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How Visibility Turns You into a Super Efficient Legal Counsel (2/4)

27 May 2020
Adrien van den Branden, LL.M.
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This is the second leg of a four-part series on how to become a super efficient legal counsel. If you have missed the introduction, go and read it here.

ā€œUse your mind to think about things, rather than think of them.ā€ ā€• David Allen, Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity

Visibility is about making all legal information and progress fully actionable to everyone within our team and beyond.

Each word is important:

  • Information: agreements, legal corporate data, matters, participants
  • Progress: status, priority, deadlines
  • Actionable: information is provided with full transparency and availability
  • Our team: people from the operations, sales, marketing and HR
  • Beyond: our legal advisors, auditors, accountants and investors

At our company, the rules to make it work for us are:

  • We write everything down. We should get our legal matters out of our heads. When we write down the projects we are working on (the review of an NDA, the setup of the annual shareholders' meeting, the negotiation of a customer agreement), we stop thinking about them and start working on them. We free up mental space to help us work smarter. Our minds are made to create ideas, not to hold them. This is why we write everything down in our matter management tool, from the trivial termination of the contract with our water fountain supplier to a bet-the-company fundraising event.
  • We put everything in one place. No legal matter exists unless it is written down in our matter management tool. It is essential for our organization that we keep any and all matters in one place. Nobody on our team should be working on a phantom matter. šŸ‘»
  • We care about what we are writing. Each time you write down a legal task, do a mental exercise: would a stranger reading my summary get it? If not, rewrite it. Don't be over-explicit. Just be crisp. Think about it. Having everything written down makes it way easier for new recruits to get onboarded and for existing team members to catch up on work that has been done e.g. while they were on holidays. It is also beneficial for our legal advisors, since they have access to all the context they need to do their job efficiently. Our external lawyers ask less questions, take less time to familiarize themselves with the matter, which saves us from endless email back-and-forth. Our company also saves on legal fees down the line.
  • We keep it short and simple. Small is beautiful. We are to-the-point and action-oriented. Text must translate into operations. So the shorter, the simpler, the better. Since we write everything down, we don't need to organize impromptu calls to keep tabs on things or dwell into long-form discussions. We organize 30 minutes weekly calls with the relevant business people to give a status update on ongoing matters and resolve bottlenecks. 30 minutes may seem like a short amount of time, but since everything is written down, it is just enough to get through all blocking points.

Visibility is the cornerstone of any successful legal function, starting with the simple rule of writing everything down.

The key benefits visibility brings us are:

  • We stop reinventing the wheel. Since we write everything down, our company benefits from an ever-increasing body of legal knowledge. New legal issues leverage past decisions because their thinking process has been made explicit from day one.
  • We avoid information loss. Since we centralize all information in our matter management tool, the company benefits from the insurance that work will never be lost on a team member's computer. Nobody in our team should take down notes in a personal notebook. If a team member loses their device or leaves the company, it will have no impact on the state of our internal legal knowledge.
  • We unlock collaboration. If all progress and issues are only present in our heads, it is hard for our colleagues to help and leverage collective intelligence on open issues.
  • We avoid double work. Double work happens when two team members are working on the same draft without noticing. We clearly assign an owner to each matter and spread responsibilities within our team. We also forbid anyone to work on a local version of a document, unless exceptional circumstances. This rule allows us to be confident that the latest version of a draft is the one accessible from our matter management tool.
  • We are remote-ready. Our matter management tool helps us organize our work remotely. This has proven especially relevant in COVID-19 times. šŸ˜·

Visibility is the cornerstone of any successful legal function, starting with the simple rule of writing everything down.

At eFounders, we use Canyon as the single source of truth for anything legal. We write everything down in the matter briefing and link to it all the necessary drafts, agreements and documents. We organize our matters in pipelines to track progress according to our specific business logic.

We translated the visibility principle in the above rules. The rules may change over time. But the principles behind stay the same.

How to get started

My advice is to start off your LegalOps journey by adopting the visibility principle first. From there, you can work out the following principles:

LegalOps is not only about adopting new technology. It is first and foremost about making a vision come true.

How do you represent your legal function in your wildest dreams? How would you like your legal team to be considered within your organization?

At Canyon, we help legal teams make the shift towards operational excellence.

If you are eager to find out more, start off the discussion by telling us about the biggest hurdle you see on your LegalOps journey.

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