Time Review
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Time Review

Hello Chris Ramos, General Counsel at Time by Ping and Founding Director at Time Foundation

Chris Ramos illustrated by Mariam ELReweny

Chris Ramos left a successful career in corporate law to join the wild ride of startups at Time by Ping. He’s a lawyer’s lawyer, with corporate polish and a heart for pro bono immigration work under the surface. He is a strong General Counsel, Customer Success Director, and Time Foundation Cofounder helmsman who deeply cares about our mission to give back time.

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Welcome, Chris. How’d we get here? What’s your career and life story?

I grew up in the Los Angeles area, where my dad is a criminal defense lawyer. From a young age, I was surrounded by lawyers and the law. If you go back to my fifth grade yearbook, I’m quoted saying I want to be a lawyer. And then in my middle school yearbook quote, I talk about being a lawyer again. It’s always been a part of the fabric of who I am.

After high school, I went to community college. There, I stumbled into a philosophy class and fell in love with it. I continued studying philosophy as I rounded out my undergraduate career at UC Irvine. After graduating, I came to find out that the job market for philosophers wasn’t incredibly hot. So, I went to law school, and that’s where I met Ryan. We quickly became close friends and ended up being roommates for most of our law school years.

After law school, I worked at a few big law firms as a litigator. I spent several years in the big law firms before Ryan talked me into joining the Time by Ping.

What’s the single most important thing that’s happened to you in your career? Advice, opportunities, mentors, you name it.

I’ve been extraordinarily lucky because long before I even got to law school, people helped guide me at every stage. They gave me opportunities that I probably didn’t deserve and propelled me forward.

My first mentor after law school was Don Morrow. He is a fellow USC alum and one of the best trial lawyers to step foot in a courtroom. He gave me my first job working with him at a law firm called Paul Hastings.

After that, a dear friend and talented lawyer, Chris Braham, recruited me to join him at a firm called Vedder Price. There, I met Lisa Simonetti and Jim Garvey, both brilliant lawyers who took me under their wing. They gave me incredible opportunities that pushed me to do things I didn’t know I was ready for or capable of.

And then, of course, Ryan. He saw something in me in bringing me to the company and entrusting me to do something I hadn’t done before.

Ultimately, I owe these, and too many other people to name, everything because they put me in a position to achieve what I’ve done in my career.

You left a career where you were highly respected, and gave up an entire lifestyle that took many years to obtain. Why?

I was ready for the next challenge. Working in law firms is great. But you can look around an office and generally see what your future looks like. That’s not to say it’s a good or bad future — just that it’s pretty clear what your work life will be going forward. I thought I’d roll the dice and see what else was out there, and what kind of future I could make for myself in the world of startups.

What did you have to unlearn going from law to tech?

In big law firm work, there’s an emphasis on polish and rigorous analysis—i.e., perfection. In startups, you often have to let go of that need for perfection in favor of just getting the job done and moving on.

My biggest challenge has been letting go of my need for perfection. But if I had to criticize startups, I do think things can at times skew too far in the other direction. Some things benefit from a little polish.

Why do you think legally trained folks are well-skilled to be builders?

The strength of legal training is critical thinking. In law school you learn it in one specific context. You analyze facts to see how they fit within a framework of legal rules. Building is the same exercise, although the subject matter may be different.

When I litigated a case for a client, we had an outcome we wanted to achieve. And we had the facts of the case. How do you take those facts and get to where you want to go given the applicable rules?

Building in a startup is the same exercise. You have goals and certain realities. How do you achieve those goals under the circumstances? Those things don’t feel too different from the work I did in the law firms.

On a much more serious note, I hear you lost your mother. How did this affect you and your view of time?

My parents divorced when I was about 10 or 11. I spent a lot of time growing up with my mom. She passed away when I was in my first year of law school — I was about 22 or 23. You realize that time is precious. It’s finite, at least as we experience it.

Life is really about making the most out of this finite resource we have. And that’s the philosophy we’ve embraced as a company.

Tell me about your relationship with timekeeping, and what your vision of time automation is.

Like all lawyers who’ve had to do it, I’d say my relationship with timekeeping is love-hate. By automating time, what we’re hoping to do is solve for inefficiencies and inequities in law firm structure. We want to align incentives in terms of the firms’ interests and their clients’ interests by automating time to solve those structural problems that exist in a certain segment of the legal profession.

More generally, however, we want people to understand how they’re spending their time at work, so they can optimize and be more deliberate with their time.

Timekeeping is credibly important to the business of law but, in its current form, it’s just a pain.

How do you think the world will change if lawyers can spend more quality time on other things, and what is the company’s role in it?

