When blockchain company Ripple Labs Inc. general counsel Brynly Llyr was a law student at Berkeley, she wasn’t sure where her legal career would take her, and she wasn’t looking in-house. But since her law school days, Llyr has found her path, and it’s led her to a high-level position at the intersection of three male-dominated fields: finance, tech and the law.
She returned to her alma mater Feb. 16 afternoon to discuss her journey from Berkeley to Big Law to blockchain. In a question and answer session organized by student-led group Blockchain at Berkeley, Llyr opened up about how she realized the in-house path was for her and the gender equity challenges that the blockchain technology industry faces.
During her time at Berkeley, Llyr said she spent the majority of the school year in the library. She’d already worked as a stock broker and said she was excited to devote her time to learning again.
After graduation, she spent a year clerking with now-retired U.S. District Judge Fern Smith.
“I had a really good experience,” she said. “I thought, I want to do white collar, I should go to the DOJ [U.S. Department of Justice]. I kept applying for those jobs, but I was like, this is a ‘should’ thing.”
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Llyr said she realized pursuing something she thought she “should” be doing wasn’t as important as following a career path that made her happy. So she went to work for O’Melveny & Myers, where she had already spent two summers in law school. Llyr stayed at the firm for nearly six years.
“I just kept working at the law firm and kept working in civil litigation,” she said. Then, she worked more on white-collar matters, eventually getting e-commerce company eBay Inc. as a client.
That’s the client that changed Llyr’s career trajectory. She said she immediately clicked with the people she worked with at eBay, and enjoyed learning about a company that was entering a new tech space presenting new legal issues.
It was on an eBay-related trip to Washington, D.C., that a co-worker told her, “I think you would make a great general counsel.”
“That blew my mind, that [being a GC] was a possibility,” she said. “That was February 2011. In March, I’d taken a job at eBay, and I became directed toward the [GC] path. I thought, I need to get to know the GC.”
And that’s exactly what she did. Llyr said upon starting in-house at eBay, she threw herself into the most complex legal matters she could find in an effort to get to know those higher up in the legal department and throughout the company. She also repeatedly asked then-general counsel Mike Jacobson if she could shadow him for a week. When he declined she asked if she could shadow him for three days, then two. Finally, he agreed to one day.
“It was a great experience, because you need to see what the job is, so you can say, ‘I can probably do that,’” she said. “And now he’s someone I call when I have a question.”
Llyr spent almost four years at eBay as senior director, litigation. In April 2015, she moved to payment system company Paypal Holdings Inc. as senior director of patents, M&A and technology. After a year and a half at Paypal she became the San Jose, California-based company’s senior director of legal counsel in the Americas.
But she always had her original in-house dream in mind—becoming general counsel. In November 2016, that dream came true as Llyr took her fintech legal knowledge with her into RIpple’s top legal role.
“Before joining Ripple, I’d been really calculated about all the experiences I wanted to have done before I stepped into this [GC] role,” she said. Llyr said she did everything she could to prepare for eventually leading an in-house team, but nothing was the same as real experience.
“Here’s the thing. The job—you’ll never be prepared for it,” she said. Llyr said her only regret is not taking the leap to GC sooner. At Ripple, she’s able to combine her legal, financial and tech knowledge to work with engineers and executives to create new solutions. It’s a role she said is “exciting” and one that helps her be more creative with problem-solving.
However, there is at least one change Llyr would like to see in the world of blockchain. Llyr said she’s currently working with other women in the blockchain tech industry to increase gender equity in the field. The groups will push for more women speakers on blockchain panels, more mentoring and more representation for women in the field.
“There are so few women that it was even hard to believe. At a whole conference room full of chairs, [it was] all men, really all men, I counted 10 women. It’s crazy,” Llyr said, describing a recent blockchain event she attended. “So I’ve been trying to get some different efforts off the ground. I’ve tapped into some women in blockchain groups. There are more women than I realized were out there.”