How In-House Legal Teams Can Support & Accelerate Business Impact
Today, in-house legal teams are increasingly considering operations as a core function and driving change to support and accelerate business. This shifting dynamic of in-house legal to become a key business partner and risk assessor is becoming more and more common. Watch this on-demand webinar with Stephanie Corey, CEO & Co-Founder of Uplevel Ops and CLOC and Christina Ciocca, General Counsel at Travelzoo as they discuss how you can:
Bob Grier (00:08):
Yeah, so let's get cracking. It's 10:30 out here on the West Coast. I guess, 1:30 for Christina. But it's great to have everybody here for the first in this series of what we're calling Fireside Chats. So, the series of webinars that we're going to be doing here at Evisort. And really, the whole purpose behind these calls and these webinars will be to just give legal departments in-house, corporate legal teams, legal operations, the businesses that they support, partners, legal tech vendors, like Evisort, a chance forum to talk through business challenges and what we're seeing in the industry and how we can go attack it.
And so, there's a way of introduction. My name's Bob Grier, and I am a Sales Director out here on the West Coast with Evisort. For those of you who don't know, Evisort is an end-to-end AI powered contract management platform that in-house corporate legal teams, legal operations teams, procurement teams, sales teams use to expedite and make more efficient the management of their contracts.
And so, we'll be having a series of these conversations going forward and we welcome topics and attendee volunteers from our customer base or partners to join us. And today, the topic of the webinar is changing your mindset, thinking like legal ops, and how you can leverage that legal ops thinking to accelerate your business.
And we are very lucky to have two great guest panelists here joining me today. We have, I guess on the lower left for me, Stephanie, Corey, and Stephanie's the Co-Founder of CLOCK, LINK and Founder of UpLevel Ops. And she'll tell us a little bit about her background in a minute. And Christina Sindoni Ciocca from Travelzoo, the General Counsel and Secretary of Travelzoo.
So, two great minds, one from an Evisort customer, Travelzoo. And thank you very much for Christina and our partner Stephanie. So, welcome you guys. Yeah, so Stephanie, you want to kick us off and just give us a little introduction of you and how you got to be here and what you're doing at UpLevel Ops?
Yeah, you bet. I've spent my whole career in legal operations, Bob. I come from a finance background. So, I was running a finance department at a mortgage bank before I joined HP. They were looking for somebody to get their arms around outside counsel of spend.
And so, we're looking for somebody with a strong financial background. And the position was called Legal Operations, but this is 20 years ago. So, you can imagine the role looked quite different than it does today. And I figured, "Oh, I'll join HP." It was like, the company to work for in Silicon Valley at that time.
And so, I was really excited to join and figured, I'll stick around at these lawyers for a couple of years and then bail, move on to one of the businesses, and never dreamed I'd be spending my entire career supporting lawyers. But the role kept changing and legal technology really started to blossom. So, I got to stick around for all of that.
So, it's been really great. I mean, I grew up at HP. I spent over a decade there, and then moved to Flex electronics where a good friend of mine had the general counsel role at NCR. And then, had a very high-level role at HP, and then took the GC role over at Flex International. And then, asked me to come over and join his team and build legal apps.
So, I went from working at a huge HP's legal department, I think it was 1,500 people. By the time I left, it was massive. And my ops team was a 100 people. So, I had big operations there. And then, went to Flex where I got to start over from scratch. So, I really got to see the run the whole gamut. There are big legal teams to smaller legal teams.
And then, four years ago, we left our in-house roles and started UpLevel where now we consult and help all kinds of legal departments, especially smaller legal departments, which was a surprise to us who were really focused on getting operations in place. They want their lawyers practicing law, not doing budgets, not processing invoices, not doing a lot of the business of running the legal department. So, they bring us in to help get that structure in place. So, it's been really fun the last four years.
Bob Grier (05:05):
Yeah, fantastic. Before that, you were, I know, involved in the founding of CLOC.
Yeah, it started because just like any smart business person, I don't want to reinvent the wheel. If somebody's done it before, I have no desire to do it again and recreate it from scratch. So, I started calling around and trying to figure out, there's got to be other companies who have this position who are doing this.
And sure enough, got introduced to Connie Brenton. And then, we just started building this network and we had our very first meeting back, I think it was in 2010. Really, it was our first meeting was at HP, where it was just this very eye opening experience of, wow, everybody's struggling with exactly the same issues even though our companies do different things, we're all struggling with exactly the same things.
And so, I think that was very telling and that hasn't changed. It's funny, it's always a theme. Every year there seems to be a new focus on operations, and it's just an interesting thing to really watch. But it's such a gift. I think one of the benefits of working in legal operations is, it's a very collaborative environment and people are always willing to share things that worked and didn't work especially, and that's what's been so great about.
And what I always tell new operations managers, "Get networked," because you will find people who can really help you and tell you what to avoid, tell you what to go for. It's incredibly helpful.
Bob Grier (06:40):
Cool. Hopefully, that'll be one of the results of today's session and ones that come down the pipe. So, thank you so much, Stephanie. That's awesome. And Christina from Travelzoo, if you wanted to pick an industry that might have been most impacted by COVID-19, you certainly picked it. So, yeah.
