The legal ops chief at mobile app marketing company Branch believes the in-house legal team gets higher quality work from its outside law firms because of the onboarding process it’s put in place.
When a law firm is brought on board, it’s not just the partner that meets with the legal team; associates, paralegals and even operational and administrative staff on the law firm side are invited.
The goal is two-fold: to put the relationship on a positive track by getting administrative matters settled at the same time as legal goals, and to make the people at the law firm feel like they’re part of the team.
“That immediately creates a connection,” Daniel Michalek, legal operations manager at Branch, said in an Inside Voices podcast. “You can get better value and more collaboration, and therefore, the result is a much better work product. If the outside counsel understands your business better, the work product is going to be better and you’re going to get more done with them.”
Michalek saw in earlier roles the confusion that can get entrenched if onboarding isn’t leveraged to clarify things upfront.
“Some organizations have very wonky, very weird processes that, without context, just make no sense,” he said. “It’s better to provide the context so they understand why you want it the way you do.”
In one case, because of the billing software the company was using, law firm invoices had to be submitted following a rigid format. Absent upfront discussions about that, it wasn't uncommon for firms to have their invoices repeatedly rejected, leading to frustration on both sides.
“It was never explained to them that the billing system requires the text in your invoices to be formatted a certain way,” he said.
Once the relationship is underway, it’s crucial for the in-house legal team member heading up the project to give feedback on how the firm is doing as things come up rather than risk allowing a false impression to persist.
“Just because you pay their invoice, that isn’t necessarily an indicator they’ve done a good job,” he said. “It could be that some lawyer on the team got the bill, didn’t think to look at it closely, approved it and moved on, but later on thinks, ‘Wait a minute, in this memo they wrote, the guidance they provided … missed a few key steps.’ It’s probably not the best time to tell them after you paid the bill.”
To optimize processes at Branch, Michalek is looking at the mix of technology he’d like to see the legal team adopt. Among his goals is to hand off as many day-to-day tasks as he can to the company’s business functions so the legal team can focus on the long-term, strategic tasks that are a more valuable use of their time.
“I would love for us to be able to provide as many self-service tools to individuals across the organization as possible,” he said. “It’s not that I’m trying to pivot myself out of a role here, but there’s a lot that we do that wouldn’t require day-to-day hand-holding.”
His predecessor at Branch, who created the legal ops function, launched a ticketing system that Michalek says has gone a long way to making the team’s operations more efficient, easier to track and a source of useful planning data.
“Several years ago, tickets were informal,” he said. “It started out as a spreadsheet that our commercial team was using to interact with our sales and deal desk teams.” But the system quickly outgrew its capacity.
“The requests were so fast and furious that they needed a formal ticketing system to log all of the requests that were coming in and track them from the moment they were submitted to when they were completed,” he said. “So, we were trying to find something that was scalable.”
The team ended up replacing the spreadsheet with a digital platform.
“An Excel spreadsheet is sort of a time capsule, whereas with a ticketing platform, there’s a lot more flexibility and it also gives folks visibility into the entire process,” he said. “Not only did the lawyers have visibility into the tickets that were happening, whether theirs or someone else’s, but also the business, the deal desk and sales team members, and everyone else had visibility and access to the information.”
That made the ticketing platform a collaboration platform as well. “That empowers the business to get things done much faster,” he said.