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Tech GCs: How to track and scale legal in one spreadsheet

In-house lawyers getting to grips with legal operations know they need to be data-driven. But where should they start? We asked our go-to legal experts in the tech sector to share what goes in their all-seeing spreadsheets. Here’s what we learned.

“The legal department can no longer get away with being a tax on the business that cannot be calculated.” That’s what Cisco’s Steve Harmon told us at the CLOC London conference recently, addressing a room full of professionals looking to make legal ops more efficient. But a drive towards tracking, data and accountability isn’t the sole preserve of FTSE100 and Fortune 500 giants. The tech companies and high-growth startups we work with every day are also intensely data-driven, and it’s increasingly the norm for effective in-house lawyers to live - at least, in part - in spreadsheets.

So if you want to get started with a spreadsheet structure that will help you track and monitor legal’s performance, while being robust enough to handle aggressive growth, what should be in there? We asked three innovative legal leaders to share their tips on the one spreadsheet to rule them all.

1. Amy Jacoby, Legal Operations Manager, Spotify 🎧

“Make a list of all your matters. Categorise them using a tiering model, where you order them from the bet-the-company matters, then using risk and complexity to order them down to the lowest value matters. Then make sure you’re able to attribute spend to them.”

Amy’s spreadsheet provides a great foundation for staying on top of the costs and risks affecting legal at your company, and the best thing is that it obviously scales from a high-growth tech environment right up to a post-IPO behemoth like Spotify. “It also helps me to identify resource needs - where are we volume-heavy, where are we light on headcount, do we need LPOs? It informs so many different potential behaviours and it’s a pretty simple ask to prepare.”

2. Natalie Salunke, VP Legal, Europe, FLEETCOR 💳

“In a sales-led organisation, your business metrics will be things like number of deals closed, value of contracts closed, and so on. Aligning with those can be quite powerful: track your incoming matters into a WIP list, tier it, sort it by function, and categorise it. I split it into NDA, query, amendment agreement, agreement and project. With those five tags I have a great snapshot of what’s going on.”

Natalie uses reference numbers to tag her WIP list in Excel; this is a great example of using the tech you have intelligently, rather than rushing out to buy something new. And when the three presidents into whom she reports ask her what she’s working on and why, then workload discussions are much easier with all this data to back it up - particularly as her spreadsheet splits out matters by type, which makes decision-making easier. For example, if most categories stay the same, but NDAs are doubling every few months as the company grows, then can that workstream be outsourced to an LPO, or automated with self-serve?

3. Holly Manvell, Head of Legal Operations, Trainline 🚂

In Holly’s spreadsheet, spend is the headline figure that explains everything else. “It’s the one number I’d monitor above all the others, as it’s a good indicator of what you’re spending time on and how the team is coping. It also lets you speak to business colleagues in the same language they use elsewhere: finance.” She plots this against perhaps the most precious asset: time. “Money is important but if you’re aiming to change the way you do things, then prove how you’ll save time, as it’s a finite resource for everyone.”

Spend vs time might seem obvious but the number of hands up at Adobe Senior Director of Legal Operations Lisa Konie’s metrics session at CLOC last month indicates that people are still getting to grips with spreadsheet setup, at companies of all sizes. And if you’re a tech GC at a business that’s scaling, those numbers can drift out of alignment extremely quickly. It’s also a no-brainer for when you need to ask your CFO for budget for new tools - nothing will help you make a bulletproof business case like hard data.

The final point, upon which all our gurus agreed, is that even if your spreadsheet seems rudimentary at first, some data is always better than no data. Because once you scale, it will only become harder to set up spreadsheets and reporting mechanisms. So lay down a solid foundation with one spreadsheet to rule them all - and keep an eye on those numbers!

Stay tuned for more insights in our Tech GCs series, and follow us on LinkedIn to stay up to date.

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