Sony Mobile Communications general counsel and executive vice president of Sony Electronics Jonathan Pearl is The Legal 500 UK in-house award winner for the Technology sector.
B U S I N E S S T H I N K I N G
EDITOR AND FEATURES WRITER
GC: Did you always know that you wanted to be a lawyer?
Jonathan Pearl (JP): Yes, my father was a barrister – he went to the bar when he was 40 (he was originally a dentist). When he was studying I was a young kid and he used to tell me the cases he was studying as if they were bedtime stories, so ‘the snail and the bottle’ was my ‘tortoise and the hare’ . [The snail and the bottle was a ground breaking consumer law case of the 1930s see: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/8367223.stm]
GC: What made you go in-house?
JP: I was working in a private practice firm in the city, but to be honest I didn’t love my product. I didn’t enjoy sitting in a room with the door shut, a sharp pencil and a blank sheet of paper. I’m quite a people-person and I enjoy the cut and thrust of negotiation and doing deals. As a young 27-year-old private practice lawyer, you don’t get exposed to deals, whereas working in-house I was thrown into a company, Apple Computer, where I was doing deals myself for millions of dollars and that was very exciting. As an in-house lawyer you are given a lot of responsibility at a relatively young age, much more so than you would in private practice. So after two years in private practice I decided I wanted to go in-house because I realised that I wanted to do business, essentially.
GC: What is the best thing about working for Sony?
JP: It’s a company with a huge range of products and services, and they seem to be changing all the time. It’s quite unstructured, so navigating around the organisation is challenging in itself, but fun. It’s an organisation where there are very few firm rules so almost anything is possible. Which again is quite fun for a lawyer, as it is for business people. As well as corporate work and M&A, I have done film finance, I have done music deals, I have helped set up a credit card business. We are working with the sister companies hand in glove quite a lot of the time. I must admit, when I joined the company I didn’t think I would stay very long, but it has continued to challenge and excite me for 20 years. I’ve worked in places like India, Egypt, China and all over, which you don’t necessarily get to do in many companies. And here I am now living in California.
GC: What is your favourite part of your day-to-day work?
JP: I must say, I rather enjoy litigation! I shouldn’t say that really, but I do. I enjoy the challenges of litigation, of resolving disputes, and it’s something that I do a lot of. It’s not because I’m particularly aggressive, but just because I like the frisson and the emotional factors involved. I really enjoy negotiation as well - that’s part of it. So it’s a combination of doing deals and litigation.
GC: Do you have a least favourite part of your day?
JP: I hate doing personal admin, dealing with the bank, all that kind of rubbish. Fortunately my fantastic wife deals with all of that stuff. ‘HQ’ as I call her. I can’t bear it. I hate arranging meetings and all the logistics around that. I have a fantastic assistant, who is just brilliant, who does all of that stuff for me, and makes sure I’m in the right place at the right time with the right bits of paper.
GC: What has been the highlight of your professional life so far?
JP: I would say that the time I spent at Sony Ericsson during the joint venture between 2005 and 2011 was really special - partly because the company grew so much during that time and also because I was in the very eye of the storm with all of the issues relating to the joint venture. And I must say that being here in California is a high point too. Living in a sunny climate, learning lots of new stuff, and being challenged daily, is really great fun.
GC: What legal issues or challenges have you got coming over the horizon in the next few months?
JP: Wearable technology is the new thing and people are not yet sure how it’s going to be used, and what the legal implications are. So you’ve got lots of things flying around: will they be used for quasi-medical applications, and what’s the impact of that? And in the area of the Internet of Things, privacy - the sharing of information over the net, and the cloud - is a major issue that needs to be carefully worked through. We are right in the middle of all of that as well because we make phones, we make games consoles, digital cameras, wearables, and we have several network service businesses. We also have a burgeoning healthcare business so we make medical devices as well.
GC: What do you expect from an ideal external lawyer?
JP: I want advisers who are much smarter than me, who know more law than I do and who are going to come with solutions to problems.
GC: What are you reading at the moment?
JP: I’m sitting for the Bar, so the book I’m reading at the moment is Essay Exam Writing for the California Bar Exam. Not very thrilling reading I can tell you!
GC: Do you have a favourite film?
JP: It’s a Wonderful Life.
GC: If you decided to throw in the towel as a lawyer, what would you do instead?JP: I would love to be a jazz pianist. I can play, but not nearly as well as I’d like to.
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