Operations are part of the territory even if they’re not part of your job description when you’re an in-house attorney on a small legal team, says Claudia Bhatt, labor and employment counsel at the restaurant chain Sweetgreen.
Your willingness to do whatever is needed, regardless of your job title, goes a long way to helping your company be as efficient as possible, Bhatt said on an Inside Voices podcast hosted by legal tech company Logikcull.
“It might not be in your job description, but you can help own an issue that comes up,” said Bhatt, who joined the fast-growing chain four years ago as a compliance specialist on the HR team before moving over to a newly created legal team.
Bhatt likened a good in-house attorney to a legal athlete, borrowing a term from a former boss who used it to describe a lawyer who’s willing to do what’s necessary to help the larger organization.
“It’s important to be willing to stretch,” she said, “so nothing is below what your job title is.”
For her, that means acting as the team’s legal ops person by bringing in technology to help automate eDiscovery and legal hold processes, among other operational tasks she does on top of her legal responsibilities.
“eDiscovery [technology] has made my life so much easier,” she said. “Any time there’s an internal investigation, or we’re working with outside counsel, we’re digging through personnel files, schedules, emails, slack messages, all of that stuff. So, that’s a big part of the role.”
What used to take her five hours as part of that process now only takes her an hour, freeing up time for her to focus on her core responsibilities.
“I have four more hours I can spend doing actual legal work for the company,” she said. “So, the cost savings and my personal time is the ROI right there. That’s huge.”
Just as important is the qualitative improvement she saw in the substance of her work, she said.
“When you have administrative tasks that need to be done, having a tool that can automate those processes increases your job satisfaction as well,” she said. “Maybe from an ROI perspective that isn’t being measured, but I certainly feel it and I think others who implement these tools appreciate and can speak to that as well.”
Despite not having an operations background, she hasn’t faced much pushback from others when she’s tried to bring in technology, in part because the efficiencies they create can be just as important to other teams as they are to legal.
“I wasn’t only improving my workflow [by automating eDiscovery],” she said. “It’s easier on our IT and people teams as well.”
Given the way she bounces back and forth between legal and operational roles, she’s learned the importance of organization, she said.
“Not that I wasn’t organized before, but now I know where everything is at all times,” she said.
Being organized helps Bhatt prioritize what needs to be done and prevent dropping the ball on matters that come before her.
“It helps me make sure I’m working on things in the sequential order that’s required,” she said.
In her previous role as an outside counsel on employment issues, she could get help staying on track by leaning on processes and people at the firm, but those resources aren’t readily available on a small in-house legal team.
“You had support staff that helped you with calendaring, keeping the legal files organized,” she said. Now, “there’s no one else to do that, so that falls on me.”
But the variety of work, and the satisfaction of making an impact even at this early stage of her career, makes the workload worthwhile.
“One thing about working at a company of this size, if you see an inefficiency or a problem, and you want to fix it, you can go and fix it,” Bhatt said. “Being able to raise your hand and take on the additional work, that can help you in the future.”