Growing Diversity in Technology Law: A Fireside Chat with Spotify’s Horacio Gutierrez

October 15, 2021

Horacio Gutierrez’s career journey has spanned across legal disciplines and around the world—from studying law in his home country of Venezuela to his current role as head of Global Affairs and chief legal officer at Spotify. A Morgan Lewis alumnus and former general counsel and corporate vice president for Legal Affairs at Microsoft Corp., Horacio has kept a consistent mission at the forefront of each new role he’s held: growing diversity within the technology law space.

“A lot of our Hispanic law graduates in the US are the first people in their family to go to college, let alone go to law school,” said Horacio during a fireside chat with Felipe Alice, a corporate and business transactions partner. “I have a responsibility to try to help the newer generation of Hispanics coming up the ranks. So I focus on that as if it were part of my job. I have a very systematic way of looking at it.”

In the wide-ranging conversation—hosted by our Hispanic/Latino Lawyer Network in recognition of Hispanic Heritage Month—Horacio shared his experiences transitioning from Morgan Lewis to in-house leading Spotify's legal department, the importance of inclusive practices, and pivotal moments in his career, including founding the Hispanic National Bar Association (HNBA)/Microsoft Intellectual Property Law Institute.

What does Hispanic Heritage Month mean to you?

I think the most important message it gives is the fact that the Hispanic community is part of America and American culture. That this melting pot in the United States is a result of these wonderful contributions of cultures from all over the world—Hispanic culture now being so visible, so rich. We have people that are leading figures in the US, from the scientific community to the cultural community, and I think we should be very proud.

But it’s also understanding that while we talk broadly about Hispanics, the reality is that it’s not a monolithic group. Colombian culture is different from Argentinian culture, or Portuguese culture, or Mexican culture. And we have to embrace and celebrate those differences that make us such an interesting cultural contributor.

What was the transition from working at Morgan Lewis to serving as in-house counsel like?

I have great memories of the close to five years I spent at Morgan Lewis, based in the Miami office. I had partners at this office who were instrumental in key decisions that I made, including going back to law school. To this day, I consider them my mentors. I got my JD while at the firm going back to school at night, and the reason I could do this is because I felt so supported and encouraged by the firm. I thought this was a place I could really grow and build a career. It was that kind of culture.

When I moved in-house, it was a significant change. I really value being part of the decision-making at an in-house position. I get to see the full arc of matters. But it is also challenging. When you are outside counsel you can analyze the full matter and provide options on what to do, but as in-house counsel you have to make the decision. It requires an understanding of the philosophy of the company and its risk profile, and the industry that they participate in. It requires a level of ongoing dialogue with your CEO and other executives to be able to make the right decisions and make sure that they're properly informed of the nuance of the issue.

Through these roles, I’ve had a seat at some of the biggest events that have happened in technology. And now that I'm at Spotify, likewise, technology is always changing in terms of content rules, content moderation, and user safety. This is such a topical area where the laws are being written, and we still don't know what the legal regime for many of these fields is going to be. They're evolving, which means we in this field have an opportunity to contribute and to shape the thinking and the regulatory and legislative process in the area. And I find that fascinating.

During your time at Microsoft, you were elected president of the Northwest Region of the HNBA and developed the HNBA/Microsoft IP Law Institute. What was your thought process behind the initiative?

One of the things that became clear as I went deeper into the issues of underrepresentation in the legal profession was that Hispanics were underrepresented in certain disciplines, such as intellectual property and things related to technology.

There is generally an underrepresentation of Hispanics in law school, and there are socio-economic reasons for that. And once at law school, there is a bit of misperception that to practice in areas related to intellectual property, you need a science or technology or mathematical background. So I felt it was important to make sure people understood that technology law—and even technology IP—was very broad and that you could do trademarks, copyright, patent litigation, patent licensing, and a number of transactional issues around intellectual property, without necessarily having a STEM background.

In partnership with Microsoft and the Bar Association, we created an institute where we take early Hispanic law school students from all over the country and bring them to Washington, DC to visit the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, the IPO, the Copyright Office—essentially places where intellectual property practitioners operate. And they build that network not only with the other students, but with mentors. There are summer internships that came from that. There were actually job offers that were made to many of these students after law school. Other bar associations are trying to replicate it. So it came at the right time and hit what people considered a real need.

What are other best practices for increasing inclusion?

It’s the notion of creating pipelines. How do you recognize diverse talent early enough so that you can bring that person into the system and develop them? How do you make sure that people feel included and that they don't have to hide their differences, but in fact, they know they're being brought in to contribute their unique perspective and make the culture of the place richer? And how do we make sure that those people get the mentorship and sponsorship they need along the way, so that they move forward?

A Hispanic lawyer needs to know it’s important to learn from people who've been in those situations. And the firm and partners need to understand they should be making time available to help mentor and coach them. And they're going to be rewarded not only from the feeling of having done the right thing, but because they will have very strong associates that can then become partners, and who can tap into markets and clients that the existing group of partners might not be able to attract—both nationally and internationally.

What lessons in resourcefulness and cultural nuance have you learned working for global companies like Spotify and Microsoft?

When I started in my career in the US, I really felt like I had to fit in, which meant trying not to expose what made me Hispanic. For example, I didn’t share that I love salsa music. There was a part of me that felt a desire to fit into the culture, so I felt the need to keep the Hispanic part of me separate from my job. That was wrong. I would have never been as successful at Microsoft in the absence of the multicultural skills that being Hispanic—or being Hispanic in the US—gave me.

When I applied to the job to lead the legal and corporate and government affairs department in Europe, Middle East and Africa, there were other people that had more experience than me in law. What they did not have is this multiculturalism, the command of multiple languages, or the fact that I had lived in an environment where I could thrive dealing with issues in Portugal and in Italy, and at the same time could adapt to issues in Scandinavian countries or in the UK. I didn't have to develop that multicultural perspective—I had it because I had grown up in it.

In the beginning, I thought it was something that I needed to hide, and then at some point I embraced that it’s what makes me different. It is the edge that makes me successful, and it’s something that I'm going to utilize to the fullest extent possible.