There’s no point looking to the future if you don’t have a solid baseline, and there’s nothing more foundational to legal than contracts. How do you build an MVP for your contracting process?
Stephanie Dominy is general counsel at Snyk. This is a chapter from our 'Legal for scaleups' eBook, featuring legal leaders from some of the world's fastest growing companies.
When I joined Snyk as the first lawyer in 2018, I was responsible for supporting a two-person sales function. Now, we have nearly 100 people in our go-to-market (GTM) function alone.
The legal function has a rapid turnaround time. When I started supporting the sales team, they would send over a document for review, and I’d respond immediately. The legal team is agile, but the problem is that agility isn’t scalable - it’s just good firefighting. And as the GTM function continues to grow, we can’t have a legal team that hires lawyers in direct proportion. I have to do more with less, and work smarter.
I realized we needed processes in place to help us resolve issues within the legal function, particularly around contract management between legal and sales. I wanted to design a contracting process that would enable sales reps to self-serve. In the end, I created a minimum viable product (MVP) contracting process so I had a framework in place. Here’s how to do it.
“As the company grows, we can’t have a legal team that hires lawyers in direct proportion. I have to do more with less, and work smarter”
Align and design 🎨
Before you do anything else, you need to align your objectives with those of the business. What does the business want legal to prioritize? Take the time to list legal’s objectives on their radar, but remember that your primary focus is to follow company objectives. If you aren’t aligned, you won’t be able to add the value the business needs.
Another point before you get started: pinpoint your priorities. The whole purpose of the contracting process is to help legal do more with less, so you need to take a deep dive into what’s important; if sales is your number one priority, how do you approach tasks within the department? Do you focus on every NDA first, or only the enterprise deals?
Knowing how to structure work and where your focus lies will help you get started.
Step one: accessible, understandable legal documents
Create contracts that are capable of being understood and used by anyone in the commercial team, with minimal input from legal. If the commercial team can complete a contract on a standard template, negotiate with the customer, and get the document signed without any changes, then you have achieved this goal! At Snyk, we connect with different types of customers and send a variety of complex contracts, so we try to sustain that element of sales-enabled, low-maintenance interaction between sales reps and the customer.
Step two: ongoing, in-depth training
Offer training sessions for your sales team, so that they learn to identify responsibilities within sales and legal. Adopting a new system can get challenging, and a lack of context and understanding could lead to ambiguity. Teach sales how to engage with legal, and where legal expects them to take responsibility. This is an ongoing task and requires buy-in from the leadership teams.
Step three: a legal helpdesk
Establish a system that can measure the legal team’s success. This can be a lengthy task, so consider approaching it only once you have bandwidth and a larger team. For me, this involved implementing a legal helpdesk, using Zendesk integrated with Slack. These tech integrations ensured sales, vendor, employment and general requests were segmented into separate channels. They also minimized disruption, so employees didn’t have to change their ways of working to connect with us. CRM and customer success software like Zendesk helped us triage and manage requests. And perhaps most importantly, I used this system to measure legal’s workload, efficiency, and whether we could sustain the level of work with our current headcount.
Step four: iteration
This is an ongoing process that involves transforming your ‘minimum viable product’ system into a valuable, scalable process that drives growth in the business. Involving the wider business is useful - initially, I worked with the VP of sales to establish the right framework, but later I also collaborated with the IT ops director to implement our legal helpdesk.
“It takes time to establish processes and ensure they’re adopted by the wider business. You need to find that balance between achieving the quick wins and building out the legal team”
Time issues and trust issues 🤔
There are a few constraints you might face when building out your MVP contracting process. Even when you know that scaling a legal team means working smarter rather than harder, it takes time to establish processes and ensure they’re adopted by the wider business - time most lawyers don’t have. You need to find that balance between achieving the quick wins and building out the legal team. I couldn’t make a lot of the changes I wanted to until I had hired more lawyers to free my time up for more process work. You need to strike a balance between how much you can do and how much you need to postpone until you have more resource.
You also have to make the effort to get sales teams on board. Some sales reps are trained to avoid legal work altogether: they can sometimes labour under the misapprehension that the legal team alone is responsible for contracts end-to-end. This can make it difficult to implement new processes that enable sales teams to self-serve. Make sure you emphasize the shared responsibilities that go with the contract process - it’s legal work, but it’s also a commercial document.
Empower your commercial team at an early stage to control aspects of the document and negotiation, with appropriate safeguards in place. That basic legal training and encouragement is essential, as it reduces the reluctance some sales reps can feel towards taking over this responsibility. A legal playbook can also help mitigate this.
Measure success, move forward 🚀
Measuring success can be as simple as getting in touch with the wider business. When deals close, people are happy, and we get positive responses on how we streamlined that process. You need data to measure success, but with such an MVP process in place, this kind of feedback from the business might be the only datapoint you have.
As you continue to iterate, you can pull reports and create analytics that offer a more accurate view on the legal team’s progress. You can also implement tools that can help with contract automation - the legal tech space is thriving, and there’s no shortage of technology to assess, trial and review.
Don’t sweat the small stuff 😅
When the company is in its early stages, and resources are stretched, sometimes you need to think ahead before you complete a task - is the methodology you’re following the most efficient use of your time? How could that methodology be challenged? How can you mitigate any problems you might face?
For lawyers looking to establish their MVP contracting process, try and keep things as simple as possible, for as long as possible.
‘Keeping it simple’ plays into every aspect of your work - handling management buy-in doesn’t have to be complicated, for example. Keep your reasoning simple, explain why you’re trying to achieve a certain task, and tie everything back to the primary objective every business has: growth. If you change this process, how will that support the wider business objectives? What will this new process achieve? You should form your reasoning based on what it means to your commercial colleagues and not just yourself.
You’ll always have too much on your plate - that’s a given. So make sure you manage your tasks effectively and prioritise high-risk legal work, and high-value commercial work. I often tell my team, “don’t sweat the small stuff”, and this is especially true for any lawyer working in a high-growth company. Building out an MVP contracting process can get you far enough to learn and iterate - and to free up your time for what really matters.
Stephanie Dominy is general counsel at Snyk. This is a chapter from our 'Legal for scaleups' eBook, featuring legal leaders from some of the world's fastest growing companies. Download for free now.
For legal teams, agreeing contracts is a painful process that involves saving files, uploading to DocuSign, and losing control of versions. Request a demo to find out how Juro can remove these bottlenecks and enable the business to agree faster.