Bob Grier (07:02):
What about how you got...
Yeah, I went in-house with the hopes that my schedule would be more reasonable, and then this happens. But anyway, it's been good. It's been a great learning experience that we'll touch on that a little bit later. But yeah, so I graduated from Notre Dame Law. And then, after that worked at Sidley Austin and mergers and acquisitions for about five years.
I was in Chicago for a year, and then I moved to New York. And after doing the M&A, a big law thing, I decided it was time to look for an in-house opportunity. I was lucky enough to find Travelzoo. When I joined, it was interesting, there was the general counsel there. She was my boss. The legal department for five years, basically, prior to my joining was comprised of just her. So, a department of one.
Before she joined, they actually, had outsourced much of their in-house work. So, after five years, she finally was able to bring on someone to help her and that was me. And then, after about a year, she left for another opportunity. So, the department of two went back down to a department of one. And at that time, we used it as an opportunity to really, closely evaluate what we wanted the department to look like.
Travelzoo is a global business. At that time, we had 25 offices around the world, and our main divisions are North America, Europe, and Asia Pacific. So, we used the opportunity to decide what would an effective legal department look like, what would be the most practical without being overly expensive. And we'll talk more about this later, I'm sure.
But my goal has always been to the extent, we're able to do as much of the work ourselves and keep things in-house, that would be preferable just because, not that I don't like working with outside counsel. And there's certainly, situations where you need to work with outside council. But to the extent, I'm able to work on something directly or with my team and save on cost. I think that's always a win for a company.
So, I ended up hiring three people underneath of me, one for each region. So, I have a paralegal in North America, a contracts manager in Europe, and then I had a council in Asia Pacific. So, now we're a team of four. There's been some changes since COVID, which I can touch on later as well. But it's been a great experience. I came from the contracts focused background.
So, my vision and view of things in-house has carried that over. And I'm very focused on contracts and contract management and legal processes. I think it's a little bit different than what my former boss was interested in because she was a litigation associate at a law firm before she went in-house.
So, I think that's also an interesting dichotomy of how litigators versus more contracts, transactional attorneys might think about things and how that could impact the way you structure a team. But yeah, we can talk more about that as we go as well.
Bob Grier (10:34):
Yeah, 100%. Maybe transactional laws, more right for automation... Focus and maybe litigation or M&A, some of the things, maybe the lower frequency that higher complexity. Sometimes, maybe it's tough to have staff for that when you're a team of four. So, then that does maybe need to go, go to outside counsel. Yeah, I mean, I guess what in the heck has it been like over the last three months as you guys have been hit with this impact of your business?
Yeah, I mean, COVID was certainly a surprise in a lot of ways. I mean, Travelzoo is a media company that advertises primarily travel, hospitality, and entertainment deals. So, those are all of the key sectors that we're hit by this.
So, it's been tough, but I think it's also presented a great opportunity for the company, for us to really focus on what we can streamline and how we can set ourselves up for success once COVID has passed. So, actually, this is the exact time that we've really been doing a deep dive on not only our legal processes, but all of our business processes as well.
So, this webinar is well-timed in that way. But yeah, I think just obviously, when our clients and partners are impacted, that means the revenues of the company are impacted. So, we just had to look at cutting expenses, being smart about what we're advertising, looking for ways to meet customer demand at a time when they're not really traveling as much.
But I think we've been able to successfully pivot and support our customers and clients through the time. So, I'm comfortable that the worst is over, but it definitely has required us to take stock of everything at this point.
Bob Grier (12:35):
Yeah, I mean, I think obviously, my team's role, we're talking to a whole bunch of legal departments and legal operations teams. And it does seem like, that initial shock is through a lot of businesses. And now, people are going in to that point where after having taken stock, now time to take action and start to execute again.
Yeah, yeah, and the taking stock piece is honestly is the most important part, I think. Because in order to take stock, you need to be organized and know what is even out there. So, for example, if we're going to start cutting expenses, how do you even know what the expenses are for your company? Presumably, you're super on top of it and have a great spreadsheet that lists every vendor you've ever worked with and what their contract terms are. And when things will terminate and how much you're paying.
Unfortunately, my department did not have that when all of this happened. We were in the process of putting that together. But at a lot of times, you're dealing with marketing teams or IT teams where that's not their priority is contract management at all. And when there was only one person in the whole legal department previously, they just didn't have the bandwidth to put those things together.
So, my team and I have now been doing a full evaluation, who are all of our vendors? What are our contracts? Having technology to help us do that, makes it so much easier. But I think COVID has forced that. And I'm sure, a lot of companies in the travel sector or in other sectors have had to do similar things.
Bob Grier (14:15):
Yeah, no, 100%. No, we definitely hear those themes evaluating expense, evaluating maybe outside legal spend. And certainly, vendor analysis is obviously an area that's a focus here. I'm going to segue and ask you the same thing, Stephanie, in terms of, I know you're talking to a lot of legal departments.
Before I do that, I do want to mention that there is a Q&A capability here. So, we'd love to hear questions that are sparked as we go along. So, for those in the audience, please submit some questions and we'll capture them maybe as we go or try to save a few minutes towards the end of the call to knock those out. But yeah, Stephanie, what I mean, you're obviously, talking to organizations like Christina's and what are you hearing out there and how folks tackle this, the COVID era?
