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6 Tips for Building an In-House Legal Function from Scratch

December 14, 2022 4 min read

When I started as Head of Legal at Tines in 2021, just after the company’s Series B raise, I had the exciting challenge of building out our in-house legal function from scratch. We were about to expand globally, triple headcount, and launch lots of new features on Tines’s awesome no-code/low-code cybersecurity automation platform – but with zero legal processes, people, or structures in place. I knew the outdated methods for providing in-house legal services would not cut it, and that innovative solutions would instead be key. 

18 months later, here are my top tips for ensuring the legal function keeps up with demand while adding value in a high-growth environment.

Outsource process-heavy work

One of the first things you notice as a first legal hire is how much time you waste on repetitive, monotonous workflows when your time could and should be spent on higher value work. Alternative legal solutions providers (“ALSPs”) offer access to inexpensive, quick legal talent that need minimal ramping to support on process-heavy work. ALSPs have successfully disrupted the traditional law firm model for this type of work, plus their services can be levered up or down to suit your needs, and the contractors they supply have a team of experts supporting behind the scenes that do not charge by the hour, unlike law firms. (I use and recommend Johnson Hana here in Ireland, and Lawtrades in the US!) 

Empower your colleagues to self-serve

Automate as much as possible, especially contract lifecycle management (CLM). The best CLM tools will fix most of your contract management pain points. We had many of those pains when I joined Tines, but the key ones were needing to speed up deal cycles by enabling the sales team to self-serve, identifying a single platform for internal contract collaboration, and finding a backend repository for contracts and to track key meta data for compliance purposes. We use Ironclad at Tines, though there are several CLM providers in the market depending on your business pain points, non-negotiables, and tech stack. 

Leverage community 

Legal is the smallest team in any business, with some being a team of one. Tap into a community to knowledge-share, connect with likeminded, innovative peers and feel less isolated in your day-to-day work. This is why I set up Irish Tech General Counsel in Ireland. There is also TechGC in the US and Crafty Counsel in the UK. Companies like Ironclad have a free community you can join (even if you’re not an Ironclad customer), and some also have Slack groups (like ITGC and Lawtrades). 

Use data and analytics to your advantage

Data doesn’t lie. Data-driven insights are powerful. Decisions made based on data, rather than just the anecdotal, are fair and even. Coming from a wordsmith lawyer, they are especially powerful and help position you as a key business partner. Shock your colleagues by speaking their language. It never ceases to amaze me how engaged my colleagues are when I present the story by using percentages, pie charts, graphs etc. If you have a data analytics team, partner up with them to help you. What you need to present – how legal adds value to the business, instead of being a cost drain that slows it down – will usually be similar things each quarter, so you can make the process iterative. This may feel daunting at first, but I’ve found it to be an illuminating and rewarding endeavor.

Digitize, digitize, digitize

Get out of the Word + email mindset and stop jumping around multiple platforms with colleagues when working on contacts. Instead, digitize them in one tool that serves as your one-stop legal shop and source of truth. It is easily forgotten in a tech company context, but contracts are data too and should be treated as such. One of the best things I ever did as an in-house lawyer was embrace digitization of contracts. With today’s advanced tools, you can use AI to track and search key meta data in your contracts, and say goodbye to all the inefficient, manual aspects of CLM.

Trust your intuition

This may sound a little ambiguous, but using your intuition should not be underestimated in this process. The startup environment can be complex because there’s often no structure in place for any of the work you have to deliver. Fortunately, following your gut is a big part of building something from nothing. Be patient and embrace the ambiguity thoughtfully. Probe issues and solutions with key stakeholders on shared or recurring business pain points. Test what works. Iterating is ok, and sometimes even preferred. Try new things. Do them better the next time. Simplify everything – your comms, your pains, your solutions. An intuitive mindset is key when you’re constantly operating outside your comfort zone. 

Building an in-house legal function is not for the fainthearted, but it is exceptionally rewarding. If you’ve got questions or tips on what’s worked well for you, please connect with me on LinkedIn. I’m always happy to help – and to hear what’s working as I optimize my own team. 

About Ironclad

Ironclad is the #1 contract lifecycle management platform for innovative companies. L’Oréal, Staples, Mastercard, and other leading innovators use Ironclad to collaborate and negotiate on contracts, accelerate contracting while maintaining compliance, and turn contracts into critical carriers of operational business intelligence. It’s the only platform flexible enough to handle every type of contract workflow, whether a sales agreement, an HR agreement or a complex NDA. The company was named one of the 20 Rising Stars on the Forbes 2019 Cloud 100 list, and is backed by leading investors like Accel, Y Combinator, Sequoia, and BOND. For more information, visit www.ironcladapp.com or follow us on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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