Jason Barnwell, Assistant GC - Law Firm Engagement Strategy and Legal Operations of Microsoft | CLOC 2018 Legal Ops Win

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By Oliver Duchesne
| CLOC Interview

Tell us about your role as Assistant GC - Law Firm Engagement Strategy and Legal Operations. What does that mean on a day-to-day basis?

I lead a Legal Business, Operations, and Strategy team within the Office of the President in Microsoft's Corporate, External, and Legal Affairs department. Let's decode that. Microsoft does not have a conventional legal department. Our President and Chief Legal Officer leads a multi-disciplinary organization that operates and supports business that happens at the intersection of law, technology, and policy. Within that larger organization you have the Office of the President, led by my boss who is a Deputy General Counsel and the department's Chief of Staff. Her larger team's mission is to pioneer innovative solutions and drive operational excellence to advance CELA's priorities. I lead a Legal Business, Operations, and Strategy team that is focused on providing process and tools that support our legal practitioners and their engagement with outside counsel. On a day to day basis I go to a lot of meetings and send a lot of email that helps the people on my team focus on the work that will have the most impact in helping us execute on the Office of the President's mission. I end up investing a lot of time in developing and facilitating relationships, and spotting the capabilities and talent that we need inside our organization and outside with our partners. And I am a relentless tinkerer who is passionate about technology, so, I devote as much time as I can to getting my hands dirty writing software…when my team will let me.

 What is your definition of legal operations?

I define legal operations for my work by my business objectives. My business objectives as a legal operations professional are focused on supporting the efficient and effective delivery of legal services to our clients by our department's legal and business professionals and their external partners.

How is Microsoft improving legal operations?

We are developing processes and building tools that will help our expertise scale and allow our legal professionals to deliver more value by doing their work more effectively. Specifically, we are also taking some of our expertise that lives in our global contracting office and record functions and figuring out how to turn that into a more unified service offering we can scale up and down to offer to more customers in the company. We are also developing a tooling platform that will help us create more value from our outside counsel engagements, and ultimately deliver more value to our internal practice support.

What has your department aced in the last 12 months?

Everything we do is based on continual improvement. We are never done, so I don't know that you will ever hear me say that we aced something. We are starting to unlock the move from a culture of knowing to a culture of learning. That is hard to do in the legal profession because there is so much about how we are trained, how we learn to practice, and that is constantly reinforced by culture and incentives to drive us to the known, rather than the unknown.

What have you been most surprised by in the evolution/emergence of legal ops as a field?

As a lawyer I am surprised by how much we have advanced in a short-period of time. And as an engineer I am surprised by how far we have to go. Legal operations can be a fulcrum for a legal department that allows it to create so much more leverage from the scarce human capital that is available. Legal professionals complain about their work, and also have a hard time of letting it go or being willing to try new ways of driving the outcomes that their business needs. I am surprised that legal professionals do not take full advantage of what legal operations can offer them that will help them focus their time on the elements of their work that truly need their attention.

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