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The right ways of working: Electra Japonas, The Law Boutique

Electra Japonas, 18 February 2020

Legal operations

Whether it's managing risk at Disney, or driving growth at scaleups, legal needs to communicate effectively. Electra Japonas, Founder of the Law Boutique, explains how to bridge the gap.

Hi 👋 who are you? 

My name’s Electra, I’m the founder of The Law Boutique. 

What inspired you to found the Law Boutique?

I spent ten years working in-house, but never just on the legal side. My role had always been a mixture of legal and commercial and I usually worked as a conduit between the two. For example, I was a commercial and contract manager at the European Space Agency and Airbus. My role was to bring the legal team and the space engineers into a room where I would translate what each of the parties were trying to achieve and balance the two sides for a successful negotiation. I spent a lot of time wondering why my role was even necessary - ultimately, both sides were highly capable but there was often a breakdown in communication. 

The penny dropped when in my last role at British American Tobacco, I spent four months negotiating a multi-million pound agreement for an IT project with the support of a big law firm, only to end up re-drafting the whole agreement when the business was unable to understand most of what it said. I spent the next few months translating the agreement into plain English, introducing visual guides to explain how the various teams need to operate to reach the right outcomes and building tech tools to streamline the contract management process. The idea for The Law Boutique came from this friction. 

How does The Law Boutique help legal work smarter?

We primarily work with in-house counsel at Series B and tech scaleups to:

  • Perfect their strategy and target operating model by understanding the team, their stakeholders, how they’re organized and how they operate. GCs in fast-paced organizations are extremely busy people and they are usually so immersed in the day-to-day that it’s hard for them to take a step back and think about how they are working.

  • Implement legal design: although currently a victim to hype, I think legal design needs to go mainstream, ASAP! We offer design thinking workshops and mentorship around process redesign to implement a more user-focused, design-led approach. Legal doesn’t need to be so unattractive - Juro's privacy policy is a great example of this, and we’ve done something similar with our policy.

  • Outsource legal support, specifically with commercial contract overflow and data protection work. We offer support to in-house counsel and deliver GDPR projects to businesses who are looking to build a comprehensive framework that the rest of the business can engage with easily.

  • Advise on technology: we analyze issues and suggest tech solutions that could mitigate the problems. We also build tech solutions on their existing tech stacks where possible. 

"GCs at small scaleups are customer-centric - they have to be, because they’re immersed in this environment and they’re expected to do more than just manage risk"

You’ve previously worked at some impressive companies, such as EY and Disney. What did legal look like at these companies? 

When I was at Disney, I worked with sales teams across the world and had to adapt to the technology they were using to keep the legal function reactive. As a result, I've always been quite tech-literate. I supported in-house lawyers with their overflow, and saw a need for improvements to their ways of working. Tech facilitated this but wasn't a solution. 

My projects at Disney and EY were fast-paced, so I had to be agile. I used a lot of technology to automate my work and make my life easier. For example, I had a huge document with various clauses so I could copy-paste into my contracts. Whenever I came across a clause that I thought was well-drafted, I dropped it in. This became an imperative tool for me. I also created automated NDAs so people would just be able to fill in a form and get a populated NDA sent to them. 

I’ve never worked at a traditional law firm, so I've always taken a project-based approach to legal services. I think that’s why The Law Boutique is unique because we deliver legal support holistically - we look at the delivery as a service, rather than looking at the letter of the law alone.

How does legal differ at startups, compared to large corporations? 

At a large corporation, legal is generally trained to manage risk, whereas in a scaleup, legal is expected to drive growth. GCs at scaleups are customer-centric - they have to be, because they’re immersed in this environment and they’re expected to do more than just manage risk. They’re expected to drive growth, find the right tools, create efficient ways of working, cut costs, and manage the daily functions of the legal team. 

Does resistance to change vary between legal at startups and legal at large corporations?

Definitely. Change in large organizations can feel almost impossible due to the layers and layers of governance, especially in a regulated environment like a big corporate bank. Change in a huge organization is definitely not impossible but it is really difficult as it means overcoming years and years of training that encourages risk-averse behaviour.

Comparatively, that kind of behaviour is almost unacceptable at a startup. The first question in a startup is ‘can I survive?’ and the second is ‘is this acceptable from a legal point of view?’ Change management is easier at these small organizations, and GCs are much more reactive - they’re typically more exciting, dynamic, innovative lawyers; well-crafted for this volatile environment. 

"Lawyers generally aren’t the first to say 'I don’t know' and that fear of vulnerability prevents innovation. Lawyers need to let their guard down, collaborate and embrace change to build a solution that works"

What are the most common misconceptions you hear from GCs looking to make changes to their ways of working?

The biggest misconception is that a ‘minimum viable product’ approach isn’t suitable for the legal environment. Lawyers generally aren’t the first to put up their hands and say 'I don’t know' and that fear of vulnerability prevents innovation. Lawyers need to let their guard down, collaborate and embrace change to build a solution that works.

Another misconception I hear is people saying they want to buy technology to drive change. They often think they can buy a piece of tech and all their problems will be solved, when really they should be looking at how they work holistically, and how they can get the buy-in on specific solutions to make them more effective.

Technology has the potential to be amazing, but if you haven't spent enough time understanding the problem you’re going to solve, and most importantly, an understanding of the end-user, it just won’t work. 

How can GCs establish a legal function that works smarter and adds value to the wider business? What are the steps they need to take? 

We’ve got a formula for this at The Law Boutique:

  1. Understand business objectives - understand company-wide OKRs

  2. Build your team’s OKRs around the wider business objectives

  3. Clarify roles and responsibilities within the legal function, and create goals for those team members that align with legal objectives. Rewrite job specs if you need to

  4. Take some time to understand what your team actually does (you’d be amazed at how much they do that falls under your radar and doesn’t get recognised)

  5. Look at your tools - are they adding value as the business scales?

  6. Document your processes - this takes time, but it’s worth it. It’ll help you identify the problems within the function, and put together a plan to remediate the gaps

  7. Automate tasks you don’t need to do manually

After all those steps have been completed, it’s important to iterate and get constant feedback - not just from the team but also from the wider business in order to achieve what you need to. 

Find out more about how The Law Boutique can help legal teams work more efficiently. 

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Topics: Legal operations

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