Lawlternate is excited to continue our Trailblazers series, featuring attorneys who have followed their passion and ventured into new careers giving advice to those interested in doing the same. This month, we have Chas Ballew, Co-Founder of Aptible.
What do you do today?
My friend Frank and I are the co-founders of Aptible. Our company builds tools to help secure data and applications in the cloud. We use those tools to streamline regulatory compliance for SaaS companies. We focus on HIPAA, the Federal law that regulates the privacy and security of health data.
Where did you go to law school?
The University of Michigan, from 2006-2009.
Did you enter law school with the intention to practice law?
I took an ROTC scholarship in order to attend Princeton. I knew I would serve on Active Duty in the Army. I also knew I wanted an advanced degree. Michigan has a public service loan repayment program that tips the math towards going into public service as an attorney (as opposed to another Army branch, for example). It’s a great program.
Did you practice law at any time? If so, where and what field?
I spent four years on Active Duty as an Honors Program attorney in the Army Office of the General Counsel at the Pentagon. It was mostly administrative and regulatory law. It was a good fit for learning how regulated environments work.
Why did you leave practice? What made you decide to go into your current profession?
I’ve wanted to start a company since I was about 12. I used to love the idea of just working for myself. Later on, in the Army, I broadened that to wanting to build a company that would benefit as many people as I could reach. I knew I could work on a challenge like that for decades if I had the opportunity.
Building a company takes a lot of planning, tactics, and luck. It’s been as hard as I anticipated, but way more fun than I expected. My job satisfaction is through the roof.
How do the skills you gained as an attorney help you in your current profession?
My background in regulatory law has been invaluable. There is no way I could have realized what a great opportunity Aptible is without that experience.
What advice can you give someone looking to go through a similar career trajectory?
Think long-term. If you plan things over several years, you will see opportunities that few people around you are thinking about right now. If you have the stomach for starting a company and committing to it seriously, you can give yourself a great shot at success on your own terms.
Also, get technical.
Would you consider practicing law?
Yes, I wish I were practicing pro bono as community service. It’s something I miss and hope to return to in the future. In law school, I spent my first summer in the Federal Public Defender’s office in Eugene, Oregon. It was a great experience. My second summer was with Wilson Sonsini, a big tech law firm. They encouraged a lot of pro bono as well, and I was glad to have that opportunity.
What do you think is the next generation of “legal” jobs?
Excellent lawyers will always have promising career prospects. Many lawyers (most?) are more like legal technicians. Much of what they do could be automated in the future, perhaps by code and software. Two interesting examples:
A canonical, distributed, provably-secure implementation of a property deeds database – perhaps using the Bitcoin blockchain. It would become the authoritative source of property ownership.
Insurance itself. Insurance companies are not sophisticated about breach and compliance risks. They don’t price it correctly.
There are probably second-order data plays in insurance too. It’s a great field to be interested in, if you are thinking about legal sectors that have explosive upside in tech.
If you can give one piece of advice to yourself back in law school – what would it be?
Get technical now. I started refreshing my skills and got serious about building a software startup (as opposed to starting a company with more life/work balance) towards the end of my time in the Army. I would have benefited greatly if had I focused on it from an early age and was persistently learning, like Frank.
If you don’t get technical, as a potential CEO in the tech industry, you’re going to handicap the company. There is no excuse. You must be able to contribute technically, especially at the beginning.