As a business, we are focused on “big law” — the large law firms that largely serve corporate interests in this country. The lawyers that end up in these law firms generally come from good law schools and have the highest paying jobs relative to their years of experience. It’s no secret, however, that for many the demanding hours and stress of these jobs comes at a high personal cost.

There is a mental health crisis among lawyers, including those in these jobs, that perhaps is not well-known to the broader public. There is a substance abuse problem, and the suicide rate is high. The pressures of the job are not healthy for many.

By returning time to lawyers, one of the things we can do is allow them more of an opportunity to take care of themselves, and bring more health and balance to their work and life.

We also want to give big law lawyers more time to dedicate to public service. They’re generally very good lawyers and it’s unfortunate that the public largely doesn’t get the benefit of their talent. Giving these lawyers the opportunity to do work that is in the public interest is good for them because it allows them to do personally gratifying work and it is also good for society at-large.

When we talk about things like access to justice, or the “big guy and the little guy” having the same right to an attorney, that’s all true in theory. But in practice, the “little guy” doesn’t get access to the same attorneys. Perhaps we can change that a little.

By freeing up attorneys’ time, the hope is that they can use some of that time to invest back into their communities. That might be in the form of taking on pro bono work, for example, in the immigration space, like I did while in private law firm practice.

After President Trump’s first travel ban went into place, there were waves of pro bono lawyers from all over the country who descended on airports trying to help people who weren’t being permitted to enter the country. Lawyers are the people who know how to navigate these kinds of issues. The idea is to give them time in hope they’ll invest it back into serving the public good however they can.

Our role is to be the mechanism by which they’ll get the opportunity. Through partnering with other organizations, the nonprofit we are spearheading, Time Foundation, will help create opportunities for lawyers to do work that serves the public. If we can free one lawyer to take one pro bono case helping a child at the border get out of immigration detention, that’s a change worth investing in. If we can give10 lawyers or 100 lawyers the time to do something like that, that’s 100 lives changed.

That’s how I think about it: getting a team of the best and brightest lawyers at a law firm, and giving them the time to, for example, take a case challenging qualified immunity for police misconduct. I don’t know whether the sum total of all these things will create some dramatic world change but we can positively impact some lives. I think that’s worth doing. That’s enough for me.

Can you tell us more about your pro bono work?

In private law firm practice, I tried to keep an active pro bono immigration practice. I represented children and teens in Special Immigrant Juvenile and asylum cases. They involved heartbreaking stories of fleeing from gang violence or sexual abuse in countries like El Salvador where the government could not protect them.

I’m a first generation Mexican-American. My mom was an undocumented immigrant who ultimately gained citizenship. So, immigration has always been close to my heart and top of mind. The impulse is usually to give back to the community that you come from, so that’s what I did.

With all that mission-driven pro bono work, why did you end up doing commercial litigation in big law firms?

My dad is a lawyer but he’s also Chicano himself. When he graduated from law school in 1980, the opportunity to get a high-paying job at a fancy law firm wasn’t largely available to people like him. He had law professors tell him that there was no way he’d pass their class because he was Mexican.

When I went to law school, I had no exposure to the world of big law firms or the people who worked in them. I had exposure into the kind of work that my dad did in the criminal defense world. I went to law school with the intention of getting into that kind of work — defending people who were being prosecuted by the state.

I was lucky enough to go to USC, a good law school, and was exposed to this other world. After getting a job offer at Paul Hastings, I came home and told my dad I received an offer to work at the law firm and what they were gonna pay me. My memory of him saying, “That’s more money than I make. You better go take that job,” is still so vivid in my mind.

For children of immigrants and people with similar backgrounds, sometimes there is an opportunity to break into a world that hasn’t been widely available. And sometimes you just have to take it. But I have to admit that there are people I admire, with stronger convictions, who don’t care about any of that.

What other interesting applications are there for Time by Ping’s data?

At the end of the day, we’re a business meant to make money. But that’s not our North Star. The nice part is that we have desires beyond money, like using data to weed out unconscious bias in law firms.

For instance, it may be that in a given firm a white male lawyer and a black female lawyer — who are in all other respects equal — do not get the same professional opportunities. We can ferret that out using data and help firms address any structural inequities.

That’s another thing that’s been nice about freeing myself from the pressure of billing hours in the law firm. Outside of that construct, I can dedicate meaningful thought and time to these kinds of problems. It’s very refreshing.

One of the reasons I love working at the company with Ryan and Niket is that they’re grand visionaries, while I am an extreme pragmatist. That collaboration is key. I get to take their lofty, abstract ideas and make them materialize in the tangible world. That has been really fun and rewarding.

Thanks, Chris, for painting the picture of how you’ll lead the company in its initiatives to get lawyers more engaged in issues they care about.

Stay tuned for more interviews from Time by Ping’s leadership. And thank you to Andrew Smith for catching spelling mistakes

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