Early on in his career, as an associate at Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison, Jeffrey Yin ’98 did some work on the public filings for a small, relatively new company called The Knot, a website geared towards engaged couples planning their weddings. This January, nearly two decades later, Yin reunited with his former client as general counsel to its parent company, XO Group.
For Yin, it is a special pleasure to see how the company has thrived since he first worked with it as outside counsel. “A lot of companies from that time have either been acquired or they’re out of business,” says Yin. The Knot began as an AOL portal before launching as a separate website in 1997. The company has since evolved into XO Group, a media company that grossed $160 million last year and oversees several lifestyle brands, including The Nest, a home decorating website, and The Bump, for new parents.
Although he started his career as an associate at a law firm, Yin says that he quickly realized that he was more interested in working in-house. “The in-house practice seemed more attractive to me because it’s much closer to the business itself,” Yin says. “You get involved in operations, command, and general management, and that attracted me.”
Yin’s first in-house role was as corporate counsel at Marsh and McLennan, a global professional services firm. Shortly thereafter, he joined Medallion Financial, a publicly traded finance company, where he spent 10 years as chief compliance officer and general counsel. Among other things, he helped see the company through the financial crisis. “The 2008 recession started as a financial institution credit problem that spread into a general middle market recession. It was very difficult to navigate, first from a credit standpoint, and then as the recession spread to borrowers,” he says. Despite this challenge, he adds, “we navigated that successfully and were still able to grow the size and profitability of the bank.”
Prior to joining XO Group, Yin served for almost three years as general counsel of the Alberleen Group, a boutique investment bank and family office, where, in addition to overseeing the company’s legal and compliance functions, he also served on the operating committee.
One of the exciting aspects of his new role at XO, he says, is the switch from working with primarily financial businesses to advising a media company that is itself in the process of evolving. In addition to its websites, XO Group now oversees various mobile apps and internet shops. “We’re undergoing a transition from being a traditional media company to being a tech company, and so the challenge that I have right in front of me is to help our business execute that strategy,” Yin says.
Whether in finance, media, or tech, general counsel are often required to draw on a wide range of legal knowledge to do their jobs effectively. According to Yin, it’s a role for which the Law School prepared him well: “Over the course of my career, the whole breadth of classes that I took at NYU Law has come into play at some point or another. I have drawn on more of that legal knowledge than I could ever have imagined,” he says. “I've brought constitutional claims against government bodies in the past. I counsel my internal clients on discovery and evidence on a regular basis. I've managed trademark and patent portfolios. I have dealt with a diverse array of issues such as software licensing, derivatives, corporate reporting, and employment. Many of these issues come up in the ordinary course in the life cycle of companies.”
Even more so than his academic experience, Yin adds, “The number one resource at the school has been my classmates—the outside counsel that I use for my most difficult decisions are my NYU classmates. And they are also the ones that I call on a personal level when I have the hardest personal issues that I need advice on.”
One of those classmates, Jennifer Ezring ’98, now a partner at Cahill Gordon & Reindel, says that Yin had clear career goals even as a law student. “We met early on at NYU, and he was one of the few people I knew who—like me—already knew he wanted to be a corporate lawyer,” she says. Ezring adds that he has always had a natural ability to build cooperation: “Jeff has never been competitive with classmates or colleagues in pursuing his goals, but always preferred a more collaborative approach…. He is always aiming for the best result for everyone throughout his working group.”
Posted March 20, 2018