3 September 2012 | By Lucy Burton
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Nav Sunner, senior legal counsel at rising social gaming star Gree, says he is lucky to be able to pursue a career in an industry he finds both challenging and fun
Nav Sunner, Gree
Position: Senior legal counsel, Europe, Middle East, Latin America
Industry: Mobile games and social networking
Global legal capability: Two in London, undisclosed number in US and Japan
Nav Sunner is a highly unlawyer-like lawyer. He laughs plenty, hates ties, and his first in-house job (as head of legal at Codemasters) was located on a farm.
“I chose to go into IP because the IP reports at law school were the only ones with pictures in them,” he says, half-seriously.
Those pictures worked a treat. Since graduating in the 1990s Sunner has had stints as head of legal at games company Codemasters, senior associate at Pinsent Masons, general counsel at software business Mastertronic, co-head of interactive entertainment at Osborne Clarke, head of computer games at Wiggin and now senior legal counsel at Japanese mobile gaming company Gree.
Does he get bored easily?
“No, I’ve been fortunate enough to have my career steered in the direction I would have liked it to go - opportunities have just come along,” he says, highlighting the rapidly moving games industry. “Wiggin was fun and that made leaving hard, but I knew Gree was making noises in Japan. Being responsible for Gree’s legal issues and external brand and content licenses in Europe, the Middle East and Latin America probably won’t be a walk in the park, but I like a challenge.”
A challenge it will be. The Japanese mobile giant arrived in the UK just a few weeks ago after chancellor George Osborne cited it as one of three companies (alongside Vodafone and Barclays) to have made significant investments in the capital’s technology hub, Tech City.
By the time this article goes to press Gree will be rubbing shoulders with a long list of tech giants (east London’s recent arrivals include Amazon, YouTube, Facebook) at its permanent UK base in the City.
For Sunner this IT cluster is literally miles from his first in-house post.
“I moved from Pinsent Masons to Codemasters [famous for a number of sports simulation games in the 1990s], which was based on a farm near Leamington Spa - my office was a barn,” he laughs. “It was an amazing learning curve. Codemasters is a sports video game developer, so everything was driven by what I wanted to do – IP.”
He spent more than six years at Codemasters before going back to Pinsents and then in-house again at low-cost computer game software company Mastertronic, where he was general counsel.
“The transition from in-house back to private practice wasn’t bad, but yes, I missed the farm - Wiggin was the closest I got to that atmosphere,” he says. “But we’re going to have a lot of fun here [at Gree].”
Does he have a favourite Gree game? Sunner starts going through them - Zombie Jombie, Dino Village, Assasain’s Creed - before opting for Fishing Star, a game where users pick their bait and then catch virtual fish.
“Gree is different to the other gaming companies I’ve worked with because it has a social platform, like Facebook,” he says. “The buzzwords in the gaming industry are mobile, social and free, and that’s where Gree is at.”
In the UK, Sunner is supported by just one other in-house lawyer, ex-Panasonic legal council Tomoo Uzen.
“We have a number of lawyers in Japan who we have weekly conference meetings with, and several in the US,” he adds. “Social gaming throws up issues where the law is grey. It is an unusual business model, as most games are monetised by micro-transactions. The company is growing at a phenomenal rate and there will be lots to do as we expand.”
Gree is not the only one. With more than two-thirds of British technology companies expected to expand in the next six months, law students might want to take a leaf out of Sunner’s book. Just remember – it’s the one with the pictures.
Brett Farrell, general counsel, Media Ingenuity Group
I like the fact that working in-house throws up something new to deal with every day. There are fresh challenges, interesting questions and boundaries being pushed in a variety of ways – nothing is constant.
I work for an online financial services start-up and that means remaining constantly alert in an extremely competitive market. The only way to do that is to talk continually with the people in the company who have to deliver on its objectives. The legal work is a lot easier to manage when you get your priorities aligned with theirs.
On any given day, in this highly regulated sector, we may need to deal with regulatory issues brought up by the Advertising Standards Authority, the FSA, the Office of Fair Trading or the Information Commissioner’s Office.
Part of maintaining consumer trust is to do with delivering on regulatory compliance, and trying to align regulatory interpretations with a number of enthusiastic opinions can test one’s powers of persuasion.
I’m still trying to master the skill that helps my colleagues makes sense of the laws affecting our business while finding ways to make the business work within them all.
That said, the most challenging aspect is not the legal side at all - it’s the personalities, politics and processes involved. Weaving those threads together in a way that gives your own voice credibility and others’ dignity is the true fascination about working in-house. Every lawyer, at some point, should do it.
Oh, and having no time-sheets is good too.