Yeah, everything Christina is saying is absolutely consistent with what I'm seeing. So, I think one of the... Nobody's saying that this pandemic was good by any measure. But, of course, there's always a silver lining. And so, one of the good things about this, just this new way of how we're doing work is that, I think it really, has forced legal departments to think about things differently in general.
And so, certainly, what we're seeing is even companies who aren't necessarily severely impacted travel being a great example, other retail companies were really hit hard during this pandemic. But even, we're even getting calls from companies who in theory won't really be hurt by the pandemic like healthcare or insurance.
And the GCs are looking at their departments and saying, "Okay, how are we doing work right now? How are we getting work done? What work are we outsourcing? What work are we insourcing?" Exactly, like what Christina was saying. What work should we be sending to third parties like the other law companies or alternative legal service providers? And what work should we be using with outside council?
I think one interesting shift that we've seen over the years is that, we used to see the very, very high value work being outsourced to law firms. And now, that's really shifted. Like Christine is saying, we're seeing a lot of GCs pulling that work inside, and instead it's that high-volume, low-risk work that's being outsourced because the providers have changed and have gotten really good at doing that.
So, we work with a lot of alternative service providers who are doing that high-volume, and that's what that low-risk work that really helps the legal department's scale. So, Christina doesn't have to think about, "Geez, at the end of every quarter, I really could use another contracting lawyer, but it doesn't make sense for me to have that person here fulltime." Because these smaller legal departments, they don't have the bodies to absorb that work.
And so, these companies help them scale. Of course, automation has a big piece of this, Bob. So, what Evisort does is really critical now too. And so, even though companies budgets are being cut, we are still seeing investments in these areas, which I think is great because I think it's part of the infrastructure that legal departments should have.
And then, we're seeing a lot of changes in hiring. So, of course, some head count has been put on hold, but we are seeing some companies still hiring. And I think what's going to happen, it's a little early to tell, but I think what we're going to see is perhaps less hiring in metropolitan areas because we're seeing that work can in fact be done remotely.
We're seeing that general councils are focusing on, like Christina said, keeping that magical spreadsheet with everything going on. We're seeing bigger legal departments focusing on internal matter management by automating intake and looking at how work is getting routed and who's doing what. When they do that, they get a good snapshot of the work being done in the legal department.
And then, hopefully, I will never have to hear again, "If they're not sitting in my office, how do I know they're working?" Because I'm going to snack the next person that says that to me. And so, you don't need to have them sitting right next to you to know they're working because PS just because somebody is sitting on a computer, doesn't mean they're not shopping online. I mean, it doesn't mean that they're working.
And so, I think we're going to see changes in terms of where people are being hired and how they're being hired and all of that. So, I think this is really going to change things, truly, not just, "Oh, okay, a little more flexibility work from home." I do think that this is going to have long-term effects on legal departments, in all departments, frankly.
Bob Grier (19:14):
Yeah, big time. It's incredible how companies are using tools like Slack and to work not just internally but with their partners. And it's been a quick adaption curve for a lot of companies.
Very. Yeah, COVID was a catalyst. Things happen so quickly. I remember one thing that I don't know, we'll have to see how this shakes out. But even getting companies to adapt whatever, e-Billing systems or you guys on contracting systems, there were all these security hoops that you always have to jump through and the vendor has to meet with InfoSec and all of that, Bob. I'm sure you're really familiar with that.
But then, all of a sudden when this happened, and even with vendors working with companies outside of the US to do contract review and all of that stuff, companies would actually go, travel to their headquarters, look at their infrastructure, all of that stuff. They would do onsite reviews of how things were being done while all of a sudden, COVID hit.
And now, everybody's working from home even outside of the US. And everybody was just like, "Yeah, okay, I guess this is what we're doing now." Which is a good... You had to. But it's just crazy how we went from like, "Oh, no, I'm going to travel to your site in Bangladesh and look at it and see how you guys are doing things." All the way to, "You're working from home. Okay, I hope your dialup is good, or I hope... Whatever Wi-Fi is good."
Bob Grier (20:43):
So, it was very quick.
It was pretty, yeah, I think we don't really pay attention to how really tremendous that was. It was a big deal.
Bob Grier (20:55):
Yeah, and definitely changes things not only from a person perspective, but also from like, what am I trying to say? The documents and the things that make up your department beyond just the human resources. I think of a doctor's office, how they used to have paper files, paper charts. You have to go to that office to get your chart. Same with legal departments that used to be that you have to physically sign.
I know even with for some of my M&A transactions, depending on where the companies were, we would have to do in-person closings and things like that. I just don't see that anymore, personally. And especially working for a travel company, my department's always been away from me. I've always had to manage remotely in that sense. Even though, I would go into an office every day, they didn't sit with me.
But the other thing is, all of our leases, for example, if they're in a file cabinet in your office and you can't get to your office, they're not really going to do much good for you. So, having a central repository digitally and having everything organized, I think has just completely changed things more than we realize in our day-to-day. It just makes the department more nimble and more efficient.
