Three years ago, I interviewed Chris Chin, then-Legal Director at Google, about his pioneering efforts to solve the contracts problem at Google with an internal contract management system called Simba. Today, Chris is Ironclad’s new VP of Legal Engineering, and will be responsible for making sure our customers are getting the most out of their Ironclad implementations. Chris is a 26-year industry veteran, with 18 years’ experience in contract lifecycle management, including evaluating almost every Contract Lifecycle Management (CLM) vendor that has been active in the space over the past 15 years.
In this interview, Chris explains the shift he’s seen in the CLM industry over the past decade, why he’s optimistic that the contracting problem is going to be solved, and how he thinks about the role of legal engineering. Read on to learn more.
It’s so great to interview you as a member of the team! Let’s start by catching up: Why did you decide to leave Google for Ironclad?
I’ve been trying to solve the problem of contracts for 18 years as Legal Director at Google. I thought, if anyone can solve the problem of contracts, it’s Google: We have the money, we have the resources, and we have some of the best and brightest minds.
I tried a lot of things at Google. I tried building an internal system. I also evaluated almost every CLM vendor in the space for the last 15 years. Nothing really worked. What I learned from all those years at Google was, CLM is an incredibly complex problem to solve, and very few people really get it. The legacy CLM players in the space don’t fully understand the complex legal and technical requirements needed to stand up a really intuitive, powerful CLM that works for all stakeholders in the modern business.
About five years ago, I met Jason Boehmig, Ironclad’s CEO. Right off the bat, I knew there was something different about him: He actually understood the contracts problem. But at the time, we had just decided to go with a legacy CLM implementation at Google, so I thought I’d give it some time to see if it would work.
We spent three years trying and failing to get that implementation stood up. While that was going on, I noticed that Ironclad was just getting better and better. The product is head and shoulders above anything else I’ve seen. There’s never been a more exciting time to be in CLM, and I wanted to join the company that I think will win the race. So, that’s why I’m here!
What makes you think there’s never been a more exciting time to be in CLM?
An incredible convergence of events has led up to this moment in time for CLM. First, there’s been the rise of Legal Ops, which, as an industry, is only about 10 years old. Secondly, venture capitalists are finally starting to turn their attention towards legal tech. And, specifically over the past 3 years, they’ve really started to invest in contracts. The reason for that is, people are now finally starting to see contracts as more than just static documents full of words. They’re starting to see the contract as the lifeblood of the company, as critical conduits of information that every part of the company can utilize. A ton of business intelligence and value can be extracted from contracts, not just after they’ve been archived, but also while they’re in flight.
You’re part of a rarified group of people who has watched CLM’s evolution over the past 18 years and knows every vendor in the game. What makes Ironclad unique in the landscape?
I just love the attention to the UI and usability. For example, when I saw Ironclad’s Editor for the first time, I was so impressed by how easy it was to compare versions. So, whereas in Word, you would have to run a “compare version,” I can toggle a button in the Editor to see all my versions. There are things like internal and external comments that are so thoughtful, but brilliant, and give you major time savings over traditional tools.
And the design, it’s not just thoughtfully designed for legal, but also for the business teams—marketing, procurement, sales, HR—that legal works with when making a contract. It’s just so easy to learn and use that you don’t have to even really train your business users. The product is designed in an incredibly thoughtful way to deliver a really clean user experience.
Also, Ironclad has one of the few teams that has truly thought through the problem of contracting to a level of depth that is truly rare. With other vendors, whenever I would throw out ideas, the vendor would often have no idea what I was really talking about. Whenever I did that with Ironclad, the team had already thought of it and considered 10 alternative options.
I think one of reasons why we understand the contracting problem so deeply is because of this function we invented that you’re now leading, Legal Engineering. We saw, very early on, that in order to design a smart, holistic system for contracts, you have to have both the legal subject matter expertise and the engineering background to build the best process.
Absolutely. Legal Engineering is critical. It helps us design better products, but also, it’s an absolutely critical part of implementation.
For those who are unfamiliar, can you tell us what Legal Engineers do?
We manage Ironclad’s most difficult deployments and ensure that the system gets launched properly. We partner with customers to share best practices we’ve accumulated across hundreds of deployments to help them think through the best ways to set up their systems and fully utilize the CLM.
It’s a critical part of implementation. As a lawyer, I can tell you that often, when I’m working on contracts, I’m so busy working on the substantive piece of the job that I don’t think about the process. What the best way to set up templates is, for example. That’s where Legal Engineering comes in. We help customers think through these things so they can get the best experience possible out of their digital contracting solution.
It reminds me of the “people, process, tools” framework popularized by CLOC, which says that you can never just focus on the tools: You also need to think about the people and the processes required to make any tool effective.
Right, I’m not aware of any other group at a company that looks at it from the same lens that legal engineers look at it, which is basically, “How can we make the entire industry better?”
Traditional professional services organizations are super transactional. They just want to implement the product for you. They want to integrate with the system that you want to integrate with. Whereas we’re actually going in and we’re trying to understand the customer’s problem and use case. We look at it holistically: How can we make the product better? How can we apply learnings from hundreds of deployments to deliver the optimal process for a customer?
Tell us about your team, and who you’re looking for as you think about the next phase of growth.
First I have to say, I love the Legal Engineering team. It’s so diverse in terms of experience. We have lawyers, engineers, liberal arts majors, consultants—We have a really wide variety of people who come to the team from different backgrounds and disciplines. What unites them all is that they’re serious about learning the space, and they want to fix a problem to improve everyone’s lives. There’s a deep curiosity and desire to learn.
It’s an exciting time to join the company. Change is finally happening industry-wide, and everyone who joins this company firmly believes that we are at the beginning of a massive revolution in contracts. It’s going to be really exciting to see all the cool things that, believe it or not, you can get out of contracts when you can make them work for businesses.
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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