Nishat Ruiter is global marketing counsel, VP, and associate general counsel for LivePerson, where she focuses on the legal framework and risk assessment for the company’s brand strategy, external communications, and global marketing campaigns. She is known for understanding and connecting business needs with customer perspectives, creating clear and flexible legal frameworks, training and skill development.
With a Bahá’í perspective on things, she loves tech-lawyering, music, tennis, coffee, meaningful conversations, and finding a connection with people from all walks of life. She is married and mother of two children. Follow her on twitter @nishatruiter.
While enjoying a flavorful cup of coffee in central New Jersey, I had the pleasure to sit and chat with Nishat Ruiter about her background and impressive road to success. Although the road had its share of bumps and unexpected sharp turns, consistent self-analysis and self-evaluation were some of the driving forces to her success.
Early in Nishat’s career, in just four years, she went from practicing in Holland, to working as a family law attorney in Brooklyn, to a general counsel of a dot-com in New York City. But this was just the beginning. As her career continued and events occurred around her, including 9/11, she ended up practicing in-house at an insurance company in New Jersey. Security and stability aside, she then realized the best fit was a technology company that had just undergone a major transformation, requiring a complex overhaul of its legal and ethical practices. Today, Nishat works as managing counsel for global revenue transactions at LivePerson, a growing SaaS company that aims to connect people through live chat. Her journey was not a traditional one, but with a few basic principles in hand, she has found her way to a passion-fulfilling career.
When asked what themes were common across her career changes, she replied: “Critical thinking, an attitude of service, and a openness to learn.” She went on to elaborate on each.
As a lawyer, Nishat said, in her view we all have a very unique position to see and objectively analyze an array of circumstances and events. But the pressures of politics, pleasing the boss, and following the culture can sway you to rely on other experts when your own perspective may differ. However, she said, this can be managed by not just allowing for diversity of opinion, but to require it. This way, you can better see multiple sides of the issue, and advocate for the best solution. If you only see one way or simply toe the line, you risk losing the best qualities of a well-trained lawyer—your critical thinking and analytical instinct.
An Attitude of Service
Though people have often remarked to Nishat that she has great ambition, and the ability to lead, in her view the essential qualification of a leader is the opposite. Serving others and understanding how to assist the company and others around her have been her guide. When people get frustrating, work gets overbearing and managing a large team seems impossible in light of complex problems, she has found that attitude of service to others grounds her and clarifies her vision. At times, political approaches may advocate one way, but her attitude of service may take her elsewhere—and that’s okay.
Openness to Learn
Learning new things is a constant that should never change, Nishat said. Whether you are just starting or are an expert practitioner, there are always facets that have yet to be uncovered. We have to remain humble, and realize that curiosity should trump ego. Learning about ourselves is probably the most counter-intuitive process around, she said. During a leadership seminar at CA Technologies, Nishat participated in a two-year process where she underwent multiple 360-degree evaluations, worked on self-knowledge, and had one-on-one meetings about her past, future direction and approach. While it was called a leadership seminar, it felt to her as if it was a healthy scrubbing of the spirit. Enabling yourself to learn is valuable. Never be afraid of others, search for alternative ways of thinking, and never stop learning, she said. When you are confronted with issues you may not understand, ask for help. Even if you think you know, you might be missing something. Likewise, when leading a team, ask for different thoughts, or new ways of approach. At times this can be challenging, because others in a team may simply prefer to defer to the leader, but ask for it and mean it, she said.
Digging deeper, critical thinking also is essential to the internal decision-making process at a company or with another client. For example, if your client is the “company” (which for in house lawyers is key), how do you stay loyal to the client amidst political pressures, bosses who seem uninterested in the corporate goal, and decisions that are made because of process more than by reason or rationale. This is where critical thinking assisted Nishat in evaluating her decisions and in reconciling whether what she did made sense.
“If your internal compass is telling you that things don’t feel right, they probably aren’t,” Nishat emphasized. She insisted that, “Hearing your intuition when you are a young lawyer is tough, especially because you feel like you are pulled in multiple directions. However, you have to at least stop and evaluate whether the action you are doing makes sense, and execute to the best of your ability. Then you take a step back and check the facts, look up the law, and evaluate the situation clearly and independently. If there are concerns, ask questions. If they don’t listen or you are not able to, is it because of the structure or is it because of fear of asking the right questions? If it is the latter, then take another step back and call a colleague, look up other objective resources and check to see whether your intuition may be right.”