It's easier to info share, it's easier to mark up a contract and send it to someone. And we've come a long way from dictation and hand markups and mailing documents to each other. It's just so much more efficient, which is great because that means less people can do significantly more work. And it also just makes the legal department more valuable, I think.
Bob Grier (22:37):
Yeah, always getting all of the, whatever the information is, whether it's contract information and accessible... And then, providing the tools to collaborate. And yeah, you're less pushback on online collaboration or e-Signature. No longer really, even a discussion point. So, it's cool.
I love to hear what are the projects that Stephanie, you're seeing that are happening here in light of this. And how are legal teams and legal operations teams justifying these projects? What's the best way to go attack, if you've got something teed up, how do we go attack it? How do we justify it? What are some things working that you've seen?
Yeah, and like I said earlier, Bob, thank goodness we are still seeing a lot of investments happening in the legal operations space and technology. And hopefully, you guys are seeing that too. And I think everybody else, when this first hit, it was two weeks of complete silence. And for anybody who owns their own company, that's very worrying.
I'm used to working 80-hour weeks and staying busy and always talking to clients. And when that went away, it was concerning. But things picked up very quickly. And I think it's because people realize legal operations really is, it's not a luxury, it's the solution that's going to get you to the end goal, whether you're looking at people, processes, and technology at the end of the day.
And so, what we're really seeing is a lot around people. And so, do we have the right team in place? Do we have the lawyers working on the right things? And I think, this is so important and we're seeing general counsels asking us a lot around this. What tends to happen is, legal departments have very, very smart, hardworking people in them.
And so, what they do is, they over-function for departments who aren't doing their jobs properly. And so, so often we see legal departments lawyers over-functioning for procurement people, for HR people, for whatever, you name it, finance even. And so, what ends up happening is the lawyers are looking at business terms, they're correcting grammar, they're formatting documents because they don't want anything leaving the company that doesn't look perfect, which I get, I really do.
But it's a very expensive proposition when you've got lawyers doing this work that is not really substantive practice of law. And so, we spend a lot of time talking to GCs about the types of work that are coming in and how we can have a plan in place for them to work with our businesses. Because for so long, they wanted to be good partners to their businesses.
No more department of no. We want to be in there and good partners and all of that. But somewhere along the way, they ended the pendulum almost swung too far in that direction and they ended up really working so closely with their clients that they ended up doing a lot of that client work.
And so, we work with them to say, "Okay, this is how you should manage that." You don't want to say, "Hey, this isn't my job." Obviously, that's the wrong way to deal with that, but you really do want to talk to the client about, "Okay, if we train you, we can get your HR team really trained up on. This is how you deal with management issues, et cetera. This is what you do, this is what the law says." And then, they can manage a lot of this on their own without pulling the lawyers and pull the lawyers in when you really need the lawyers.
So, just like Christina used that great example of the medical offices before, you don't want the brain surgeons stitching up your cut finger, you want your PA doing that or the nurse practitioner or whatever. So, anyway, so that's the stuff we're really focusing on. It's a lot of org design work, and then process cleanup, of course, because we all know that all of our processes, if you ever do a process map, you think it's going to be, "Oh, Point A, Point B, Point C, Point D." But really, it looks like a bowl of spaghetti because, "Oh, it has to go back to so and so. And oh, then they do this and then they do that."
And so, it goes all over the place. You never want to automate that process because you're going to end up with a complete disaster. And Bob, you know this better than me and Christina on the line because when you implement any technology it has to be very, very clean. You don't want to automate a bad process.
And then, last comes the technology, which is really, that's there to support. The good people and the good processes that hopefully, you've got in place. And then, that good tech comes in at the end to support that and automate wherever you can. So, it's still a lot of what we're seeing now is cleanup, which I think is very good because you want your people being as efficient as possible.
And then, the second biggest thing that we're getting calls on is outside council management because that's always the biggest spend of any legal department. Sometimes, it's half. Sometimes, it's more like Christina said, her department outsource most of the legal work. When I started at Flex, it was about 80/20 where that was the spend, 80% going to outside council.
And so, we worked over. It took us four years, and then we got to closer to a 50/50 mix, which is what we wanted. And that takes time because you want to bring one person in at a time, get them onboarded, and move that work in-house slowly to make sure that it's being done right.
So, anyway, so we're doing a lot around outside council engagements and making sure that the firms are properly engaged. They're following your billing guidelines. You're careful about what work is being sent outside. There's protocols around what firms to hire and how they're getting hired. So, that of course, is a big piece of our work too.
Bob Grier (28:31):
Yeah, we hear a lot about consolidation as well, right? As... But yeah, if you can move that percentage ratio...
Makes a big difference.
Bob Grier (28:38):
Yeah, it does.
Bob Grier (28:39):
... little processes that's really has a big impact.
Yeah, it's interesting... Coming from working at a firm, and then moving to in-house is like, your perspective shifts. And it's like, when you're working at a firm, you, of course, unless the client tells you we have billing constraints as an associate, you're incentivized to bill as much as you can, do as much work as you can.
