The Pathway to Productivity for General Counsel Teams

Across organizations, the role of CLO is expanding. More and more, they’re empowered to make strategic decisions on behalf of their companies. Thanks to their cross-departmental vantage point, legal leaders have an incredible opportunity to make an impact, and executive boards are embracing this potential. At the same time, this shift makes team management and productivity all the more important for CLOs. 

To better understand this moment, we spoke with the general counsels at three companies—from scaling startups to global enterprises—who shared insight into the ways they think about productivity. We uncovered a few steps that are central to success during our conversations. 

Automate repetitive tasks to maximize efficiency 

In our fast-paced world, efficiency is a critical component of productivity. Today’s CLOs are understandably eager to streamline their operations. By automating and operationalizing certain repetitive, manual tasks on their teams’ plates, CLOs allow staff to focus on higher-value work.

Douglas Fischer, general counsel at Advanced Vapor Devices, often thinks about changes he can make today to free up his time in the future. As the only member of the legal team at a rapidly scaling global startup, Fischer knows the processes he sets in place today will impact the company’s ability to grow.

“I do quite a bit of manual work because it’s still manageable, but as we continue to scale, that will be a key consideration for me,” Fischer says. “How do I work more efficiently and free up more time for the most valuable work?”

Even at established global enterprises like Ingredion, efficiency remains essential for continued focus on growth and mergers and acquisitions. Tanya Jaeger de Foras, CLO at Ingredion, constantly balances the workload of her 56-person legal team and seeks ways to automate necessary but repetitive “run the business” tasks so her reports can focus on strategic work.

“We have to mitigate burnout,” says Jaeger de Foras. “The pressure to do more with less is not inspiring for people, and this next generation of employees won’t tolerate it. We need to be more efficient and productive when it comes to building up our people.”

At Docusign, where Jim Shaughnessy oversees a 70-person legal team, plus contractors, productivity is viewed according to the whole team’s success. Mentoring, managing and leading are big components of that, but efficiency also means being attentive to budget. Like their executive peers within an organization, general counsels and CLOs must control costs.

“There isn’t a legal department that I know of that is immune from overall budgetary concerns,” Shaughnessy says. “In a high-growth period, that means managing a growing budget and how to allocate resources.”

Legal teams looking to drive greater profit margins for their organizations and streamline operations can benefit from digitizing various pieces of contracting processes. Automation can help close deals faster through more efficient and accessible use of templates, speeding up time to revenue, while contract analytics can mine existing agreements for cost-saving opportunities, like flagging auto renewals and consolidating redundant vendor spend. Using technology to expedite these tasks not only maximizes budgets but also allows legal minds to focus on their strategic work and boost their efficiency.  

Proactively manage risk with artificial intelligence 

Of course, a critical responsibility of any legal team is minimizing and effectively managing risk. Anticipating risk can be challenging and time-consuming, but doing so is easier when information is ingested and analyzed with support from artificial intelligence. For instance, AI can significantly expedite contract analysis and search, like when teams need to find specifically defined clauses. It can also help legal teams recognize patterns more easily and unlock insights about critical issues that have to be decided between counterparties.

“Having those decisions informed by data really lets a company be more successful,” Shaughnessy says. “It can save delays in negotiating or focusing on wrong issues or [the likelihood of] things being held up by small corner cases.”

Fischer finds that risk has also grown in the age of remote and hybrid work due to dispersed environments and technology. “We have people spread about everywhere,” he says. “We need to manage from a security standpoint. There are new risk dynamics in this environment.”

Compliance poses another hurdle for both Jaeger de Foras and Fischer. “A very significant portion of my time is spent on regulatory matters,” Fischer says. “This landscape is evolving in real-time, with new laws and standards to keep up with constantly.”

“For global companies, there’s a challenge to keep pace with an ever-changing regulatory environment,” Jaeger de Foras adds. Automation, artificial intelligence and integrations are playing a big part in helping companies keep pace with those changes and minimize associated risk.

Contract lifecycle management empowers cross-functional teams

In this new era, CLOs are recognizing that contract lifecycle operations have a huge impact. Without a streamlined approach to managing a high volume of contracts, CLOs get pulled away from their core responsibilities and strategic tasks, compromising productivity. By digitizing, standardizing and automating contracts, they open the door to greater efficiency and better collaboration.

At Advanced Vapor Devices, Fischer sees effective contract management as intrinsically tied to cross-departmental team management. “There can be a tendency among commercial departments to throw contracts toward legal, but contract management is a team sport,” he says. “Contracts involve all of us, especially when team members are SMEs in specific arenas.”

In laying an expectation for collaboration early on, Fischer is creating a strong foundation for accelerated growth. For a shipping recommendation, operations might weigh in. For a sales contract, sales could provide the necessary context.

By managing relationships across departments, getting key stakeholders engaged early in the process and giving them ownership over areas of expertise, legal leaders are setting their teams up for success “If it’s purely legal [who is involved], you will have a sub-optimal product since the legal person won’t know what the contract means,” Fischer says. “Tools are only as good as a process and the buy-in of ownership. The best tool doesn't matter if people haven’t bought into their role in the process.” 

Unlock increased productivity and greater ease 

As the responsibilities of CLOs and legal teams evolve, finding ways to reduce the lift of routine tasks is essential. Technology that automates processes and harnesses the power of AI, paired with the human element of thoughtful leadership, helps reduce risk and bolsters productivity across an organization. Far from being siloed, today’s CLOs can be growth leaders.

Interested in leading your legal teams to the next level of collaboration and achieving company-wide goals faster? Explore automated contract management tools and integrations for legal teams with Docusign.

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