Christine Wessel joined Crossover in late 2019 as our first in-house legal counsel,. As she tells us, she has spent her entire life in SoCal, and is clearly comfortable building her life in familiar surroundings. That said, she is less satisfied with routine, and relishes the many opportunities and challenges that life at Crossover can throw her way. After experiencing what legal practice can be like in so many other environments, she’s clearly found her home here. Part 1 of 2.
I see in your profile you’ve spent all your life in SoCal.
I was born and brought up in San Diego, then went to Santa Barbara for college, back to San Diego for a bit, and then went to law school at UCLA. My first job out of law school brought me to Orange County; I was at a big law firm that had an office in Newport Beach, and I just never left the area.
When I was a child, we’d drive from San Diego to Anaheim to go to Disneyland, and would stop in San Clemente sometimes to eat lunch or just to dip our toes in the water. I always thought I wanted to live there someday, so when that law firm job brought me to the area, I was excited about the idea of getting to actually live in San Clemente. I love it here. I love the beach culture. I love this small town with its unique Spanish architecture and feel.
Tell me about your legal experience.
My role in Newport Beach was with Dechert, a big law firm based in Philadelphia. I focused on a highly regulated industry, advising the Boards of Directors of mutual fund and investment organizations about regulatory compliance issues, and drafting public filings for them with the SEC. It was quite a narrow area of practice and there weren’t a ton of opportunities in Orange County within that field, so to go in house or do that work at a different firm would have required me to relocate to (most likely) DC, or maybe Colorado.
Instead, when I was ready to move on, I decided to stay in the area and join a different law firm where I could broaden my skills base with more general corporate work, like M&A and commercial contracts. It was during that time that my mom was diagnosed with cancer—I took time off and went to Florida to help her through her treatment. We kept our house in San Clemente, and when I returned, I started working for another law firm doing general corporate transactional and outside general counsel work.
What was your path to in-house legal counsel?
The partnership at the law firm I was with broke up, and when that happened, I began to practice from home, doing work with some of the firm’s ex-partners. I had just had a baby, and figured that I could work that way for a few years, and also be home with my son.
Then an opportunity landed in my lap to go work at Vizio. It was supposed to be an eight-week stint to help them prepare for their IPO, drafting disclosures for their registration statement. The eight weeks turned into four years. I guess I made myself useful enough that they decided to hire me! I worked on the IPO as well as other strategic transactions with Mark Nelson, who’s now Crossover’s CFO. Unfortunately, the IPO effort was ultimately abandoned, but the experience was incredibly valuable. Next we worked on a planned acquisition by a Chinese firm, but that also fell through. Shortly after that, Mark left Vizio to join Crossover.
So Mark was the connection to Crossover. What was his pitch to have you join the company?
It wasn’t immediate. I left Vizio to go work at Allianz, which felt like a good, stable company with opportunity for advancement. Allianz turned out to be a great organization to work for, and it brought me back into the financial regulatory work I had been doing at Dechert. It was a comfortable space for me, but there was little autonomy and I realized that I wanted to be involved in more strategic, cutting edge work. Mark contacted me after I’d been at Allianz for about seven months and asked if I was looking to make a move.
My response was that I hadn’t been at Allianz that long, and leaving so soon would be hard to explain down the road if I ever transitioned to another role. We got together and talked anyway, and I said that he should give me a year at Allianz. He said he would, and true to his word, just about a year on the nose from my start date at Allianz, Mark contacted me again and said, “Okay, are you ready?”
When we talked about it again, Crossover seemed like it would be a really interesting place to work. I was inspired by some of the things that Scott had written and the company’s mission. Crossover wasn’t exactly a startup but was still a young company, and I knew that being the first lawyer at a company at this stage would be an interesting challenge. That’s really what I wanted—a role where my day-to-day work was going to be unpredictable and where I could really make a difference.
So, based on my understanding of Crossover’s pace, I’m guessing this has already panned out?
I haven’t been disappointed. I’ve interviewed a few candidates since joining Crossover and I like to tell them that for me, the honeymoon isn’t over. Usually, you start a job and get into your role, and your workday can become routine. Not here. Every day is different. I never know what’s going to come at me. I love being challenged and thinking through problems.
How do you describe your role as Corporate Counsel? How would you like to see it evolve?
I’m not really the “Corporate Counsel”—just Counsel. The difference doesn’t mean much to other people, but to lawyers, when you have the word “Corporate” as part of your title, you’re focusing mainly on corporate governance and corporate transactions. That scope is more limited, like my position at Vizio was. But at Crossover, I deal with everything that comes in that has a legal slant, whether it’s a contract that needs to be drafted or negotiated, a regulatory or compliance question, corporate governance matters, or the rare instance of a dispute or litigation. Getting to know the entire business so intimately makes it interesting and helps me anticipate legal issues that might come up.
My role is to advise people on how to deal with issues that have arisen. When people try to give me credit for things, I respond by saying I’m just a scribe for them. I’m writing what they tell me the company is doing, and I’m doing it in a way that protects the company as much as possible. I also think of myself as both a sword and the shield for the company. If you want somebody to fight for you, I’m going to fight for you. You want me to protect you, I’m going to do that, too.
Are you building a legal team moving forward?
I’ve started. Arianna Hawbecker joined me at the end of October. She has a litigation background and was looking for her first in-house role. She’s been practicing law longer than I have, but she has been focused primarily on litigation, and doesn’t have the in-house corporate, contracts, and transactional experience as of yet. Ariana has been able to jump right in, though. She has already made valuable contributions to Crossover, and it’s good to have her shoulder some of the workload that has come with our growth. Because she’s had more litigation experience, her perspective is really helpful and deepens our legal bench. Collaborating with her has been invaluable.
In Part 2, Christine tells us about her view of Crossover, and how the practice of law can be creative and inspiring when it’s part of an innovative culture.