When Nishat was working in matrimonial law, her critical thinking and intuition told her that the process of adjudication was too arbitrary and unfair for most clients. Busy judges with a large volume of cases or acidic tempers will impact your case, she found. After two and half years, she decided that working in that system was not the right path, since she also knew it was unlikely to change. While the firm was making good profits and the case load was manageable, the end result of harm to clients wasn’t, so she decided to leave.
At first, she said, many in her field said, “No way can you go in-house, you’re stuck here.” Others just seemed to regard her choice to leave as unwise or strange, especially since she had litigated in matrimonial and family law matters for almost three years, her practice was growing, and she had recently made partner in the small firm she worked for. Yet the choice was clear, so she researched the field she had loved the most, technology.
After studying everything she could about technology law, software licenses, reseller licenses, distribution licenses and the like, she was ready to interview for positions in the city. This included a small dot-com that was seeking to fill its first legal position. To bolster her credibility that she understood licenses, she decided to create a portfolio of various template agreements that she developed to explain the importance and meaning of the clauses. Her research included everything from Barnes & Noble to law reviews and guide books, including a dictionary of computer terms that she has on her desk to this day.
At the interview, she was told the company needed someone not just to work on legal issues but also to help with a huge new project, creating better templates. After she showed her portfolio of templates, she was hired.
That was how she became Binary Tree’s first general counsel. After half of the company was sold, Nishat moved to Capco, a financial services company, as its U.S. attorney managing intellectual property issues. While it was a wonderful culture (the company’s offices in the Financial District of New York had espresso machines on every floor), the pace and excitement of a young international company seemed different after the 9/11 tragedy. With a new baby to raise, and mourning a young cousin who died as a rescue worker, Nishat looked to settle down. She moved to New Jersey to a somewhat slower-paced position at Chubb Group of Insurance Companies.
Because of the dot-com experience so early in her career, Nishat was used to an atmosphere where you just get things done, with enthusiasm and passion. However, working at a regulated company with a process-heavy culture was a new atmosphere. It was structured, calm, and not too innovative. But it was stable, and the work involved technology, licenses, and settling cases with state regulators and complaint boards, so it felt like a good fit.
“When you step into a new position, you learn, you try your best, and you ask questions,” she said. “Then when you get settled into the pattern, you try to find your way and start building your path forward.” However, the person who had convinced Nishat to take the position ended up leaving the company. When a manager leaves the company, many things can change. This can lead to a great opportunity, or an expiring one. You have to find out where you fit and why and whether it’s a good fit. Nishat found that the surroundings were stifling and not enabling her to do her best. So she reflected and realized she needed a position that was not just a job, but a career.
When she joined CA Technologies, she found an organization in the process of deep change. The company was in the process of complying with a deferred prosecution agreement, and Nishat was hired to help address the company’s processes and risk issues.
The trajectory from senior counsel to assistant managing counsel to associate counsel seems like a well-positioned career. Through these promotions, she went from managing the Mid-Atlantic region to the company’s Public Sector business, and then managed the legal department for all of North America. At the end of her tenure at CA, she also advised the CMO on marketing and regulatory issues involving social media, brand, and advertising.
At every juncture, she had to learn new things, use critical thinking, and find the best solution that could work for the business need. “Business is seeking a solution, but the answer comes from collaboration, a service attitude, and in evaluating the issues from an objective stand point,” she said. “This is where the legal role can be essential in assisting the business. Rather than being restricted to a neutral answer that is offered to the business, how about taking a more innovative and proactive position in finding the best answer?”
Her attitude and outlook helped her find solutions to several areas of her work, whether it was restructuring the legal templates (once again) to be more customer savvy, or building a wiki defining legal guidelines for the marketing team, giving them non-legalese answers to many frequently asked questions.
“What other function is better suited to objectively review the facts, hear the various stakeholders, and then offer a solution that both mitigates the risk but also resolves the ultimate question?” Nishat continued. “This is innate in the legal mind, but it seems many of us don’t tap into that analysis because it is not ‘our job’ or we refrain from getting involved.”
About the Author
Ebony Foster is an attorney specializing in intellectual property, contract law, small formation, commercial transactions and family law; and is the founder founder and principal attorney at eFoster Law.