I just had the pleasure of attending the Evolve the Law ‘Emerging Legal Departments: Legal Tech 101 Roundtable’ in Sunnyvale where Bay Area legal departments networked over breakfast and participated in a panel discussion featuring industry thought leaders:
- Stephan Eberle – General Counsel at Scale Venture Partners
- Brenda Hansen – Legal Operations Consultant at UpLevelOps
- Paul Porrini – General Counsel at Smartsheet
- Tal Samet – Director, Assistant General Counsel at Marvell Semiconductor
- Stephanie Corey (Moderator) – Co-Founder and Partner at UpLevelOps
- Monica Zent (Moderator) – Founder at ZentLaw and LawDesk360
SimpleLegal was a proud sponsor of the event and enjoyed the engaging nature of the roundtable discussion. For those who couldn’t make it, I wanted to share 5 valuable insights gleaned from today’s event.
1. It’s Never Too Early to Invest in Legal Ops
One of the opening topics of discussion was how to identify the need for legal operations. What’s the tipping point? Is there a guide legal teams can follow?
Stephanie shared that in the past, you could assume when a legal department hit 20-50 members – the mid-size “sweet spot” so-to-say – a dedicated legal ops hire was right around the corner. But this has changed dramatically in the past couple years as solo general counsel and small legal teams recognize that they don’t have the bodies to complete necessary work, but also understand that building infrastructure is critical. As a result, legal operations is frequently becoming a department’s first hire and we’re seeing more hybrid roles like a superstar paralegal with great project management skills pop up.
If you’re looking for more of a clear “tipping point”, Stephan recommended using time as an indicator. When you don’t have enough time to do anything because you’re doing the same repetitive task over and over, you need to start thinking about how to move that work off your plate and legal operations can be instrumental in achieving this. For more on when to invest in legal ops and making your first hire, download a copy of our white paper, Legal Operations 101: A Blueprint for Modern Legal Departments.
2. When Change is on the Horizon, Prioritize People
When introducing anything new, whether a new function like legal ops, an innovative technology, or a more streamlined process, conduct a needs assessment. Think about:
- What are the biggest risks faced by your organization?
- What is your operational capacity for things like document storage? (don’t be afraid to get too granular)
- What activities are you losing the most time to?
- Generally, what’s working and what’s not?
Brenda followed up this list with something that resonated with me, which was to always put people first. Focus on conversations and talk to individuals to find out what’s important to them. And not just members of your legal team, but across business units and other departments. If you really focus on their pain points, you’ll start to see that while teams are often siloed, each group has similar tasks and processes that are only slightly different from one another. You can use this information to find common threads and really understand how you can make a change that has a positive impact for the largest number of people. If you always think about people first and how to provide a solution that makes their lives easier, success comes naturally.
3. Showing ROI for a Potential Solution Isn’t Always Quantitative
All of the speakers and attendees agreed that legal technology is necessary to introduce automation and drive efficiencies within legal, something especially important for new and emerging legal departments. Yet, when looking to adopt a solution, getting buy-in – especially from your GC or c-suite executives – often requires demonstrating the ROI of the potential solution which isn’t an easy or clearly defined task.
Finding quantitative metrics to support ROI can be especially difficult when you’re in the evaluation stage of a new legal technology. The panelists reminded attendees that you shouldn’t forget about qualitative metrics. Echoing the point above, if you have regular conversations with stakeholders, various departments, and the business, you can clearly define and understand the workarounds that individuals are doing to get specific tasks done. It then becomes easier to use “metrics” like saved time, fewer frustrations, and decreased bottlenecks as a way to make a strong business case for a legal tech solution.
Still looking for that baseline number? Paul says start simple. Ask your team to estimate how much time they spend on specific activities, even if they can only provide a ballpark number. This gives you a baseline for how each member of the team is spending their time and provides you with data to balance the numbers. This helps define the legal function’s scope of work which can help you answer the inevitable ROI question.
4. Finding Low Hanging Fruit Might be Easier Than You Think
When looking to optimize your department, it’s all about finding the low hanging fruit. Tal mentioned that if you see a lot of low hanging fruit, are they really low hanging? To avoid falling into the trap of spreading yourself and your team too thin, here’s what the panel defines as truly low hanging fruit:
- Document Inventory – One of the first things legal teams should do is get their house in order, and that often means organizing and managing all documents and contracts. Having everything available in a centralized, secure location that everyone can access also makes it easy for legal and other teams to answer their own questions and understand that status of specific projects.
- Compliance Records – It’s important to check-off anything that’s going to get you into compliance problems, for instance, making sure that you have a process to properly document required trainings. Creating a process around compliance-related records keeping as early as possible will pay off in the long run and will make it much easier to scale as you grow.
- Automation of Repeating Agreements – It’s about scalability. Once you hit a certain scale of numbers, whether for agreements, privacy inquiries, etc. there’s a limit on how many people you can dedicate to it. This is where simple automation, for instance e-Signature or contract management, can reduce attorney time allotted to these manual and repetitive tasks.
5. Video is Rising as a New and Valuable Knowledge Share Channel for Legal
Legal is the source of truth in many organizations and other departments go to legal to get answers. When you and your team are constantly fielding the same questions, you’re not making good use of your time and should start looking at how legal can share knowledge across departments.
In theory, knowledge share is a great concept. Yet one attendee shared that her legal team had invested countless hours into creating a robust library of articles and information, only for it to rarely be used by other employees. To overcome this lack of adoption, Tal said to keep in mind that people don’t like to read anything longer than a paragraph. A useful library isn’t necessarily about length. Put a lot of time and thought into how you organize your resource library, and come up with concise titles to assist users. When possible, use video. Tal’s team implemented short 4 minute videos that walked users through everything from how to log into a tech solution to demonstrating what fields are required when filling out an NDA.
The word video had the room tense ever so slightly, with Stephan adding that video shouldn’t feel daunting. He’s had his team shoot quick 30-60 second videos from their iPhones to cover how to complete NDAS and provisions documents. The videos were even more inclusive and personal because they often featured his in-house attorneys. It was really easy to do, pretty fun for everyone involved, and also served as training videos that could be used by any department in the future.
So Much Insight, So Little Time
Today’s roundtable covered so many important and applicable topics, it was hard to narrow the list to the 5 above. For a complete rundown of the roundtable discussion, we’ll be sharing a recorded video of the session so be sure to check back or subscribe to our blog so you don’t miss any of the panel’s practical advice.