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Community Spotlight: Ayana Free, Senior Director of Legal Affairs, Zocdoc

March 27, 2020 5 min read
Ayana Free Sr. Director Legal at Zocdoc

Every month, we highlight a member of the Ironclad Community and this month we’re excited to introduce you to our New York City chapter member, Ayana Free, Senior Director of Legal Affairs at Zocdoc, a healthcare tech company that empowers patients by helping them find providers and book medical appointments online. At Zocdoc, Ayana manages the company’s litigation, employment and intellectual property portfolio.

Before joining Zocdoc, Ayana worked for a decade in litigation and enforcement. After graduating from NYU School of Law, Ayana clerked for Hon. Reginald C. Lindsay in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts and worked as a litigation associate for Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP, where she was actively involved in the firm’s diversity, recruiting and pro bono programs. Following Cleary, Ayana served as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Eastern District of Virginia. As an AUSA in the Civil Division, she successfully defended federal agencies and officials in district court and appellate cases.

Ayana is a proud Spelman alumna, member of the NYU Law Alumni Association Board of Directors, and an avid mentor committed to fostering diversity, equity and inclusion.

How did you find yourself in your role today? What attracted you to going in-house vs. staying in biglaw or the justice system?

When I was in the private sector and the government, I really enjoyed working closely with my clients, engaging with them about how to arrive strategically at the best, cost-effective and principled solutions. One of the aspects I love the most about going in-house is having the ability to address problems with business teams directly and potentially resolve or mitigate disputes before they escalate.

How was the transition? Any tips for anyone considering the jump?

It was very interesting to practice law for the first time in an environment where lawyers are not the majority of the employees and legal services are not the business model. Anyone considering the jump in-house should evaluate the business and how you can translate your legal skills and experience to assist your new stakeholders and colleagues. It takes more than a great resume to be seen as a valued, business partner. You have to cultivate relationships.

What brings you the most satisfaction in your role? What makes you say, “Nailed it!”

When I solve a problem for a team and get a heartfelt thanks from one of my internal stakeholders, I feel immense satisfaction.

Your company is in the business of healthcare. How is Zocdoc working to meet the demands given the spread of COVID-19?

Zocdoc’s mission is to give power to patients. In light of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), we are focused on preserving access to care while keeping both patients and providers safe and supported. Specifically, we have introduced:

  • Coronavirus (COVID-19) dedicated resource hub — User-friendly page on Zocdoc.com and in our app that aggregates guidance from leading health experts and allows patients to access care from home.
  • Expanding digital care services — On our COVID-19 resource hub, users can book nationwide video visits to address immediate medical issues or routine healthcare needs without leaving home. Most video visits cost $20 or less with insurance. Also, Zocdoc offers a free nurse chat service, powered by Nurse-1-1, which aims to help people get personalized guidance and specific questions answered instantly while reducing call volumes and unnecessary visits to doctors’ offices.
  • Mitigating community spread — To help keep other patients and healthcare workers healthy, providers can choose to require patients complete a few questions to assess COVID-19 risk factors before booking an in-person appointment.

Can you share a successful strategy you’re using to drive business continuity during this time?

It’s imperative to keep communication lines open especially when working from home. Recently, I’ve begun a weekly digest summarizing the relevant federal and state legislative and regulatory changes impacting employment. The digest also includes hyperlinks to additional articles and resources.

How are you using this time to build a solid foundation for when we all return to office work and things go back to 100 miles per hour?

Zocdoc has been moving at full speed and actively accelerating our plans to continue our mission to empower patients.

Has your company slowed or paused hiring at this time? If not, are you conducting interviews remotely? Would you make a hire at this time, even if you’d only met the candidate remotely?

We’re always looking for talented people to join the Zocdoc team. While in-person interviews are preferable, we are conducting remote candidate interviews via videoconference at this time.

Our values are intent, integrity, drive and empathy. Can you give an example of a value demonstrated by your team?

One of Zocdoc’s core values is together, not alone. I’ve been very impressed by how our CEO and founder, Oliver Kharraz, and senior leadership team have kept the company focused and cohesive during this public health crisis. We’ve continued our weekly all-company town halls and collectively used Slack, email and videoconferences to maintain the warm, collegial atmosphere that makes Zocdoc such a wonderful place to work.

What trends are you seeing in in-house legal that you find particularly exciting and/or interesting?

I think in-house lawyers are realizing the importance of networking with other in-house counsel. Many of us fled Biglaw so that we could avoid small talk in suits, but we can learn a lot from each other (and not just on email distros or webinars). I’m excited to see more of us engaging each other in meaningful conversations, conferences and events. Ironclad’s Community Dinners are a perfect opportunity to meet other colleagues from different industries and have delightful, serendipitous conversations that you won’t have on email or logging on to the same CLE webinar.

Anushree Bagrodia (Mastercard) and Ayana Free (Zocdoc) at a recent Ironclad Community Dinner
Anushree Bagrodia (Mastercard) and Ayana Free (Zocdoc) at a recent Ironclad Community Dinner (photo credit: Sioux Nesi)

What certifications or training in addition to CLE do you think are essential to succeed as an in-house lawyer?

In-house counsel, especially in small teams, are often asked to advise on a variety of topics. It’s essential to remain intellectually curious; be open to attending training and CLEs even if they are not clearly applicable to your current work. Certifications, on the other hand, are most effective when directly relevant for your role or industry, e.g., the IAPP CIPP certification for privacy professionals.

Who, or what, inspires you?

I’m inspired by my family and close friends. Whenever I have a bad day or need some advice, I know that I have a loving, supporting network of people ready and willing to lift me up and encourage me to keep going. They inspire me to work hard and hold the door open wide for the talented young people coming behind me.

Do you have a mentor or mentor someone? What advice do you have as a mentor or mentee?

Yes to both. I advise mentors to consider how your mentees receive information and express themselves. Do they need a handwritten note of encouragement, an hour of your undivided attention to hash out new ideas, or an inspirational book to read? Think of ways that you can creatively engage and motivate your mentee throughout their development.

What would you tell your 25-year-old self?

Enjoy the journey, the universe is conspiring in your favor.

What are two things people don’t know about you? Fun facts or secret talents?

I love classical music and I played violin for many years.

What’s the last book you read and what album can’t you live without?

Finding My Voice by Valerie Jarrett and Stevie Wonder’s Songs in the Key of Life Vols. 1-2

Are there nonprofits or issues that you care about and volunteer for?

Recently, I’ve been volunteering as a judge for oral argument competitions. It’s important for law students and young people who are interested in legal careers to hear from a wide variety of voices within the profession. I take great pride in encouraging future lawyers, giving them constructive feedback and hopefully inspiring them to pursue their dreams.


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