And then, on the flip side, once I came in-house, it's like I'm reviewing bills from outside council. I'm like, "Why were there five associates on this matter? Why? Why did you have to research this simple email question for three hours?" You just start to get a lot more discerning about how the interaction between outside council and in-house is, and especially coming from that, you know all the tricks a little bit. So, definitely been helpful moving in-house. But I also think...
And Christina, not to cut you off because I know...
... whatever you're going to say is important, but I wanted to say that what we're seeing a lot now is GCs are even with building into billing guidelines, we're not paying for your associates at all. And so, we're not going to pay for you to train your team. That's your cost of doing business.
And so, that is becoming more and more popular. It's heavier handed than it has been in the past, but we're seeing exactly that because, of course, you're getting paid by the hour. You have zero incentive to be efficient. Literally, the opposite. So, yeah, and that's why we also move a lot towards value based pricing and flat fee arrangements. It's better on a multitude of... For a multitude of reasons.
I mean, one, your predictability at the spend is going to be, it encourages them to be efficient, it encourages you to be more collaborative with them and work with them better and they become better partners with you. It's a whole thing. But yeah, I totally agree with you.
Yeah, no, it makes sense. I think in an ideal world, and of course, it depends based on your company's needs. My company is not super risky industry. We don't, knock on wood, have a lot of litigation that we need to deal with. Before COVID, we were starting to dip our toe into some M&A, which is where I came from. So, it made a little bit easier to manage that process.
But I think the ideal situation is, you have these firms that you have an ongoing relationship with that understand your standards and that you trust and you can just call with an emergency. But otherwise, the majority of the work I think should come from, should be done by the in-house team if at all possible.
Especially because I know nine times out of 10, no offense to associates, I was one. I think it's a very hard job. But if there's a problem that comes up and I don't know the answer, I'm not sure that an associate could is going to know it either and is going to be able to research it as well as I possibly could.
Of course, for certain areas like a litigation issue or a very niche part of the law that there's experts at law firms for, that's a completely different scenario. But yeah, and I think the partnership thing is very important. And what I was going to say before is, what Stephanie was saying about being a partner to the business I think, was the main draw of why I wanted to move in-house.
In an M&A practice, you do partner closely with the team in-house. But once the deal's over, you move on and maybe, the same client will have another deal later. But for the most part, you aren't as plugged into the business. But in moving in-house, you have to be. And if you're not, you need to really immerse yourself as much as possible because any decision you make from a legal perspective, it needs to be practical because otherwise, you could end up harming the business, which is exactly the opposite of what you're trying to do.
So many times, lawyers will give advice that is just the worst case scenario. I want to cover like CYA type advice. But it makes no sense for the business, and it's such a low-risk that it's like, why, if you follow that and you're actually, hurting your revenues or hurting something with your marketing or something like that, it just doesn't make sense.
So, as the in-house person, you have to be the filter almost between what a firm might tell you, what the worst-case scenario is, what you find in your research about all the possible risks. And then, hearing what the business needs because they're not going to understand much about the legal stuff, you have to be their interpreter.
Bob Grier (33:30):
So, a lot of times, it ends up being like, "If you do this, this could happen. But if you don't, it maybe it won't." And ultimately, it's your decision and you just try to gently guide them to what you think would be best for the company. But it's really, important that you integrate yourself in the business and that takes time, unfortunately.
And not only the structure of your department within itself is important, but also, I think where you sit within the broader organization, as Stephanie was alluding to a bit, is really important because you want people to know what they should come to legal for. You want people to know when legal needs to be looped in. I've taken the approach with my company that looped me in all the time because I'd rather be the one deciding if I need to be there or not.
But other GCs might feel differently about that, and would rather just be looped in if there's an emergency. And ideally, I'd like to get to a place where there are set processes in place that all the business people in a company follow. And then, only if there's a diversion from that process do they really need to loop legal in. That would be the ideal scenario.
But I think that takes time. I'm sure Stephanie, you could speak to that even more. But yeah, we're not quite there yet, but we're working towards that ultimate goal.
Bob Grier (34:56):
It's perfect and it's part of the culture, exactly right. So, it really is, it's a cultural thing. When do you go to legal and how does legal partner with the businesses? And you're right Christina, that does take time to build that. But it's exactly, the right thing to work towards.
Bob Grier (35:10):
Yeah, I love the way you said that, Christina, integrate yourself into the business. And it comes back to what you were saying, Stephanie, if you don't have good processes and technology to allow you to have insight into your business, it makes it a lot harder. And then, therefore, you do have to go into the worst-case scenario, legal advice.
But if you do have insights, you do understand what's in your contracts or what is the skill set on your outside council bench or whatever the case might be, then you're able to provide that type of maybe safeguards and not roadblocks.
Hey, just wanted take a quick break. We did get a couple of questions in the Q&A. Maybe just relating back to a comment you made a question that said,"Not paying associates," does that mean a file up to partner level cannot bill on the file?
It's usually first years. I think that in-house teams find the... They're basically, in training. So, I think that that's the whole goal. And again, billing guidelines should start a conversation. It shouldn't be a hard and fast. This isn't meant to penalize law firms in any way. This is just what general counsels and legal ops professionals think is fair. Look, this is what we're going to pay for.
