For decades, the legal department was one of enigma and complexity. The business made requests and in-house counsel serviced these while keeping themselves to themselves.
However, as global digitisation began to accelerate, the pace of business became faster. Now, SaaS is a booming industry and it moves at the speed of light. This has resulted in legal teams needing to be more agile, faster, and better integrated into the business.
So how can in-house lawyers work faster? How are lawyers in SaaS companies streamlining processes and nailing cross-company collaboration?
The answer? By focusing on simplicity.
What does simplicity mean to in-house lawyers?
By definition, things that are 'simple' are easy to understand or do. They present little to no difficulty.
For in-house lawyers, simplicity means removing complexity wherever possible. It's about reducing friction to an absolute minimum; whether than be within the legal team, while working with other business teams, or for suppliers, customers, and external support.
In-house counsel can remove complexity from many, if not all, aspects of their work; from processes and operations to contracts and collaboration.
Why is simplicity so important?
While lawyers may be well versed in complicated language and complex processes, it can often slow things down; especially if you're working in SaaS and the business needs you to be more agile and work closely with other teams.
It's important to reduce complexity in your work and in how you work to help others easily understand, take action faster, and think more strategically. This will result in better outcomes being reached more quickly, as well as more streamlined processes and smoother collaboration.
For startup and scaleup companies, in particular, the ability to move quickly is a huge advantage that allows them to improve their product at pace, delight customers, and stay ahead of the competition. If lawyers don't reduce friction, they risk slowing down the business, inflating costs, and losing revenue.
In essence, the less complex something is, the faster we can move.
How can in-house lawyers remove complexity?
Removing complexity doesn't necessarily come easily to in-house counsel. Lawyers are educated using heavy, complex books that site complicated cases and even teach some legal terms in Latin. Do you know how many people speak Latin nowadays?! No, me neither, but it's very few.
Therefore, lawyers must go against what they are used to. They must bring things back to basics and operate in a more human way while also thinking creatively. This means no using jargon, as well as constantly challenging and proactively improving the way things are done.
Now, it is important to acknowledge that a degree of complexity is required in some instances - after all, we are talking about the law. But we so often find ourselves either adding or accepting unnecessary complexity simply (excuse the pun) because that's the way it's always been done.
So, for the legal department, removing complexity and reducing friction fall into two main categories.
1) Actually removing complexity (poof, gone, just like that)
2) Translating something complex into something easily digestible (from 'eh?' to 'ah')
Let's explore these.
This is where you make a tweak to something that results in fewer things having to happen or less time being taken to get from A to B.
Say, for instance, there is always negotiation on a particular clause of a contract. This causes a lot of back and forth between the legal team, the sales team, and the client. Each time, you end up changing the clause to an alternative that suits all parties, but every time you do this, it needs to be signed off by the commercial director. This process delays the time to signed contract, can affect quarter-end results, and also wastes the valuable time of everyone involved.
With the realisation that you generally end up using the alternative clause, you can replace the old clause with this version in the contract template with the approval of the commercial director. This version receives much less pushback and as a result, less time is spent on negotiation, contracts are signed faster, there is one less person in the process, and you reduce the amount of time spent on this lower added-value task.
This is just one example of how in-house lawyers can identify friction, remove the complexity and adjust accordingly. This mindset and approach can be weaved through legal work, operations, processes, and communication.
As another example, some SaaS companies have a key metric of 'time to launch'. The legal team identified that they often didn't have enough notice to ensure everything was in place in time for desired launch dates. They, therefore, decided that a lawyer would attend the product stand-up meetings.
By doing so, the legal team now has the foresight and greater context to prepare accordingly in advance and ensure potential challenges never become blockers.
You can also reduce complexity by making use of the right tools and technology. For instance, we've all experienced the chaos caused by long email chains and several versions of a contract during negotiations. You can remove this friction by using a contract management platform to centralise negotiations and control versioning.
To remove complexity, you might be asking yourself:
👉 Is this really needed?
👉 Can we remove it?
👉 Are all steps really necessary?
👉 How can we do this better?
👉 Would I accept this if I were on the other side?
👉 Are more people involved than there needs to be?
Translating the complex
Translating the complex is all about simplifying things that you're unable to technically remove the complexity from. By doing so, you can still reduce the friction in the process and therefore deliver outcomes faster, lower costs, and reduce time spent on lower added-value tasks.
In SaaS and other fast-moving industries, in-house lawyers need to work closely with other teams. To do so effectively, you need to find a common language. And I'm sorry to tell you that the common language is rarely legalese. So communicate as you would in the real world, without slipping into legal professor-mode.
"Working closely with other teams helps to reduce complexity and often uncovers a simpler way of achieving your goals. But you can only understand how to do this if you have all the relevant expertise in the conversations."
Frances Coyle, Legal Consultant and former Legal Director at Monzo
Translating the complex might be literally saying things in more plain language or it might be explaining something (in non-legal language) to avoid future friction. For example, the sales team is always coming to you asking to amend a clause in a contract. But, for whatever reason, there's no wiggle room on that clause. Take the time to explain why this is the case so that the sales team can understand that changing the clause isn't an option for a valid reason.
While this may cost you some time upfront, it will save time in the longer term as the sales team can better manage the counterparty, agree on terms sooner, and stop making the same request to you in the hope that you'll have changed your mind.
When it comes to translating the complex, you might be thinking about:
👉 Will everyone understand this?
👉 Does this language make sense to a non-lawyer?
👉 How can I prevent this from happening in the future?
👉 Is it clear enough?
👉 Does it need any more, or indeed any less, context?
To summarise, removing complexity from processes, operations, legal work, and communication is one of the best things you can do to deliver outcomes faster, lower costs, and reduce time spent on lower added-value tasks.
To weave simplicity into your day-to-day and reduce friction, here are four principles to keep in mind.
1) Work more closely with other teams
2) Speak in a more human language
3) Remove unnecessary steps, people, or aspects of any kind
4) Adjust to what works best most often
For more on how legal teams can support their business scale, check out Legal for Scaling FinTech, with France Coyle, Legal Consultant and former Legal Director with Monzo Bank.