What does it mean to work in the legal profession?
The world of legal is increasingly made up of a diverse array of roles and skills. So, to set your business up for success, it's important to understand your options and hire the right people at the right time.
One specialism that is still a mystery to many is legal operations (or legal ops, as it's more commonly known).
Legal ops professionals are a secret sauce to high-performing legal departments.
But what is legal ops? And who are these warriors of efficiency and effectiveness?
To find out, we were delighted to speak with Marie Widmer, Legal Operations and Contracts Lead at Dapper Labs, and ex-Contracts Manager at LinkedIn and Pinterest. In this spotlight, Marie shares with us her non-traditional path to working in a legal department, as well as her insights into legal ops.
Hi Marie! We're super excited to speak with you - you have some really interesting experience and I'm sure lots of valuable insights!
To begin, please could you introduce yourself and tell us a little about your background?
Sure. My legal career began interning at a personal injury law firm in 2013 (filing cabinets and all) and I then continued scaling up in the civil litigation field. A large part of my work was implementing case management systems and processes for client intake and firm communications. After 6 years I decided to reset, heading to Golden Gate University where I obtained my J.D. I knew I wanted to work my way through law school and sent out applications to a plethora of roles during my 1L year. In a stroke of good luck, a former litigator took me under his wing and I jumped in-house into the world of contract management and legal operations.
Your roles to date have been centered on legal ops. Could you tell us more about legal ops, please? What does it mean to you?
Legal Ops is fascinating because of the far-reaching implications legal technology has, if implemented correctly. Legal Ops professionals help connect the contracting, procurement, and finance processes of a growing company. The tools easily integrate, and with a strong legal ops team to build nimble processes and training, internal clients can experience “one-stop-shop” purchasing. Legal Ops also has the capacity to build and manage key compliance and corporate governance functions, including privacy and equity administration.
If companies learn to embrace tools at an earlier stage, under the guidance of a legal operations leader, they will find themselves ahead of the market in cost-savings and business satisfaction (internal and external).
And you’re currently the Legal Operations and Contracts Lead at scaleup Dapper Labs. What’s this like? What do you work on here?
Dapper Labs is a dynamic startup that believes that blockchain technology has the potential to be the biggest technological innovation since the Internet. We also believe that the potential of blockchain technology can only be fully realized if it is widely accessible. But for this technology to realize its real-world potential, it needs to be used by people in the real world - and the best way to introduce people to the technology while showcasing its value is through fun and games.
I was lucky enough to be selected for the posting of Legal Operations and Contracts Lead at Dapper Labs and I could not be more thrilled by the company’s enthusiasm for legal technology.
In my day-to-day work, I negotiate contracts, manage projects, and purchase and implement a variety of tools that enable Legal and Compliance to provide top-tier services to the business. This includes contracts management, spend management, online training, project management, and other SaaS/Software solutions.
Working at a company that at its heart understands that technology is an opportunity (versus a hinderance) is a dream come true for someone in legal operations.
Definitely - businesses who appreciate that technology is there to support their mission are likely to see a greater return on their investment!
You’ve worked with some pretty big companies like LinkedIn and Pinterest. How does the in-house legal environment vary between larger companies and startups/ scaleups like Dapper Labs?
I was blessed to have the time during law school to work as a consultant and enjoyed a variety of challenging roles. Having worked in both startup and big tech environments, it was fascinating to see the layers of complexity that Legal Ops teams face. The approval and adoption of legal technology is substantially more difficult as a company grows, and outdated processes tend to take a life of their own.
The easiest way to avoid this is to ensure that legal, finance and procurement technologies come in at the ground level and scale with the company. In parallel, the company should invest in subject matter experts who can build these tools, develop nimble processes, and maintain high user adoption. Legal technology is not simply the automation of legal work. It has a massive impact on the business, and as such requires thoughtful implementation, management, and presentation.
Yes! At Tomorro, we're very much of the opinion that legal tech is not just for legal teams and that it exists to enable more impactful work and better business.
What motivated you to work in an in-house legal environment to begin with?
I enjoy the legal profession because I get to be of service to clients, whether they are individuals or employees of a company. In-house teams offer a better work-life balance and maintain a transparent, collaborative culture across all levels. As part of an in-house legal team, I work with many different subject matter experts (e.g. marketing, IT, and engineering). The number of new skills I have stumbled upon in my in-house roles is unrivaled.
That's great! We’re seeing more and more non-traditional routes to working in legal departments. What sort of opportunities are there in in-house legal teams and who can get involved?
This sounds redundant, but the truth is really – anyone! I declined to follow a traditional path in college and law school. I did not have a plan for what I wanted to be. As I picked up new skills in each role, I noted what I liked (and didn’t). I dedicated time on LinkedIn, following career groups, content creators, and similar connections. I started to see from these posts where my skills and interests intersected, and then started aggressively applying and asking to be part of the fun.
Legal Ops is a multifaceted department; each team needs specialists in legal billing, contracts management, and document management (to name a few). You do not need a J.D. or a traditional legal background to seek out a role in this field. I would always prioritize individuals with outstanding client service experience, and experience in project management, research, or team management. A high EQ (emotional intelligence) and a strong curiosity for new technology are key to being a good Legal Ops team member.
That's pretty exciting and could result in all kinds of new skills joining the profession!
Well, unfortunately, that's all we have time for today. Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
I’m thrilled to have connected with Tomorro and to be invited to speak on legal technology. I hope in some small way, this article helps to explain the diversity and value of legal technology, CLM, and legal ops professionals.
I'm confident it will. Thank you for speaking with us Marie. It's been a pleasure! If people want to connect, how can they do so?
You can find me on LinkedIn here.