This is... And again, to the extent that you can move towards flat fee arrangements and value-based pricing, this becomes a moot point. But they just don't want to pay for training really at the end of the day.
Yeah, it's part of the trust that you have to build with outside council. It's not only that they know what they're doing and they know the law, but also that they're not unnecessarily billing you, and that you can call them and ask them a quick question without being charged $900 for that 30-minute phone conversation. That's really important to an in-house council in my opinion, because I have to answer to a broader company. I have to answer to my boss, which for Travelzoo is like, the founder and chairman of our board.
So, without keeping that in mind, a good partner at an outside law firm would understand that fact and really would work with you to be as efficient as possible. And I think, not paying associates just epitomizes that whole ideal, which is making sure they put the correct level for your issue.
A lot of times for an M&A transaction, I would say a senior high mid-level to senior associate will do a great job with a partner available as necessary for anything urgent. But really, I'd rather just pay for a senior associate to do the whole job because I know they'll do a great job. And then, I save some money.
Bob Grier (38:01):
That's right. And like paralegal work, they're asking, "Is it only partners billing?" No. Sometimes a paralegal is appropriate, right? If you're filling out a bunch of forms or whatever, I mean, but you don't have the in-house team to do it. So, it's just, yeah, what's reasonable here.
And the other thing I want to say to further to Christina's point, and I'm going to get on the soapbox here so I apologize, but it's really important that law firms know this, that budgeting is really critical because Christina hit on this, she has to answer to somebody. And I think that was something we would bring our major law firms in every year to talk to them, whatever our top 10 firms.
And I would always present to them, and you'd always see these light bulbs going off when I'd explain why we're budgeting. They were like, "Oh, I didn't know that." And so, any chance I get to say this to law firms, I try to say this because I know you guys don't know this. But legal departments are cost centers in-house. And when you don't meet your targets, I swear to you, I've seen people get walked out the door, they get fired.
And so, no general counsel wants to be in the CEO's direct reports meeting and get called to them at, "Hey, why did your $500,000 over this quarter? You blew out your budget. Why?" That is not a pleasant conversation to have. And so, budgeting is extremely important.
So, it's very important for you to have these discussions with your in-house teams when a big matter comes in, what you think this is actually going to cost. If you can get it on a retainer, like a monthly flat fee, that's the best case scenario for them because they know it's coming in. And here's something that you really, need to keep in mind, "Coming in over budget is extremely bad. Coming in under budget is almost as bad."
And so, I've worked with firms before who have put in these really high budgets thinking, "Oh, we'll come in under and that'll make the GC happy." It does not. Because what ends up happening is, if you say the budget's $500,000, but the bills only come in at $250,000 or whatever. That's $250,000 that could have been reinvested elsewhere in the business. It was left on the table. And believe me, no CFO likes that, and that makes the GC look equally as incompetent.
And so, your job is to make your general council look good when you're in the firm. And so, you do that by giving him or her really good information, so they know managing the budget is not an option when you're in-house, it's happening. Managing the business, these GCs are treated like business presidents. And so, you have to give them that, the information that they need to manage a business president.
Totally agree. And it's just so hard to do a legal budget because you just really, have no idea what could happen in a year. You, of course, will have your reoccurring expenses, your vendors, et cetera. Those are easy. But then, an employee matter could arise, we could get a customer lawsuit, a shareholder suit. No way to predict and build that into the budget. And that's no chance you're getting out of that for less than like $10,000, $15,000, $20,000 if you have to go to outside council depending on the size of the matter.
So, yeah, it's a challenge and it's something that you also have to educate the business on because they don't necessarily know those things. They don't 100% understand fully how the legal department works and what it is that the legal department can do for them. So, you have to act as both an educator, and like a person who can see the future.
Yeah, it's true.
Bob Grier (41:41):
People can tell it.
And they can budget, right? So, they can budget. So, they're like, "We know. We always meet our targets. We can budget. Why can't you do this?" And so, you really do have to talk them through it. And then, also watch your incentives because Christina, I'm sure, maybe you haven't seen this, but it's terribly risky. It happened in-house to me a lot.
We would see that the businesses, depending on who's paying for what, sometimes they would say, "Oh, we don't have the money this quarter to pay a settlement." So, legal department keep fighting this for another quarter. You really have to. So, you're managing all these crazy things when you're in-house that you just had no clue when you were at a firm, that any of this just happening.
Bob Grier (42:26):
Bob Grier (42:27):
Cool. Hey, I want to shift a little bit to how do we... Sometimes, you've got roadmap, you've got some projects, you've got whether it's process or technology, how do we get those? But I did also want to touch on a question we had a couple minutes back from Hannah Yu. She works at a biomedical research NPO and her legal team sounds about the size of yours, Christina. It just got nip for me here, but I know the gist of it.
But her team consists of five lawyers and me in legal and legal ops. And we've used this time of remote working to work more on our CLM platform, which primarily focuses on a repository to see military contracts. You've got a view to that. And the question really is, what are some best practices to best track power lawyers time? So, how are you guys attacking that, Christina?
