Legal ops was seen as a disruptive force when Ashley Adams joined Asurion in 2018 as a manager, but the in-house lawyers at the smart-phone insurer embraced change once they saw how increased efficiency would make their work more valuable.
“I think what helped me was, I sat down and listened,” Adams said in an Inside Voices podcast. “I met with every person I could. I tried to understand their job, what challenges they’re facing. I didn’t try to impose my thoughts. I didn’t try to solutionize for them.”
In-house lawyers tend to resist change if they believe new systems and processes will take away meaningful aspects of their work, said Adams, who left Asurion last year to launch and oversee the legal ops team at content management company Contentful. If you can convince them that the goal is to free up time for them to do higher-value work and even make it easier to manage their career growth, they tend to come around. That’s what happened at Asurion.
“The world opened up,” she said. “‘Oh my god, you’re not taking my work away; I can do this and this faster and that frees me up to do career development, take classes, take a vacation even.’”
Organizational leadership skills
Adams brings a varied background to legal operations transformation. Over an eight-year career at Nissan, she had HR and budgeting roles, and was later a project manager at a small healthcare company.
“All those years I spent trying to do budgets, understand numbers, the financial acumen helped me,” she said.
Project management, even though it’s core to what legal ops does, is not the hard part of the job, Adams said. The hard part is getting buy-in from the lawyers and other business partners within the organization. Once you have that, everyone is working together.
“If I was meeting resistance from somebody, I tried to dig into the why,” she said. “It’s not me vs. you; let’s figure out how we can work together and dig into the why.”
At Contentful, the legal ops team is getting ready to launch a contract lifecycle management program, the final stage of a year-long process to get all of the company’s contracts into a single system.
“We kicked off the CLM conversation last year knowing we were going to need something more strategic,” she said. “Documents were everywhere. We needed to automate our contracting process, create efficiencies for the go-to-market team.”
The system will install guard rails so lawyers and others don’t have to touch every single agreement that comes through the door.
“It’s a business-led legal assistance-type model,” she said. “Self-service is what it boils down to…. We did reverse engineering, tackling the back-end contract system vs. the front end that everybody sees. We’re getting our documents in order, ensuring historical agreements are in there, people can find clauses, and we can create playbooks for folks to use when we get to that front-end phase.”
To get to this point, though, she devoted the bulk of her effort getting everyone on board first.
“We spent a considerable amount of time with key stakeholders on a listening tour,” she said. “The goal is to do it right vs. just doing it. That takes buy-in from across the organization, especially one our size, which is growing.”
The software-as-a-service (SaaS) company doubled in size over the year she’s been there, to some 800 employees, supported by an in-house legal team of about 20, which in turn is supported by Adams’ two-person legal ops team.
“It’s more than communication,” she said. “It’s getting people into a room to talk to one another, not you talking.”