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.
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