What does operations want from legal? And what does legal want from operations? Liberis' head of global operations, Hanna Sommer, and GC Alexis Alexander, discuss the dynamic between the two teams.
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How can legal teams enable operations teams? And conversely, how can operations teams enable legal? We decided to ask both legal and operations at Liberis, to learn about the dynamic they have at a high-growth fintech, and what they expect of their colleagues. Keep reading to hear from Hanna Sommer, head of global operations, and Alexis Alexander, general counsel, at Liberis - or use the navigation below.
How legal can enable the operations team
I joined Liberis as their Head of Global Operations in March 2021. My job involves process optimization and leading the customer operations teams, as well as new country, partner and product launches from an operational point of view, so I have to contend with plenty of regulatory obstacles.
The best way to resolve these issues is to work closely with the legal team - and at a scaleup, where everything is moving so quickly, it’s essential that legal is open to enabling me to work as efficiently as possible.
I collaborate with legal almost every day, and they’re great at making sure I can do my job. Here are five traits legal should adopt in order to enable operations teams at a high-velocity business.
“The legal team brings a solution-oriented mindset to the table. They’re not here to say ‘no’ to every suggestion without offering an alternative that helps me reach my goal”
1. A solution-oriented mindset 🧠
You’ve likely heard the common misconception of legal “being a blocker instead of an enabler”. All legal teams are encouraged to disprove these assumptions when they join a business by being collaborative, friendly, and approachable.
What I love about working with the legal team is that they bring a solution-oriented mindset to the table. They’re not here to say ‘no’ to every suggestion without offering an alternative that helps me reach my goal.
2. Security in the final sign-off 🔏
We’re a rapidly scaling business, expanding to new territories. And my challenge is to standardize processes as we continue to grow. The operations team reviews, redesigns, and optimizes processes as we go - but we need legal approval on our changes, especially in a regulated environment, across different regions.
I need legal colleagues who can keep up the pace and sign tasks off with total confidence. It’s a time-consuming process for our legal team, because it opens the business to risk if legal misses something in the approval stage. But if they can enable me with certainty, I can better serve the business and ensure that we’re growing in a healthy and manageable way.
3. Transparency 🔎
I find it really helpful when the legal team helps both operations and other teams in the business understand legal’s workload. Sessions on legal work are insightful, covering questions like:
What does the legal team do?
What’s on their plate right now?
What are their daily challenges?
It helps disprove the misconception that legal exists in its own bubble, detached from the business - and instead helps others understand legal’s ways of working.
It also helps us visualize legal’s workload and priorities, making for a better collaboration. We usually run these as dedicated ‘lunch and learn’ sessions, where there’s a level of informality and we can get to know our colleagues better.
“Legal colleagues should understand how their decisions impact the wider business ... Clear communications really help me understand where legal is coming from”
4. A business-focused approach 📊
Legal colleagues should understand how their decisions impact the wider business. This helps with both collaboration and communication - when working with operations teams, for example, it helps if legal has an understanding of how their decisions impact the work I do, or how certain challenges in operations can be made easier with the right legal input.
That understanding helps massively, but also clear communication on how decisions can have a wider impact on the business really helps me understand where legal is coming from.
5. Approachability 🤗
I have regular meetings with the legal team, but it’s useful when legal also has time for ad hoc queries. There are a few projects, such as new launches, that I can’t complete without legal.
The same goes for customer-facing tasks - anything around TCF (Treating Customers Fairly) compliance, or managing relationships with vulnerable customers requires legal support. We have a formal ticketing system for these legal requests, which is great for upcoming, planned projects - but it’s also useful for me to be able to reach out to legal via email or Slack, or even to call them as a new situation arises.
Working so closely with the legal team, on a regular basis, changes the way we enable each other; collaboration with legal always feels, and should always feel, like a situation where no-one wins unless we’re both winning together.
Hanna Sommer is the head of global operations at Liberis. Keep reading to hear the legal perspective in this collaboration case study, with the general counsel, Alexis Alexander.
How operations can enable the legal team
I run legal and compliance globally at Liberis. We’re a scaling business, with an international customer base, so working closely with operations is key to our success.
Our work with Hanna and her operations team helps us achieve more every day and operate as efficiently as possible. We need to work in a truly agile and cross-functional way. Here are the traits I look for when working with my operations colleagues.
“Being able to get under the hood is essential - if the operations team understands the business and its stakeholders, they can figure out how best to serve them”
1. A business-savvy approach 💸
A great operations team needs to be able to communicate with the wider business. You could implement all the processes in the world, but if they’re not easy to follow and rational, it makes no difference to how the business operates.
Being able to wear multiple hats and get under the hood is essential - if the operations team thoroughly understands the business and its stakeholders, they can figure out how best to serve them. Hanna and her team are incredible at this.
2. Strong problem-solving skills 🤔
With so many customers across the world, Liberis is constantly sending out multiple versions of contracts, in different languages, taking into consideration local laws, and so on.
It’s absolutely critical that the process behind this is watertight, because the potential for mistakes is massive, and their consequences could be really serious - especially with documents that concern third parties.
However, spotting problems before they manifest isn’t always easy at such a high-growth business. At one point, I caught onto the fact that the business was sending outdated versions of commercial contracts in the UK - fortunately, it was just a minor formatting error, but the first thing I did was get in touch with Hanna and her team to understand why this was happening and how we could better manage version control.
Hanna, as always, jumped right on the issue to identify the root cause and ensure it would not happen again. We took a deep dive into the contract process to figure out:
The contract journey from legal to the customer
Where the friction points were
Who’s involved in the process - aside from legal
The high-risk points in the journey
What operations can do to resolve the issue
How legal and operations can work together seamlessly to ensure end-to-end efficiencies and accuracy
With these points mapped out, we then looked at building and developing a really strong process - and since doing so, we’ve managed to avoid this problem repeating itself.
3. The ability to bring teams together 🤝
I believe a strong operations function should encourage teams to work in universal tools and systems - and this is especially pertinent to legal.
There’s often the perception that legal lives in its own bubble, and legal work can get siloed from the business as a result. Hanna and her team supports the legal function by helping us operate in the same systems as the wider business.
The operations team has been brilliant in helping us get the most out of these platforms, so we can map our work and objectives in the same way as every other team. When it comes to matter management, ticketing requests and so on, we leaned on operations to help us implement these processes. And by doing so we can all unify our work and integrate legal as a core component of the business, much like any other team.
“It’s useful to work with colleagues who are prepared to audit legal - unless your business has a dedicated legal ops specialist, lawyers don’t join a business with that legal ops mindset in place”
4. Process optimization skills ✨
I wanted to ensure legal was getting the most out of its task tracker, so I reached out to Hanna for her expertise. She showed us how the operations team used their task-tracking system, and mapped it to the company-wide OKRs. She analysed our system, before improving it to work in the same way as the operations team.
That input was extremely valuable - legal can sometimes feel hesitant to reach out to other teams for this kind of help, but it’s worth making the most of the operations team and their knowledge.
5. Capacity for learning and development 🙌
If you’re a member of an operations team, helping legal understand how they can improve their workflows and create efficiencies can make a big difference.
It’s always useful to work with colleagues who are prepared to give up some time to audit legal - unless your business has a dedicated legal ops specialist, lawyers don’t join a business with that legal operations mindset in place. It’s not something that comes naturally to every lawyer, and instead needs to be taught by those with greater experience.
Operations teams can help legal become more operational, more data and process driven, and in turn a higher performing team. Being able pick apart legal processes and improve the way we do things without necessarily involving other teams is a great skill to have and can ensure legal plays its role as a valuable business partner.