How legal teams can enable finance

Danielle Price, 8 December 2020

Duco's head of finance and operations, Danielle Price, explains how legal teams can pair their knowledge with data to help finance teams forecast and deliver results.

This is an interview from our eBook - Revealed: what the business actually wants from legal.

Tell us about your role.

Duco currently employs approximately 120 people in 4 different countries, my teams encompass finance, but also legal, CoSec, facilities, admin, and business operations.

Before you’d ever worked with a lawyer, what was your perception of them?

I’ve worked alongside legal for a long-time now, but prior to that I would have said they were very fact-based; It goes without saying that they’re intellectual; back then I thought of them predominantly as smart people who know their case law.

How does that compare to professionals in finance?

In some senses they’re very similar. Both have been through a similar process of study and training, they both steer the business by interpreting laws and standards; and both those roles (certainly in-house) are moving in a direction where you need to partner with the business, to play a strategic role in order to be effective. Legal plays a pivotal role in our organization - in guiding it through change and best practice, and helping us to react to events and developments in real time.

I look to our legal team to develop and design improved ways of working across the organization. That might mean standardizing documents or processes, delivering training, or producing cheat sheets

When it’s time to hire the company’s first lawyer, how do you feel about that in finance?

Having legal in-house at Duco, as a high-growth company, was absolutely the right thing to do. It was hugely beneficial to have in-house legal when we began to scale, to re-engineer our processes for that acceleration in growth, at the same time safeguarding the organization. With a pure finance hat on, bringing external legal spend down was good, but the real value is having the experience/expertise in-house. An in-house legal team develops company and product knowledge which can be invaluable context, and drives real value-add.

I see our legal function as very much a partnership with their internal customers in the business. The main customer is without doubt sales - the culture at Duco is definitely a partnership, that’s why they sit together (or did, pre-COVID!). Legal work alongside and support sales, not hinder them.

More than that though, I look to our legal team to develop and design improved ways of working across the organization. That might mean standardizing documents or processes, delivering training, or producing cheat sheets. We are all responsible for creating an efficient working environment.

As the company’s finance leader, how often do you work directly with lawyers?

Frequently. Legal plays a vital role in a high-growth organisation, and at Duco we utilise both in-house and external counsel. My interactions with lawyers can vary considerably - from investment or financing, advisory, contract negotiations (customer or vendors), or Company Secretarial matters.

In my role at Duco, as I’m responsible for the legal team, I have daily interactions with lawyers, which I appreciate might be more frequent than a pure Head of Finance role. That said, the legal and finance teams often work asynchronously in workstreams and as such have developed a very open dialogue across the teams. Everyone involved in delivery needs to understand expectations, deadlines and dependencies so that everyone is aligned and we can be successful.

If you don’t find a way to work together effectively, what would be the negative consequences?

Everyone would fail, to some extent. But I believe that fundamentally people want an effective way of working together and achieving the organization’s objectives. Often issues arise because one team hasn’t understood that another has a dependency on their process/data, for example. Once they understand the dependency and the ‘why’, ways of working together naturally follow.

If you can’t open these dialogues, it’s very easy to see significant negative consequences, disengagement, missed deadlines, poor quality of information. As leaders, we need to ensure our people have the right tools to do their job, and legal and finance need to empower each other in that regard, and be clear about expectations.

My expectation is that the legal team is empowered to reengineer processes and take ownership of things that they’re a part of, bringing a group together to make it happen

One example would be forecasting. We rely on having good data in Salesforce; it’s really important that legal and sales ops align and partner effectively and define responsibilities when it comes to data hygiene. If a contract contains something bespoke, that was negotiated and buried deep in the document, that could be a problem for sales ops and for finance, unless legal is proactive and transparent in bringing it to the right people’s attention. You’d only find out otherwise if you went digging, and in a high-growth environment, who’s got the time?

My expectation is that the legal team is empowered to reengineer processes and take ownership of things that they’re a part of, bringing a group together to make it happen. Legal understand contract minutiae better than anyone else so they have a unique perspective on what may or may not work. If they have changes to suggest to a process that could benefit everyone, they might not be able to get it done in practice themselves, but they could put together a group that could.

Where do you find legal to be really helpful?

We lean on the legal team often - we use Slack a lot and there’s always a chat going with legal on positioning, or working out if something is possible. It might start with an idea you grabbed out of the air, or picked up from a super high-level conversation, but having that knowledge in-house, or at least the tools and experience to find it and action it, is really valuable.

What kind of qualities do you think a lawyer needs to be able to enable a finance team?

An effective lawyer will be a subject matter expert, someone who brings industry knowledge in addition to technical knowledge. Being solution-focused with a problem-solving mindset is immensely powerful for the entire organization and not just finance. It would also be remiss of me not to mention the ability to work effectively with ambiguity, as is often the case, and as such being a good listener, hearing an idea or a problem and being able to translate that into a viable commercial solution.

Are lawyers sufficiently data-driven? Is that an area where they could help finance even more?

Data is incredibly powerful - captured correctly it empowers the whole organization. Legal plays a fundamental role in both the quality of data at Duco and its lineage across the organization.

The key impact our in-house legal team has with regard to data as I see it are:

  • Customer analytics, e.g. Salesforce data capture

  • Metrics: defining and tracking metrics which provide insight and opportunity for improvement into ways of working, e.g. average duration of legal review in Salesforce.

We’ve certainly been on a journey working all that out. The legal team definitely wants to show and visualise their impact, how they’re being more productive, effective and impactful. That’s always a work in progress, but they are really making a difference.

This is an interview from our eBook - Revealed: what the business actually wants from legal. Download and find out what HR, sales operations, C-suite and more expect from in-house legal teams.

Topics: Legal operations

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