It's a good question. And honestly, it's something that when you leave a law firm, you're like, "Oh, good, I don't have to track my hours anymore. That's great." That was literally, my least favorite part of being at a firm. And I have to say, this is honestly something that my company needs to focus more on. But we didn't have a team really before. There was no need to really track people's hours.
At this point, in terms of what my team is working on, and I just have as many check-ins as possible without being annoying. I think simple things like just staying in touch and having checklists for what each of my direct reports is working on.
So, I know in a week, do they have more bandwidth to take on another project? Do they not? And then, as you get to work with them more, are they super-efficient on some things and they're not in others? So, it lessens about tracking the actual hours and how I spent five hours on this contract.
And more like a project-based approach where, okay, I'm going to give you these long-term projects, they're not that urgent. How long do you think it will take you when you don't have your daily urgent requests? Can you prioritize working on these long-term projects? And just having weekly meetings with them to make sure they're making progress. We also have really shifted to Microsoft Teams within my company.
So, there's a lot of great trackers and checklists tools that we can use there. And then, of course, we have quarterly performance reviews. And there, we talk a lot about time management and the types of projects they're working on and things they want, and kills they want to improve on. I think it becomes a little bit more of a subjective estimate. But yeah, that's how we've been doing it within my company.
Bob Grier (45:13):
I think that's great, yeah. And I think for a small team, you couldn't be doing it better, Christina. I think with a small team, just having folks keep a very loosely tracking what they're working on, we'll give you a good idea.
I would say that, I made a huge mistake to Christina's point when I was at HP. And I made the suggestion one time in a staff meeting, I'm like, "Why don't we have all of our lawyers track their time, so we can know what's going on?" And it was like, pitchforks, they were coming after me. We left our law firms for this exact reason.
So, I never brought that up again. But I think the good news is as you grow, I think spreadsheets for small teams are just fine, by the way. Sometimes, a paper checklist works, just anything. If you're tracking it, keep doing it. I love when teams GCs call me and they're like, they're embarrassed, they're like, "Oh, we just said this Excel spreadsheet." I'm like, "That's amazing. You're tracking it. Good."
And so, I think as you grow and even with five lawyers, I think this is something you can focus on as an ops manager. It's wonderful that they've got an ops and manager for a team this size. So, yehey, good for them. And you can focus on automating intake. I think to the extent that you can look at, doing internal matter management and there's some great tools out there, get in touch with me after this webinar, I'm happy to give you some advice on what tools to look at.
But what you can do is, to the extent that you can automate intake, there's even RPA technology now and BOT technology that will do that. But you can see what work is coming in and how it's getting routed. And so, that's a great way to... You're not tracking time, it's like invisible to the lawyers, basically.
But it's a great way to get it out of email, which is impossible to do project management and email and into a tool where you can run reports and get some data and stats, like Bob was saying. Unless you have the data, it's really hard to manage your department. And like Christina was saying, Microsoft office has some great project management. I can't even remember what it's called off the top of my head. But there's a project management tool in office that's really easy to use. So, that's... Yeah.
Yeah, yeah, and just building off of that, I think it is important to track this, maybe not to the hour, but just generally, what's taking up your reports time. Because a lot of the time, you find that they're spending hours doing administrative low brain capacity work and that's not going to be fulfilling for them. You're going to have a very unengaged person working for you. I find that it oftentimes, it'll make them be much slower in what they're doing because they aren't interested in it.
So, to the extent, I'm able to minimize the admin work for my team and get them to focus on more substantive things or things they're interested in, calls with other people, interacting with different parts of the business, working on some contract drafting skills or something like that, that's all the better.
And also, if you find that your team is stuck doing a lot of admin work and it's unavoidable, then it's a great time to consider if you should bring in that technology that Stephanie was talking about. Because nine times out of 10, there's something out there that can do the admin work much more efficiently than you. And then, you take it off your own plate and you're able to focus on the more substantive. And in my opinion, fulfilling and fun things for your job. So...
Bob Grier (48:57):
Kind of as almost like a retention or recruiting tool, right? Hey...
Bob Grier (49:05):
So, you identify a project or a process or a technology, what has been successful for you to build that business case internally? Because you've got to, typically, you're not on an island, you've got to involve. Like you mentioned, maybe it's the technology team or your leadership to get some of these projects done if they are technology. And other stakeholder, just revenue related, procurement related, just a process. So, what have been some good techniques that you've seen for projects getting funded?
I think, this is an area where vendors can really play a huge role because what I used to ask my vendors to do, and now I've had to do it because I'm technically a vendor, is come up with ROIs. And so, what I would say, Bob, I'm a big fan of the Evisort tool. I think it really works well.
And so, I would say, Bob, take your top 10 clients and figure out what you guys are doing for them and how many whatever attorney hours, how much time you've saved. You can always find a way to identify how much time is being saved and tack a number onto that.
So, if you could say, "Hey, we've gone from looking at our client's work." They say that we've saved whatever 20% of attorney time per week doing because now on whatever contract flow or whatever you guys want to identify. There's always a way to pinpoint a productivity gain.
And then, say, okay, well for internal cost of an attorney is $200 an hour, then this is the amount of money that we're saving just by building in this automation. It comes out to whatever, a $100,000 a year in savings. The cost of the system is 50. We've saved 50 grand.
