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In conversation: Chris Young, General Counsel, Ironclad

As general counsel of the world’s leading digital contracting platform Chris Young needs to walk the talk when it comes to legal tech.


When legal moves fast, business moves fast. Time kills deals, and often moving at speed is imperative. For in-house counsel, the need to move quickly can be a source of tension. No lawyer wants to hold business back, but it takes legal time to review a contract and ensure compliance. Rushing can generate risk that comes back to bite you.

This longstanding tension is not only a problem for GCs. At a basic level, all lawyers are contracts lawyers and all the businesses they serve are contracts businesses. The contract is the most fundamental unit of commerce. Whether it’s an offer letter, an employment agreement, a stock options agreement, a vendor agreement with a third party, a sales agreement, a marketing agreement, or any other form of agreement, business relies on processing contracts at speed.

The sweet spot is when you’re moving quickly and responsibly. The tension between speed and risk is something lawyers have struggled with for a long time. You cannot put yourself in harm’s way just to move quickly, and you cannot put yourself in a position where you’re losing deals because legal is taking too long to process contracts. When you’re moving at speed without compromising internal rules or policies, you’re doing well.

At Ironclad, and among our hundreds of customers around the world, we have worked to tighten the relationship between legal and commercial teams. Ironclad is the preeminent digital contracting platform for business. Our focus is on the end-users, whether they are in sales, HR, marketing – any function or professional that deals with contracts can benefit from the platform. We do not consider ourselves a legal tech company. Our enterprise-wide software is often deployed and administered by the legal department, but it frees lawyers from having to generate contracts.

When I run orientation sessions for clients, I like to begin showing a painting from the seventeenth-century, The Village Lawyer by Pieter Brueghel the Younger. It shows a lawyer sitting at his desk surrounded by mountains of paper. A queue of people stands around waiting for his time. The one thing blocking them from going back to business is waiting for an interpretation. And that interpretation is likely to be something relatively simple. “What does the contract mean, what terms or provisions are contained within it and who owes what to whom?”

Too often, this is still the case today. Legal is the central hub for contract review. It is also the chief bottleneck when it comes to speed of business. At Ironclad, we are changing that by powering the world’s contracts in a way that legal teams love.

For example, using our no-code workflow builder the legal department can generate contracts and templates for any number of purposes. With Ironclad, a single workflow can produce hundreds of different versions of a document, whether it is a Non-Disclosure Agreement, Enterprise Services Agreement or any other commonly encountered legal document. This means various teams across an organisation can generate their own contracts while staying safely within the guard rails set by legal: Who can sign which contract? Who is part of the approval authority matrix? Does that change if the contract rises over certain financial thresholds? All this is stored in a fully searchable repository so things like data breach notification obligations can be identified at the click of a button.

Ask not what your company can do for you

As legal tech matures it is not only allowing GCs to do their jobs faster. The really exciting thing is that tech is now changing how GCs can bring value to their companies. To take one example, I can now look at our sales contracts and know which of them has gone through one round of red-line edits, and which has gone through two rounds of red-line edits.

That allows me to identify patterns in the data. I can see that when a contract has gone through one round of red-line edits the probability of a deal closing is at a certain level. With two rounds of red-line edits that probability rises significantly. That is the sort of data that GCs just didn’t have access to before. It means we can more accurately forecast what the quarter is going to look like using data generated and held within the legal function. That’s just one of dozens of applications you can put legal analytics to, and it is exciting to see what is now being done with this sort of information.

If you’re a GC and you don’t know where all your contracts are or what’s in them then there’s a lot of room for you to significantly up-level your compliance measures. Recently, Ironclad acquired PactSafe, an Indianapolis-based clickwrap transaction platform that enables companies to process high volume agreements. From create to review to negotiate to sign to store and repository, contract lifecycles do not just exist for B2B contracts. For a growing number of businesses, monitoring B2C contracts is becoming essential.

We’ve all been through the experience of signing on to terms of service in the B2C space. Whether it’s Uber, Spotify, or any of the apps and services we have come to rely on, we have all given manifest assent to a contract by clicking a box. Behind the scenes, companies need a way to manage those millions of clicks. When facing litigation or a potential class action, companies will need to identify which users signed which agreement, or to quickly come up with evidence that only a certain part of a proposed class had signed an agreement containing the relevant arbitration cause. That sort of litigation is highly likely when you’re a successful company and having the tools to manage and process large volumes of data is key. We are excited to explore how this process of manifest assent – a process very similar to e-signing – can be used more widely in the B2B space.

No excuses

For many lawyers, legal tech has been a series of false dawns. It has often promised to revolutionise the way lawyers work, but it has rarely delivered. That, finally, is set to change. For the first time ever in the history of the legal profession there is cuttingedge technology that allows us to do our jobs more effectively as lawyers. The whole profession is now waking up to what it can do differently, and in-house legal teams are driving this change.

In-house teams used to ask their law firms about technology. Now it’s the reverse. GCs are encouraging their firms to adopt technology, and firms are hearing about the most useful software and tools from their customers. But technology is only one part of this transformation story. The rise of legal operations as a specialism has been just as exciting.

For years every department at a major company has had its own ops function. Marketing, engineering, sales – all of these departments have relied on operations professionals to keep them moving. Now we are seeing that in legal teams, and it is having a transformational impact on the way systems, processes, people and tech work together.

GCs have always faced the same question: how can the legal department cope with increasing work volumes as a business grows? Are you going to add bodies as legal departments have done for decades now, or are you going to use technology and smarter processes to scale up? Increasingly, technology is the only viable option. I have made it my goal as GC to practice what I preach. At Ironclad, we have one commercial counsel servicing over 60 salespeople who negotiate dozens of deals each day. The only way that’s possible is by leveraging our own system.

My goal as a legal leader is to have one of the leanest departments out there. A lot of GCs talk about wanting more headcount – I take the opposite approach and ask how I can keep the team as lean as possible. For legal teams struggling to stay on top of things, try this: instead of scaling by adding more people, scale your systems. Measure the success and improvements you can get through using the right tools and processes. The results will convince you that technology can have a transformative and liberating impact on the legal team.


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