Meet Julian Chan, a brilliant entertainment attorney. He started off as an acting general counsel at Peritus Software Services, where he played a pivotal role in its remarkable growth, negotiating $100 million in software licenses and managing over $20 million in venture capital.
Chan later directed operations and served as general counsel at Univessence Digital Studios, Ltd., the biggest online game distributor in China. And also led production at Media Revolution, a major LA marketing agency known for creating campaigns for iconic brands like Sony, Walt Disney, Warner Bros., etc. We had the opportunity to learn more about his journey and legal practice. Here are some highlights from our conversation:
Could you tell us a bit about your background and career journey?
Initially, I wanted to be an aerospace engineer. When I went to Brown University, I started out as a physics major and had genetic migraine headaches. They were so extreme that I couldn’t function for three or four hours a day. I realized that doing heavy math was physically very painful for me. I still want to be involved with the aerospace industry. So I thought, well, if I'm a lawyer, I could help with the permissions, licensing, and approvals for space launches. So, that's how I planned to be a lawyer.
When I graduated from law school, unfortunately, the aerospace industry wasn't doing well. My father had just started a software startup in ‘95. So, I ended up joining that. It was essentially about software maintenance. Eventually, we got venture capital financing and went public two years later. So, I found myself as the de facto general counsel of a public company at 27. I did that for a year and didn't like necessarily being in a public company. It's formal and rigid in comparison to a startup.
So, I thought of the idea of having an incubator around 1997. The idea was to have an incubator where we could explore ideas and projects and put a little funding into them, as a VC would; We started investing in internet companies. I ended up joining one of the investments, which was a website development company for movie studios that Hans Zimmer had started. Our goal was to build a back office in China so we could do it cheaper and roll up all the little mom-and-pop website developers in each of the major cities. I ended up running this website development company with a back office in China and worked on projects like Spider-Man, Charlie's Angels, etc. We tried to go public, as we had about $30 million in revenue because we had acquired game distribution within China. So, we were the largest game distributor [in China] at the time, but didn't make our public offering. So, I ended up going from being the General Counsel and COO of that company to starting my own law practice.
What advice would you give to younger professionals also trying to find their career interests?
The best thing is to be open-minded and be open to constantly trying different things. We tend to get into a rut where we do what's comfortable because people have a natural insecurity. Insecurity is one of the basic natures of being a person. It's what prevents us from taking risks in our careers. But if you're not out of your comfort zone, you're not learning, and you're not on the cutting edge.
So you have to enjoy being uncomfortable—especially if you’re awkward in a social setting with people you've never met. Learn how to get to know everybody in the room. One of the things I do is I always have a couple of stories to tell everybody. [This way] they remember me, and they remember what I do. People then tell others, “Oh, I know somebody that can do that.” So you should be very comfortable telling people what you do and what you need. [Because opportunity is] more likely to come to you then.
What advice do you have for students and young professionals aspiring to enter the field of law?
You need to think about your life goals. Is it your goal to go work for a company one day? Is your goal to be a partner? Is your goal to have a stable life? Law firms don't train you as much as you hoped they would. Only maybe 10% of lawyers become partners; the other 90% don't. That means they either have to go off on their own, join smaller firms, or go in-house. So, if you're going to go into law, make sure you understand what kind of work you want to do and what you want to achieve as a lawyer.
I wanted to help companies get started. Some people want to defend people who have no money. Some people want to promote freedom of this or freedom of that. So, you have to think about your goal and get to know organizations related to your job. Heavily network and learn how to talk to people. It's very easy as a lawyer to just do your office work, deal with clients that are handed to you by the firm, and never go out and meet people. I can assure you that 90% of those types of people never make a partner. Because you just don't have the skills to find people that have needs.
Networking is a critical skill in both the legal and business worlds. What strategies do you use to build and maintain a strong professional network?
I go to events with people doing the kinds of things that I'm interested in. So, I go to a lot of venture capital events or CEO events. I also try to talk to a CEO about ideas that they never have. For example, I recently talked to a CEO who was looking to engage me for a job. I said, Hey, you know, you're at a certain age; have you thought about what you're going to do when you reach retirement? Have you thought about how you're going to transition to the next phase of your business? He hadn't thought of it, and I gave him a bunch of ideas. So, be an educational resource for everybody.
You've worked with a wide range of professionals from different backgrounds. How do you adapt your communication style to effectively connect with individuals from diverse cultures and industries?
The most important thing is to listen and understand what your client's goals are first and then try to look at where they are and where they need to go. Next, try to pick something that allows that path to happen. You also have to empathize with all the other stakeholders, including their customers, and ask, what is it they're looking for? What are their fears? How do we provide them with security? And at the same time, how do we get security in return that they'll pay their bills, for example? So you have to kind of empathize with all the people involved in the relationship and then draft something that supports that relationship.
Sometimes people say, oh, it's the culture; you can't trust that culture. I find that's not true at all. People are more similar than they are different. For example, contracts are universal; they are not based on a person's culture. It is based on the economic situation that they're in. It's the economic situation that people might have because of distance, because of local laws, and so forth.
In both law and business, conflicts can arise. How do you approach conflict resolution, and what advice can you give to young professionals for handling difficult conversations and negotiations?
The first way to avoid conflict is to have very good communication. It's very easy, when you're close to somebody, to think you don't need to communicate with them anymore. Like I will tell them about this important factor later, when I get around to it, or I assume that we can work it out. Don't do that—bring up all things as quickly as possible, as early on as possible. This way, small things don't become big things.
When you draft contracts, what you should do is develop the relationship so that it's self-enforcing, and you don't need to go to court to enforce it. Normally, the idea of making a contract looks like, “I will build this website for you, and then you'll give me a million dollars.” Well, there's a big gap between the website being done and getting a million dollars. But if I say build a template—a non-working version—for $50,000, I can look at the mockup and pay you $50,000. That's my risk—it is 50k. So, you break it into stages where you wouldn't fight; you would just walk away and have at least the markup to show another group. The best way is to break things into little steps that are doable, as opposed to allowing things to become a giant step that is going to create a fight. That's usually where the conflict comes from.
What are three books or podcasts you would recommend, and why?
I have a client named Andrew Huberman, who is out of Stanford and talks about biohacking. It is a fascinating idea that our bodies are like machines that we can program to function differently. The idea of dealing with a black box and making it work from the outside is a concept that will work in many aspects of our lives. Like you're dealing with people, and you don't understand what's going on inside their heads. But you know that you can say certain things to upset them or calm them down. You learn how to work with them from deductive reasoning and how they react. So, his podcasts are genius that way. It will revolutionize the way that we live our own lives and how we manage our own emotions.
Another client of mine who really gets in touch with the human equation is a fella named Neil Strauss. He did a podcast called “To Live and Die in L.A.”, where he tracks down people who have unsolved murders. He investigates and tries to empathize with the person who has died and with all the people around him. He researches the motive. Who did it? But the whole point is that he teaches you how to empathize with a wide range of people who may have thoughts and ideas that you can't understand. You may not understand why someone would kill someone else. But he teaches you to understand how other people think.
Explore Julian Chan's world of legal expertise and entrepreneurial insights! Visit his website at www.linktr.ee/julianlchan.
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