Legal department resources are often stretched, particularly in the context of a fast-growing startup with slower-growing budgets. The onus falls on in-house counsel to manage competing demands and make the most out of a limited budget.
To discuss this challenge, we convened a panel with Emily Menchel (General Counsel and Head of Human Resources at Persado), Josh Beser (General Counsel of Canary) and Yayoi Shionoiri (Corporate Counsel at Artsy) to discuss building a successful legal department with limited resources in the context of a fast-growing company. Emily, Josh and Yayoi are particularly well-suited for this discussion because while each runs a relatively small legal department, Persado, Canary and Artsy are all remarkable, fast-growing and ambitious companies for whom getting legal right is crucially important to succeeding. Key themes from the conversation are below:
Scale your in-house team by empowering business-side team members as a first line of legal defense.
Analyze each department’s business needs to determine if a form contract or invoice might make it easier for that department to complete ordinary course transactions. The form contracts could include both “non-negotiable” and negotiable language, as appropriate. Such form contracts, together with explanations of corresponding background legal concepts, training on how to use EchoSign or DocuSign to execute form contracts and a Frequently Asked Questions document designed as a resource for basic questions about the form contract can empower business-side team members to act as a first line of legal defense.
More generally, seek out opportunities to provide a “Legal 101” presentation on one legal concept that might be useful for business-side team members to understand (e.g., applicable intellectual property issues, indemnification, limitation of liability). Business-side team members who are well-versed in core business term-sheet-type legal matters will be able to do high-level contract review and flag key items for in-house lawyers.
Streamline inputs for ordinary course agreements.
Implementing some degree of streamlining doesn’t necessarily require expensive technology. For example, completing your company’s standard form NDA can be accomplished by collecting required information via a Google Form shared with relevant business-side team members and then inputting that information into the document. Such streamlining can significantly reduce time spent negotiating ordinary course agreements.
Build legal department capacity with product understanding and empathy.
Work hard to understand your product and services. Find ways to attend as many product, management and board meetings as possible. Listen to how your internal clients talk about what they’re doing and why they’re doing it. Observe how people interact and how work flows through business-side teams.
Understanding your product and participating in product meetings can help you to more quickly and productively flag and address risks. By being involved early in the product development process, you can identify both legal and business risks sooner and engage with the business-side team to proactively mitigate those risks.
Empathy and product understanding can also help manage internal clients as you make company-wide policies. For example, a communications retention policy will impact each business-side team differently, depending on how they use covered communication tools to get their work done. Listening to those team members describe how work gets done and empathizing about how teams do things differently and fit into the bigger picture will allow you to both formulate better policies and help people get on board vis-à-vis policies that they might not initially love.
When the resources to make a full time hire are available, take the time to hire the right person.
In addition to identifying the required legal skillset, consider less tangible factors. For example, if the hire is going to be business-side facing, consider whether you need someone business-team members can connect with – otherwise, that work could migrate back towards you. Further into the process, if you’re meeting candidates that fulfill all the qualifications you laid out for the position, but none of them seem “right”, you might be looking for something different than you thought you needed. Take the time to step back and revise the scope/skills/background you’re looking for in order to re-calibrate the group of candidates applying for the role.
How to Be Successful In-House with Limited Resources is part of Priori’s event series for in-house counsel. Check out our upcoming events here and be sure to keep an eye out for more interviews with in-house counsel through the In-House Voices section of our blog.