Start with the small things when you introduce legal operations in a start-up or small-team environment, because doing so adds value while you work on bigger changes, Cockroach Labs’ legal ops chief Adam Becker said in an Inside Voices webcast.
When he came on board the SQL startup in 2021 as its legal ops person, his first action was to build an intranet site to house the legal team’s documents.
“When I came in here I said, ‘So, where are all your files?’ and the answer was, ‘A little bit here, a little bit there. We use this and we use that,’” said Becker, who previously managed legal operations for in-house teams at large companies. “And I said, ‘What if we just had an intranet legal site where you have everything, and they’re like, ‘That would be amazing.’”
The project only took him a month to complete, giving the team something concrete with minimal effort.
“It made a huge difference in their lives,” he said.
One challenge of being the sole operations person on a small team is you have no one to bounce ideas off of or share responsibility if something goes wrong, Becker said.
But there are ways to turn those negatives into positives and at the same time, you get a number of built-in advantages.
Among other things, you can expect the attorneys as well as others in a start-up environment, on both the corporate and business side, to be relatively tech savvy, so there’s less reluctance to deploy tech solutions.
“There was actually a desire to do away with work we didn’t have to do,” Becker said.
When he started at the company, there were two lawyers on the legal team. That’s since doubled. And the team, including the general counsel, were open to tech solutions from the beginning.
“It’s not that the legal team had never thought about what solutions were needed, " he said. “They just didn’t have time to.”
To help him know what solutions would work best and to reduce implementation pitfalls, he stays in contact with others in legal ops through networking and idea-sharing networks. For example, Becker serves on the board of the Corporate Legal Operations Consortium (CLOC).
He also meets regularly with operations people in the corporate and business functions at the company.
“If I’m invited to something, I never turn it down,” Becker said. “I go to meetings here where I didn’t even know what they were talking about when I started.”
Becker said he takes the time to learn the processes and problems of the other operations because that can help him learn what’s already in place that he might use for legal, but also it helps him understand what he needs to meet future demands.
Early on, he said, he was “being pulled into meetings in the business functions, some of the R&D people, just because they thought it can’t hurt for me to be there,” he said. “We’re pretty transparent.”
The meetings gave him insight into what was happening at the company and what was projected to happen. “What sort of work we were handling. What sort of work we were projecting,” he said.
It also helps to stay in regular touch with vendors, even if you don’t need their technology, because you’ll want to be in step with what’s available for when you do need to put new systems in.
“You may not have active litigation or a portfolio now, but chances are there’s going to be [a lawsuit] one day and keeping on top of that, the technology and the developments [that you’ll need], is so helpful for when it comes your way,” Becker said.
That’s a view he only started to hold recently. “It’s something I view very differently in-house” at a start-up, he said. “I view alternative providers and tech providers as resources and more helpful than when I was at a big company and we knew everything.
“Take the time to keep learning,” he said. “The company I started at a year and a half ago is not the company I’m at today.”