Alumni Q+A with Steve Chariyasatit, Instacart

July 2021

As deputy general counsel for litigation, labor relations, and employment law at Instacart, Steve Chariyasatit develops and manages company strategies across a broad range of legal issues, policies, and programs. He worked as an associate and managing associate at Orrick in the Employment group from 2007 to 2013.

What do you like best about your current position?

In many ways, this is the job I have always wanted. In addition to every kind of litigation, my work includes general employment matters, labor relations, product counseling, regulatory compliance, public policy initiatives and legislation, and strategic business guidance. Each of these topics is fascinating to me.

Best of all, I’ve been encouraged to grow the role in any way I see fit. One day I may focus on furthering public policy, such as partnering with peer companies to help draft legislation to define the future of work, such as California Proposition 22 (a ballot initiative that passed in 2020 that creates a new classification test and provides certain pay standards and benefits for app-based transportation and delivery drivers). Another day I might be advising on product features or discussing litigation strategies. In fact, my work usually drastically varies from hour to hour. It can get overwhelming at times, but mostly it’s energizing. Everything I do and learn helps me professionally while it moves the company forward.

The pandemic changed the way we do business. How have Instacart and your role there evolved?

Business increased a lot, which makes sense given that we offer touchless grocery delivery on our platform. We went from 200,000 shoppers to more than 500,000 in a very short time period. In addition, a lot of people depend on this service, from those who are immunocompromised or disabled to new parents, so we really had to scramble to keep up. The legal team alone grew from 14 people to over 50.

We also ended up repurposing a lot of roles in the company, including mine. My role became less “How do we minimize legal risk?” and more “How do we protect people?” How do we ensure processes are in place, not just to comply with all the laws and regulations, but to keep people safe? For example, we ordered and started distributing personal protective equipment (PPE) for all shoppers well before the CDC issued its guidelines. We sourced our own masks and went to a distillery to create hand sanitizers, so we didn’t take supplies away from first responders and medical professionals. We became more proactive, thinking of new ways to help the shoppers and customers we were engaging. Even our communications addressed bigger picture issues: How can we show empathy? What can we do to help?

Name something you learned at Orrick that is helpful to you now.

I can’t say enough good things about my time at Orrick. Having great mentors like Lynne Hermle and Jess Perry, and colleagues like Julia Riechert, early in my career was transformative. The partners with whom I worked took the time to make sure associates knew what we were doing and why, then gave us the trust and confidence to handle high-level work on our own. Seeing them in action was just amazing. For example, I went to trial with Lynne on a case and it was such a learning experience.

Also, standards at the firm are really high. I say this as a good thing. I got constructive feedback on my writing, my thinking, and my strategizing as a lawyer, and that has helped me tremendously in my career. I’m grateful that I came up in a place where every piece of work product was expected to be excellent, and where partners took the time to focus on professional development of associates.

I still keep in touch with a lot of partners and associates from Orrick, and as soon as I was in a position to engage Orrick, I did. It’s a group of people I trust and want to work with.

You came to law through an interesting path—you were a biology major who worked as a zookeeper after college. How did this perspective help shape your law career?

I was always interested in law and even did mock trial during high school, so this wasn’t as big a jump as it might seem. That said, coming from a nontraditional background definitely gives you a broader perspective. It might be cultural, educational, or just having a unique life experience. I was trained as a scientist, which means I tackle problems with a certain kind of rigor and walk through them in a logical way. This approach informs my practice and how I problem-solve.

What advice do you have for early-career lawyers?

Two things changed my perspective completely as a junior lawyer. The first was when a mentor said, “Relax, everyone is just trying to figure it out as they go along.” As a young lawyer, I remember looking at senior associates and partners in awe and wondering how I would ever get to their level of knowledge and expertise. The realization that they don’t always have the answers and that everyone is struggling with the same issues helped me to feel better and understand that I too can handle any difficulty if I am able to think through it and continue to gain more experience.

Second, I learned that you can and should take control of your schedule. It’s okay to ask if something can be done later or to say you have a prior engagement or even that you already have a lot on your plate. As a junior associate, I said yes because I thought everything was equally crucial, often at the expense of my personal plans. But now that I am more senior, I see that it’s usually okay to take more time if you need it as long as you clearly communicate the expectation. Sometimes it’s an emergency, but it’s not always an emergency.

Finally, I would encourage early-career lawyers to make sure to have a viewpoint on what they want and not be afraid to speak up about it. If you want more of a certain type of work, make it known. Even if you have good mentors, you have to be proactive and help shape your own career path. Ask for opportunities or to perform tasks that will further your professional development.

Outside the office, what are your passions? 

I’m really into fitness, so I do a variety of activities like swimming, running, boot camp classes, weight training, and other types of workouts. Several years ago, I taught myself to swim from watching online videos so I could do my first triathlon, and now I’ve completed over 10 of them. We have challenging jobs, so it’s important to find ways to blow off steam. Right now, I’ve been set back because of the pandemic, so I just want to get back up to speed and start racing again. At some point, I would like to work up to a marathon or complete a full Ironman.