The Great Recession of 2008 made a lasting impact on the legal industry, with many businesses tracing their investment in legal operations back to this pivotal time in history. The financial constraints forced leaders, including legal professionals, to do things differently rather than rely on outdated best practices.
During the pandemic, we’ve seen a similar impact as businesses were faced with financial and physical constraints that forced them to rethink how they work, collaborate, and use technology.
As we emerge from the past year and a half, it’s clear we’re not returning to “normal”—we live in a new normal now. Just as the Great Recession accelerated change, we have an opportunity to see a transformation of the legal industry today. We have window of opportunity as legal professionals and we need to take action now.
My colleague and legal operations pioneer, Mary O’Carroll, recently spoke on the opportunity for transformation in our industry. She shared, “I believe we will see more change in the next few years than we have in the last few decades combined,” and I agree entirely. The question becomes how will we achieve this change? I believe it requires a mindset shift.
The Maker Mindset
It’s time to move past our pandemic mindset and adopt a maker mindset. The “maker mindset” is an idea that has taken off in mainstream culture. This shift requires creative thinking, resourcefulness and tenacity to build the right solution, at the right time.
For anyone who went to law school, a maker mindset might feel like the antithesis of your work. In many ways it is. Law school teaches you all about precedent, which is the opposite of creativity.
But I believe legal operators actually need to be creative in order to be good at the job. Each day we have to do things that nobody has done before, which requires creativity. This is the maker mindset.
Applying a Maker Mindset to Contracting
There are many opportunities for change within the legal industry. One area ripe for change is contracting. According to a recent survey, contracting technologies are one of the top tools where legal departments are looking to invest.
What if we applied the maker mindset to contracting? This is where legal departments have an opportunity to make an impact on the entire business. By approaching contracts with the maker mindset, we can transform contracts from a pain point to a valuable resource.
I’ve had the opportunity to see this in action already. Legal operators are taking on this new mindset and transforming their contract processes and workflows for the new standard of business contracting—digital contracting. That’s the key here, the maker mindset is not just about adopting technology—it’s a new way of thinking. Following are two examples of how the maker mindset can transform the contracting process.
In any given business, there are types of contracts that are used regularly that could be standardized. For example, sales teams need an approved master service agreement (MSA) to close deals.
What if you built a workflow for this contract with standardization in mind? There’s an opportunity to decrease negotiation time, which in turn, can help close deals faster.
Another example is non-disclosure agreements (NDAs): Imagine if, as an in-house counsel, you didn’t have to spend time negotiating NDAs. Building out standardized clauses to include in NDAs frees you from negotiations.
Standardizing contracts will not only free up your legal team, it will also empower the whole business.
Improve Cross-Functional Collaboration
There are so many workflows tied to contracts that require input from multiple departments. Legal teams have an opportunity to rethink these processes to improve efficiency.
For example, what if you empowered your human resources (HR) department to track and manage contracts? You can establish an internal process for HR contracts and equip them with tools to track and collaborate on contracts.
Procurement is another opportunity for collaboration as contracts hold important information about payment obligations. Consider adding more detailed information about payments to the contracting workflow that can be automatically pulled, so finance is prepared to track the new spending.
The world is reopening, so it’s time to start building. Whether it’s standardizing a contract, improving cross-functional collaboration, or automating a workflow, the opportunities for legal teams to drive change are endless.
Find your creativity and invest in the future of not just legal but business as a whole. Don’t be afraid to take a calculated risk and become a builder. We’re not going to capitalize on this moment without getting creative.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. or its owners.
Chris Young is general counsel at Ironclad. Prior, he spent three years at GoFundMe serving as their general counsel, and worked as a litigator at the San Francisco-based law firms Morrison Foerster and Keker, Van Nest & Peters. He also served as the deputy finance director for Obama for America (2008) and worked in the Obama administration as associate director of intergovernmental affairs at the Department of Justice.