And so, whatever those numbers turn out, finance will look at that. Certainly, IT will look at that. I would just caution, there's always a way to build an ROI. It's hard when it's not directly related to outside council spend when you can actually look at the numbers you're saving.
So, productivity, it's tough like assigning a number to that. But you can get to it, if you just figure out a percentage and talk a number onto that. But just be careful, understand how they're going to use that number because we've actually, worked with procurement departments who have said, "Oh, well if you're going to save 200 grand a year, then we're going to reduce your budget by that."
So, they're going to look for that savings. So, I would just caution and make sure that how those numbers are going to be used and be conservative in what you assume that you're going to save because it's always better to underpromise and over deliver.
Bob Grier (51:54):
Hundred percent, yeah.
Does that make sense?
Yeah, it makes sense. I agree. I think that determining what the best KPIs are to make your business case really will depend on the business again. From my personal experience, when I was talking before that we took a hard look at how we wanted to shape the legal department. My boss at the time was like, "Okay, how many contracts does the legal department review per month, per year? What's the frequency? How long does a review take? What are the types of questions that typically come up? And then, does it vary by region?"
Because obviously, if we're doing contracting in Spain, and then the contract is going to be in Spanish, does that change things? Do we need to use a Spanish outside council? Are we able to do that internally? Just more numbers in terms of the amount of contracts and things like that.
And then, based on that metric, seeing the large volume of contracts that come in and go out of Travelzoo, that was how we came to determine what personnel we needed to support that volume. And then, also where the sticking points were in the process that cause a delay in the timing of review. And then, what technology could potentially fix that. And then, is the cost going to be offset by the efficiency of the department essentially?
Bob Grier (53:30):
That's absolutely right. And then, looking for hidden costs too is something that I want to remind people of. Because a lot of times, what you'll find is people will employ their own either a process or a headcount even, or their own technology to cover for whatever the system lacks.
So, I've worked with clients before who their clients internally would have gone and they actually, hired a project manager because the contracting process was so long and arduous. They hired an individual who would go and track it and manage it through the whole process and shepherd it through.
And, of course, if you have a new system in place that's doing that for you, you can redeploy that resource to do something totally different. And we're certainly, more valuable than following up with people. So, really look for those hidden costs because you'll find that people do all kinds of work arounds because they have to get their work done.
Bob Grier (54:25):
Yeah, that's great. I mean, in terms of efficiency standpoint. And then, we've got people from financial services and healthcare where maybe risk starts to weigh in a little bit and you got to put your GC hat onto and helping understand what some of the regulatory or other costs could potentially be for projects.
Sometimes, maybe a little bit more complex project, but also way in. And then, Christina, you threw out the high-level, hey is it attractive to work here, right? I mean, in normal times, it's a competitive labor market out there and you got, "Oh, you want to get the right people." And so...
Bob Grier (55:02):
... how do we attract them?
Bob Grier (55:04):
Hey, I know there's a couple of minutes, and I just wanted to make sure we didn't leave without people understanding maybe how to connect with you guys, if they wanted to take some of these topics offline. I imagine you're on LinkedIn and others. But certainly, give you a moment to share that.
That's a great point. I'm going to literally put my email address in the chat there, so people have my contact information, if they want to shoot me a message.
Bob Grier (55:35):
But certainly, LinkedIn, you can connect with me on LinkedIn. And if you go to our website UpLevel apps, if you hit contact us, it goes right to my email. But my email address is there, and I'm easy to get in touch with and feel free to ask whatever questions you've got. I'm always willing to talk ops with people.
Bob Grier (55:52):
Yup, same here. I just sent out my email to the group. Feel free to send me an email or find me on LinkedIn. I'm always happy to chat, talk about my experience, talk about anything you want to talk about. So, feel free to reach out.
Bob Grier (56:11):
Awesome. If you have questions about Evisort, you can come and contact us at evisort.com. If you have questions, I can connect you to whoever in the organization might be able to best answer it. It's bob@evisort. So, easy to spell. And happy to get connected with the right people. But yeah, and I wanted to say thank you to Christina and Stephanie. You guys were awesome.
Yeah, I'm so glad you guys are doing this because I really do think it's important, Bob, to have the players in the room. I want people to hear directly. I want the vendors to hear directly what people are saying because you guys are the solution provider. So, I think that's really important. So, I'm glad you guys are doing us this, the series.
Bob Grier (56:59):
You laid it out, people processing technology. So, we're one leg on the three-legged stool, so definitely. So...
Bob Grier (57:10):
Very cool. I wanted to thank everybody for coming. I see you comment in the chat, Jerry Ting, our CEO. Looks like he was listening. Thanks everyone. So, again, thanks everybody and keep tuned for the next in our Fireside Chat. There's probably, not too many Firesides being chatted by on 4th of July weekend, the June 30th, but you get the concept, right?
We should have sparklers, I guess.
Bob Grier (57:38):
Maybe camp fires or something...
Bob Grier (57:44):
... next weekend. All right. Hey, thanks everybody. We really appreciate it. And thanks Christina and Stephanie. We'll talk soon.
Yeah, thank you.
Bob Grier (57:49):
All right. Bye-bye.
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