs in ski towns and traveling. After a while, he knew he wanted to do something more substantial, but wasn’t sure exactly what. Confident that his skill set matched what law schools and the legal practice were looking for, he decided to attend law school. But it was more as an extension of his liberal arts education than a commitment to practicing law. He wanted to become a better thinker and expand his options. Accordingly, he went on to attend Columbia Law School and earned his Doctor of Law in 1995.
After earning his Juris Doctor degree, he began his career practicing law. He started working at the law firm of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz after his second year of law school and continued there throughout his third year and through 1997. He practiced in the M & A department, and he described his time there as the best intellectual boot camp he could possibly imagine. But he flirted with the idea of a career in entertainment, so from there he worked as an associate at Grubman, Indursky & Schindler, PC, a well-known entertainment law firm. There, he spent nearly two more years working as an associate and learning the media business, but his four years of working in law firms had made clear to him that he favored the role of principal more than an advisor, and Blatt knew that it was time for a change.
Transition to In-House Counsel
Blatt figured the best way to make the transition was to leverage his existing legal experience rather than try to make a big horizontal jump. Fortuitously, one of Blatt’s principal clients, Martha Stewart, decided to take her company public and asked Blatt to join the company as its General Counsel. Blatt leaped at the opportunity, knowing that Stewart would welcome to expand his efforts and responsibilities beyond the functioning of the legal department. Blatt quickly found as General Counsel that a lawyer’s natural inclination to dig deeply into a problem, to probe into why something happened instead of just how, gave him a leg up on people with more traditional business training.
In short order, Blatt had expanded his responsibilities to include oversight of all transactional activities of the company. During his time with the mogul, Blatt picked up a broad set of skills related to her media enterprises that would eventually inform his own work in the emerging space of online media. Blattcharacterizes his time working with Stewart as an educational opportunity that conveyed a wealth of knowledge and formed his understanding of the nuance needed to run a large company.
Blatt next moved on to become EVP, General Counsel of IAC, a collection of well-known consumer internet companies like Expedia, Ticketmaster, Match.com and Lending Tree, controlled and run by longtime media executive, Barry Diller. Blatt took the position understanding that at IAC he would have the ability to occupy a meaningful business role as well as leading the legal department, and he was not disappointed. Blatt had a seat at the table for deliberation on all the major strategic and operating decision the company faced during his five years as General Counsel, allowing him to blend his legal experience and his business exposure into a unified approach to problem-solving.
Soon, Blatt was promoted to lead the company’s online dating business, Match.com. As CEO, he substantially changed the approach to running the business and returned the unit to substantial growth, for which he was rewarded with a promotion to CEO of the parent company, IAC. During his three years leading IAC, the company’s value more than doubled and all significant operating metrics improved meaningfully. At that point, Blatt returned to Match, which had now become IAC’s largest business by far, and Blatt took Match public (as Match Group) in 2015. While running Match Group as Chairman and CEO, he also assumed the role of CEO of Tinder, Match Group’s fastest growing, and now largest, business, delivering substantial growth across the board until he stepped down at the end of 2017.
Takeaways for Other Professionals
Blatt credits his legal experience as a big contributor to his business success. It gives you a leg up, Blatt says because it is both a substantive and procedural framework that most of your colleagues will not have the benefit of. You can approach problems in different ways, from different perspectives, with a different rigor. In the same way, an engineering background might give one executive an advantage, so does a legal background
In fact, if there’s a singular lesson to be learned by those currently in the legal profession who are looking for a change, it may very well be that they should view their legal background as a competitive asset rather than a hindrance. Particularly in roles inside business organizations, the ability to lock down the legal function and having it perform at the highest level provides a perch from which the legal executive can expand into a business role that others can’t match.
A career in law can, of course, be rewarding in its own right, and many legal professionals are content to build their lives around that path. For those seeking something different, however, looking to Blatt’scareer can be an instructive lesson on how to transition to the world of business. With an educational foundation in law and sustained exposure to complex business problems, Blatt was able to fuse the legal approach with substantive business knowledge in a manner that helped fuel his corporate success.