Ironclad Journal icon Ironclad BLOG

Pearls On, Gloves Off: The Transformative Power of In-House Legal Ops Teams

February 24, 2023 4 min read
Headshot title card of Mary O'Carroll smiling

Have you heard? Mary O’Carroll, legal ops legend and Chief Community Officer here at Ironclad, is making waves in the podcast world with her new show, Pearls On, Gloves Off. Each episode, Mary and a guest share insights gleaned from running high performing businesses, with a focus on the power of legal ops.  

To celebrate Mary’s tenth show, we’ve culled some highlights from the first batch of episodes. Be sure to check out our previous post reviewing episodes 1-5, with a focus on entering the hot new world of legal ops careers. Here’s a look at the best of episodes 6-10, which dig into how in-house legal departments are helping advances businesses forward in the digital age:

How to Create Transformation

First things first, the legal services industry is ripe for change. Digital transformation — the process of moving business operations from analog to digital systems — is changing the way companies across all industries engage customers and deliver value. Legal services is no different, even if the change is slow-moving. According to Deloitte’s 2021 State of Legal Operations survey, more than nine out of every ten legal executives (91%) agree the time to modernize how legal services are delivered has arrived. That’s up 10% from last year.

How do you affect change in an industry that’s traditionally been so … traditional? Think big but start small, says Jenny Hacker. As Head of Legal Operations at Royal London, Jenny’s learned a thing or two about leading change at scale. A lot of it comes down to creating and executing a sound strategic vision. “Have a plan, have a direction,” she said in conversation with Mary and Royal London General Counsel Fergus Speight. “Fergus had a clear strategy to focus on core business activity, and to develop staff.” 

That’s just a taste of the wealth of knowledge shared during Mary’s conversation with Jenny and Fergus. To get the full story, listen to the episode.

Automating, Innovating, and Scaling Legal Ops

Nikki Armstrong, Chief Legal Officer and Corporate Secretary extraordinaire at Pure Storage, joined the pod to talk about the role of the modern GC and CLO, and how legal teams can get creative and innovative to move their businesses forward. “We all recognize how invaluable in-house legal advisors are to a company,” she said. “The CLO title brings with it a balancing act between four roles: Guardian, Strategist, Change Agent, and Optimizer.” Or, as Nikki likes to say, “We’re business folks who just happen to have law degrees.”

One of Nikki’s “North Stars” in the CLO role is to move the business forward and not let her teams be the ones grinding any gears to a halt. “You don’t want to be the bottleneck. We pride ourselves on trying to be creative, and finding innovative solutions to move the business forward,” she said. How can legal ops teams innovate? “We do it by automating, by creating scalabilities and better processes,” Nikki said. And by never being complacent — once her team is done tearing a process apart and building it back better, they start over and look at all it again. 

Hear Mary’s full conversation with Nikki, including stories from Nikki’s appearance on Richard Brandon’s reality show (!!!), on this episode of Pearls On, Glove Off.

Learning How to Be Efficient

Everlaw’s Chief Legal Officer, Shana Simmons, started her career as a law firm associate in London. Since then, her work has taken her across the pond and then some, to Silicon Valley and California’s Bay Area. Along the way she learned some key lessons, including the value of efficiency.

“At a firm you don’t learn how to be more efficient, because you’re billing your hours,” Shana said. During her time at Google, where she started as a Contracts Manager and worked her way up to Senior Counsel, Shana strived to use efficiency for the greater good. “I always thought, ‘There are ways I can do this more efficiently, not just for me, but for my colleagues’,” she said. “I learned how to be more efficient, and how to use operations and tools and tricks to make my job go smoother, and make others’ jobs go smoother as well.”

Mary and Shana dove into Shana’s career journey, including lessons she was only able to learn after leaving the law firm life. In this episode, Shana also goes into detail about the importance of hiring people who are different from you, effectively managing talent, and using technology to modernize legal operations. 

The Importance of Data

Nobody wants to be known as the “Department of No,” right? Ryan Marks, Head of Legal at Airtable joined Mary to talk about creating an efficient legal ops department without building a reputation as the ones who always say “No.” 

Ryan started his career in litigation. Working on a variety of cases over the years helped him realize that instead of solving problems with litigation, he wanted to help clients use legal means to avoid those problems in the first place. When Ryan became Airtable’s first legal hire, he used this approach to build the company’s legal identity from the ground up.

In this episode, he talks about how building effective processes for both internal and external stakeholders maximizes growth while minimizing pain. Ryan also delves into the importance of data in legal work. 

Using Tech in Legal Ops

Mary’s tenth guest, Lisa Mango, talked about her career journey, highlighting how a diversity of experiences in the legal profession prepared her for her current role in-house as General Counsel at One Medical.

Working at a tech-enabled healthcare disruptor means Lisa has to pull from all her experience and knowledge — from product and privacy work to transactional law and legal ops, which helped her learn to scale legal departments. As she said in the episode, Lisa can’t imagine being in her current role as a general counsel without her diverse legal experience to draw upon.

Subscribe For More Pearls of Legal Ops Wisdom

Keep up with the best conversations with the brightest minds in legal ops and beyond. Subscribe to Pearls On, Gloves Off on Spotify, Apple Music, or wherever you get your podcasts.

Want more content like this? Sign up for our monthly newsletter.

Book your live demo