The role of an in-house counsel has changed in the past 20 years or so. Previously, the most challenging issues were typically sent to outside counsel. But heightened attention to risk management has broadened the role of the general counsel over time. Companies in the tech sector now require in-house legal experts who are adept at anticipating and mitigating risks with expertise specific to their company. Paul Rios knows this to be true as the first general counsel for telecommunications provider Nitel. His hiring reflected the founders’ desire to establish an in-house legal function to partner with the business and network groups. Rios sits down with HE to expand on industry trends, Nitel’s 2015 expansion plans, and how legal is helping the company grow.
Q What are some trends that you see driving the telecom industry right now?
One trend is the mobility of the workplace. That’s an important one for us to anticipate and be able to support. Customers are going to have a very broad-based need for telecommunications. At one time it might have been more of a circumscribed thing, but now each office flows traffic differently. Companies are using video conferencing as well as standard Internet protocol. And they want the ability to manage their network, facilities, and traffic. That’s an area in which we want to empower our customers, so that they can get the most out of the products they purchase.
Q How does Nitel cater to those new demands?
We have an iPhone app and Web portal that our customers can use to manage their networks in a more proactive way.
Q How does legal respond to these trends?
As we get more creative and more flexible—in terms of the products that we can offer customers—and customers become more savvy and demanding of what they expect from us, the contract documents need to reflect those developments. We need to be flexible without taking on undue exposure. I get involved in conversations around performance metrics for a particular service and then have to craft service-level agreements that reflect what we’re committed to providing in response to our customers’ demands. It’s a matter of sitting down and having conversations about latency and jitter and other metrics that come into play when customers ask, “How well does this product work?”
Q As the telecommunications industry changes, do you think the general counsel role will as well? If so, how?
I think that with the diversification of telecommunications products, people who function in a role like mine will have no option but to grow their knowledge and familiarity with changes in technology because they’ll have to reflect them in contracts. I think that is an ongoing challenge, but it’s one that can be enjoyable if you’re engaged in the industry.
Q What does Nitel’s growth strategy look like for 2015?
Historically, Nitel had been a reseller of telecommunication products on other carriers’ networks. In 2012 Nitel launched its own network, which gives it a broader reach, more flexibility to add a wider set of products, and a better client experience. We continue to expand our network by implementing numerous network-to-network interconnections (NNIs) across the country. These NNIs allow us to leverage existing last-mile fiber assets to expand the available end-to-end solutions that we can offer our customers. As we move into 2015, expanding our own facilities is our focus.
Q How do you envision legal supporting Nitel’s growth plans?
I support the contract processes on two fronts: on the vendor side when we contract to purchase services from other carriers and on the sell side. The latter is where I reflect the flexibility that we offer our customers and provide the standard protections that any carrier would need. I need to have some knowledge of the technology that we are selling, so I can reflect in the contract documents the technology and the business selling points we are providing to our customers while maintaining a legal perspective.