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Snapshots from 2019 CLOC Institute in Vegas

Christy BurkeGet “Woke”, Blow up the Process, It’s OK to Fail

Are you “woke”?  Let’s blow up the process.  Celebrate success but accept, even praise, failure.  These soundbites, slightly paraphrased, were uttered at 2019 CLOC Institute in Las Vegas by some of the most eminent GCs in the world as they addressed a massive audience of legal operations professionals.  CLOC continues to create its own lexicon and make its own rules as the beating heart of corporate “legal ops”.  

In her welcome remarks, CLOC President Mary O’Carroll (Director of Legal Operations at Google) recalled legal ops being initially dismissed as a fad, a passing trend.  But the opposite has proven true.  Instead, CLOC has expanded from a handful of members to about 2500 members today.  O’Carroll called CLOC a “movement”, saying that while she once had trouble convincing people to apply for legal ops jobs, she is now reticent to post job listings because she gets inundated with resumes. 

O’Carroll emphasized CLOC’s commitment to be “change makers in a positive way”.  She recommended to the audience to “have humility and self-awareness to learn that when it comes to legal ops, there are no experts.  Have the courage to deliver the impossible.”  Inspiring words, to be sure, but I wondered how tolerant corporations would really be to invest in ongoing experimentation while granting permission to fail.

Apparently, many major international corporations are indeed willing to withstand the rough, uncertain waters of the legal ops process.  After O’Carroll’s introduction, the first major panel of CLOC included Oracle’s GC Dorian Daley, Gap, Inc.’s GC Julie Gruber and Westpac’s GC Nigel Bond.  Facilitated by moderator Jason Barnwell, CLOC Board Member and AGC at Microsoft, the discussion traced the path each executive had taken into legal ops territory and each provided lessons learned and takeaways.  

Daley said Oracle was first introduced to legal ops when it acquired Sun Microsystems in 2010.  Sun had a 30-person legal ops team, clearly an early adopter of what is now becoming more prevalent nearly a decade later.  Even though Oracle is a tech company, Daley recalled that the legal ops development process has been both difficult and frustrating at times.  The company eventually decided to build its own tools, playbooks and internal training.  Daley advised legal ops professionals not to over-define their roles, but instead to embrace fluidity.  Above all else, she said, “Don’t be afraid to fail.  In 3 years, it will be something different.”

Bond recalled hearing about legal ops about 4 years ago and hiring 2 people at first.  His legal ops team now has 10.  Bond’s legal ops team initiatives focus specifically on three categories: 1) Flow Work to drive efficiency, automation and outsourcing when possible; 2) Work done externally; and 3) Work done internally.  

Gruber said that Gap, Inc. is still “young on their journey” in legal ops, but she cited the gigantic role that her team will play as Gap prepares to spin off Old Navy into its own company, requiring separation into two distinct legal departments. Gruber recommended that legal ops professionals choose 1-2 low-hanging fruit projects and to make sure those are successful first.  She added, “Bring in people who are pretty ‘woke’ – celebrate success, accept and even laud failure.”  

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In true pioneer fashion, many of the CLOC speakers emphasized the importance of leveraging free or inexpensive technology already owned in-house rather than purchasing costly solutions from external vendors. Winston Yeung, Senior Manager of Legal Operations for T-Mobile, discussed how Microsoft Office 365 tools, already paid for with his company’s enterprise license, can be leveraged to create a vast array of workflow efficiencies and automation.  Yeung detailed how T-Mobile uses Microsoft Forms, Flow, PowerApps, PowerBI, and SharePoint, showing how these applications can be used to create simple solutions and even more complex ones.  Though requiring some sweat equity and trial and error, the Microsoft tools could be used to save time and effort, freeing up employees to spend time elsewhere. 

Another interesting session was Legal Ops 2.0: How Co-Innovation is Driving the Industry’s Future.  A large panel of corporate legal and law firm professionals shared case studies about how they encouraged communication, fostered collaboration, and built an active customer community.  Justin Hectus, CIO and CISO of boutique law firm Keesal Young & Logan (KYL), shared 47 use cases for the Mitratech TAP Workflow Automation platform at NetApp, KYL’s client.  Vincent J. Cordo, Jr., Central Legal Operations Officer of Shell International B.V., said some keys to his team’s success were to keep the process organic, which leads to more adoption, and to start with credible data.  

CLOC provided a chance to catch up with some of the most interesting suppliers in the legal space.  I spoke with Jerry Ting, CEO of Evisort, the Silicon Valley-based AI-powered contract management tech provider who recently hired tech industry veteran Francisco Meza to join the company as Vice President of Engineering. Prior to Evisort, Meza was an engineering force at unicorns Invitae and MuleSoft.  Ting commented, “Legal tech has really come of age, and I have seen some very interesting products here at CLOC.  Francisco joining the Evisort team shows that some of the best engineering talent in the world is now being drawn to legal tech.”  Evisort recently received $4.5 million seed funding and continues to develop proprietary artificial intelligence algorithms that can read and understand meaning in contracts.

Technology is often synonymous with innovation, but the CLOC conversation emphasized that “technology” is only one of three prongs to consider, the other two being “people” and “process”.  Mark Ross, Executive Vice President and Global Head of Contracts, Compliance and Commercial Services at Integreon, delivered a thought provoking session entitled “Contracts without Robots!”  Ross emphasized that expensive technology is not a magic wand for fixing a broken process. He discussed how legal ops professionals can begin optimizing the contracting function by focusing on the people and process.  He recommended creating best-in-class playbooks which incorporate templates, process maps and negotiation guidance, leveraging the built-in tools in Microsoft 365, such as OneNote.  Ross noted that playbooks “reduce the negotiation time, minimize risk, and provide you with insight and valuable data which then allows you to continuously improve your end-to-end contracting process.” He also commented that not all metrics are equally useful, saying that “[metrics and data] should allow you to compare and contrast your organization’s contracting performance and risk tolerance across geographies, product lines and business units.” 

CLOC is unique in many ways, but one of the best things about the organization is its unpretentiousness and humbleness despite the high octane talent it contains.  At CLOC, Nigel Bond spoke of the importance of having a curious mind.  Curiosity is divergent, promising – it has potential rather than stopping all conversation with “the right answer”.  In legal ops, no one is claiming to have all the answers, and anyone in any department could suggest a solution that actually works.  That’s why diversity is so important, as many CLOC speakers mentioned from the podium.  High achievers often fear failure, but consider being free to fail in pursuit of improvement and eventual success.  

On Saturday, July 20th, Vanderbilt Law School is hosting its second annual Summit on Law & Innovation (SoLI) Conference which is called #failurecamp, the brainchild of Cat Moon, Director of Innovation Design, Program on Law and Innovation.  The fact that the necessity for failure to create innovation has permeated law schools as well as the professional world is very exciting indeed. 

One of CLOC’s primary takeaways that resonated through many presentations was, when we are given permission to fail, more than once if necessary, that’s when we have the best chance for breakthrough success.  I’m glad to be more “woke” about the power of legal ops now, thanks to CLOC!

Christy Burke is President of Burke & Company (, a public relations, marketing and business consulting firm that serves innovative legal tech companies, law firms and law schools.  Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. , follow her @ChristyBurkePR or connect with her on LinkedIn.  Special thanks to Jerry Ting, CEO of Evisort, for providing additional reporting for this article.

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