Don’t try to rush through your department’s transformation even if that’s the mandate given to you when you were hired into your legal operations role, say the legal ops chief at Netflix and the former chief at Google.
Any kind of transformational project takes several years, so it’s best to take the first few months to listen, learn the company culture and its nomenclature, build relationships and then map out your project. And, just as importantly, write and rehearse the story that you’ll tell to sell the idea of transformation to stakeholders.
“If you don’t have that, forget it,” Jenn McCarron, director of legal ops and technology for Netflix, said during a recent webinar. “You have to construct a vision of where we’re heading and write a strategic narrative that you can tell to any group in your legal or finance or other department, in their language. You need to know your stakeholders, so you might have to write two or three versions of it.”
Once you do that, start with small projects to get wins that you can show, because every transformational project comes down to many small projects that eventually form the whole.
“Don’t quit before the miracle,” said McCarron. “Everyone gets impatient, but this work takes years to unfold.”
McCarron was joined during the webinar titled “Level up your legal ops in 2023” by Mary O’Carroll, chief community officer for legal software company Ironclad and Google’s former legal ops chief.
Start with a CLM solution
O’Carroll said it’s helpful to have the support of your chief legal officer or general counsel, “but what that support looks like on a day-to-day basis is going to differ.”
“The reality is, your GC is focused on really big things and they hired you to take care of [the operations side],” she said.
There might be pressure on you from in-house lawyers to start with implementing a document management solution because for many of them, that’s what they’re used to from their law firm days. But in-house work is very different, and a document management solution that captures everything isn’t realistic in many organizations.
In most environments, rather, it’s best to start with a contract lifecycle management (CLM) solution, because that’s at the core of the typical company’s business model. If you can speed up sales contracts, that speeds up revenue, so you can make a material difference to the company's bottom line.
“That’s the metric that [catches company leadership attention],” said O’Carroll.
Even if your company has a different focus, a CLM can accelerate procurement, which is core to every organization’s operations, even those that aren’t sales driven, and that can save the company money.
At the same time, within the legal department, each function, like privacy or intellectual property, tends to have its own document management system, so the last thing you want to do is take all these systems away and try to push everything into one intake process. That might work in a few environments, but those are outliers. It’s better to have well-functioning systems for each area that needs it.
“Document management is a difficult model and hard to make work,” said O’Carroll.
When she headed up legal ops at Google, O’Carroll said, she didn’t think a single document management system was needed and it would have required finding some kind of “forcing mechanism” to get people to use it.
It makes more sense to see how people are working and then tailor solutions to that, said McCarron.
“My new ethos is to put tools where the people are, and they’re in their in-box,” she said. “They love Microsoft Word and a few others. I want to try to get tooling in there so they’re one click away [from a better experience]. I can’t pull them out and tell them they’re going to get everything through ticketing.”
Time to show value
This year, with persistent inflation and companies facing difficult choices, including layoffs, it’s actually a good time for legal ops, because the function is designed to create efficiencies that can save money and get more value out of the company’s legal resources.
“[Showcase] your legal ops metrics,” said McCarron. “Show how this will save your people an hour a day or save you the future headcount need of 10. Do that math. They hired you to think that way. That gives them signals to say, ‘Maybe we put the money towards that tech investment and we hold back on this next paralegal for now.’”
There might be a temptation to tinker around the edges to find efficiencies, but the best strategy is to identify the core 80% of where the work is being done and make that process better. And for most companies, that 80% is around contract management.
“Who gets promoted because you put all the documents in one place? Nobody,” said O’Carroll. “Who gets promoted because you’ve saved money through law firm management? Nobody. These are all important things, and people care about them and they’re good for your company, but when they come back to why you’re valuable … it’s the work the lawyers do, so can you make the work the lawyers do better and faster?”
“Our work gives lawyers that 10% of their time back [from doing rote data entry] to focus on a higher, complex legal problem for their practice area,” said McCarron. “If people are ‘densified,’ you couldn’t afford to lay them off, because they’re covering all this complex, negative space for this department. You want your folks to have these talent-dense roles.”