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The role of legal counsel has tremendously evolved in the last decade, getting more deeply entwined with the core fabrics of their organization’s strategies and decision-making processes. This brings a whole new perspective to a product counsel’s job description, and to remain valuable in their organizations (and industry), product counsel must step up to the plate, bringing new competencies to the table.

However, the product counsel’s job is not always a smooth ride. They have to put up with constantly changing regulatory policies, misalignment with other product-facing teams, and the pressure of balancing legal requirements with product-driven business objectives.

This begs a crucial question: how can product counsel accelerate business growth while keeping product-related risks within manageable limits?

In this guide, we will explore all the answers.

Are you a bottleneck or a springboard?

Are you a bottleneck or a springboard?

The modern business world is a fast-paced one, constantly putting organizations under pressure to keep up with market trends and evolving customer needs. Without a streamlined product innovation and delivery process, businesses can lose their grip on the market.

Product counsel are a crucial piece of the puzzle in a company’s quest to materialize their product-led growth objectives. However, they do have a reputation for being risk-averse and disrupting the pace of product development, procurement, and delivery.

Yet, for a typical product counsel, it is not that easy to identify when or how they’re being the bottleneck when all they’re genuinely trying to do is minimize legal risks for their organization.

If you’re in this situation, here’s how you can tell if you’re being a bottleneck or a springboard.

#1 Communication and collaboration

Bottleneck: You withhold legal feedback until late in the development or procurement process. You only provide legal guidance when asked. If teams are always waiting for your input to move forward, you could be acting as a bottleneck.

Springboard: You actively engage with product teams from the beginning of their projects. You proactively offer legal insights and guidance, encourage open communication, and are accessible for questions and discussions. You’re usually found in brainstorming sessions, design reviews, and early planning meetings where you identify potential legal issues and offer advice before they become roadblocks.

“While I have a seat at the table in all meetings with the upper management where key strategies are discussed, I encourage my team members to have 1:1 sessions with team leaders from other business units at their level. This way, they can contribute more to business operations, and the company will, consequently, be more legally compliant on a granular level.

By doing 1:1s with stakeholders, my team members not only get familiar with short-term and long-term business objectives but also take progressive steps toward accomplishing those objectives. The business grows, of course, but at the same time, my team members grow in confidence when they see how their contributions have bolstered the revenue stream of the company.”

~ Sandeep Chowdhury, Group GC, HCC Ltd.

Transforming the Legal Function at a Large Enterprise

#2 Streamlining review processes

Bottleneck: Your review process is overly complex or time-consuming. You subject your colleagues to multiple rounds of review, each with extensive legal scrutiny. If they become frustrated by the lengthy legal reviews and begin to avoid your input until absolutely necessary, it could put you in a reactive (rather than proactive) position, with so many last-minute adjustments.

Springboard: You work to create streamlined processes that balance legal considerations with the need for efficiency. You educate your colleagues on fundamental legal requirements for routine procedures, offering clear guidelines about when and how to involve you in their work. That way, they can safely accelerate product development, procurement, and deployment without the long and repetitive review processes. You also employ the use of technology to digitize and automate routine tasks in contract management, legal research, document management, and more.

Also read: The Perfect Contract Review Checklist for Commercial Contracts

#3 Risk assessment

Bottleneck: You're overly risk-averse and tend to raise concerns without offering actionable solutions. Your office has become the “hallowed tower of nos,” making your colleagues pessimistic about bringing ideas and proposals to your desk.

Springboard: You understand the role of risks in business and do not shy away from them. Instead, you are proactive about bringing attention to these risks and suggesting innovative ways to manage them. You have a framework for assessing risks, prioritizing them, and weighing them on the scale of cost vs. benefit to help product-facing teams make informed decisions.

“To me, a risk only matters if it's material. If it’s immaterial, I don’t care about it. If it's likely to occur but it's not very costly, I probably don't care. If it's unlikely to occur but, man, if that meteor hit the earth today, it would be bad—I also don't care. It's just not likely to happen.”

Jonathan Franz, The Head of Legal, Crunchbase
Navigating Economic Turbulence and Thriving in Chaos
Also read: Legal Risk Management—From the Playbook of 11 GCs & Leaders

#4 Adaptability

Bottleneck: You’re stuck to old processes for legal reviews, document management, contract negotiations, and more, regardless of recent advancements in technology and changes in the business landscape. Teams feel constrained by your outdated procedures and seek ways to work around you to maintain their timelines.

Springboard: You're constantly evolving your processes and approach to match the changing needs of the organization and industry. You are happy to adjust your review and consultation processes based on project complexity and urgency. You embrace technology and are open to new methods and tools that enhance collaboration and communication with product teams.

How can you support business growth as a product counsel?

‍“Legal should be pushing businesses forward, not just receiving tasks. So, if a legal team doesn't equally view themselves as part of the business, actively making business decisions along with the marketing, product, and finance teams, then the symbiotic relationship between legal and business is lost. And I question really the value of legal over the long term of a company unless I can propel it differently than it's operating today.”

~ Doug Luftman, ex-DGC, DocuSign

The Key to Success as an In-House Legal Counsel & Leader
Steps to supporting business growth as a product counsel

Supporting business growth as a product counsel requires a strategic shift from being just “the legal guy” to becoming a proactive enabler of innovation and development. This entails becoming more open to your colleagues, learning more about your company’s market, and keeping tabs on emerging trends, among others.

In this section, we’ll explore these in detail.

#1 Collaborate more

Become an integral part of product-facing teams from the outset. This includes product managers, engineers, designers, and marketing teams, among others. Offer legal insights and guidance early on and encourage open communication and trust. Participate in brainstorming sessions, design reviews, and planning meetings to identify and address potential legal concerns beforehand.

#2 Reconnect with your company’s business goals

Reassess the company's overarching goals and product-led growth strategy, and align your legal advice and recommendations with these objectives. The goal is to ensure that legal considerations are seamlessly integrated into the business strategy.

This also entails internalizing the intricacies of the business, gaining a comprehensive understanding of the diverse variables that can influence its growth trajectory, and identifying strategic opportunities where you can leverage your expertise to embody the company’s competitive advantage.

‍“The first thing is to make sure you delve deeper into the business and the product. And then understand the strategic initiatives for the business. What is the business trying to accomplish? What are their goals, objectives over the next two quarters, four quarters, or six quarters? You can then focus your efforts and energies on ensuring that you're helping move the company forward with those objectives and goals.”

~ Doug Luftman, ex-DGC, DocuSign

The Key to Success as an In-House Legal Counsel & Leader

#3 Integrate technology into your processes

Legal work comprises several routine processes, from contract management to risk assessment and legal reviews. Manually handling these tasks for smaller businesses may be fine. But for a product counsel in a growing company, onboarding an ever-increasing volume of deals and projects could mean working longer hours, keeping other teams waiting, and slowing down the overall tempo of product-oriented processes.

Automating these routine processes with digital tools allows you to take on a larger volume of tasks without compromising accuracy or speed.

For example, you can leverage a Contract Lifecycle  Management (CLM) like SpotDraft to automate routine contracting processes like contract reviews, negotiations, storage, and analysis, among other things.

“Leveraging a CLM has been key because it has reduced a lot of friction from handoffs between legal and business. Rather than going back and forth over email, Slack, Word, Zoom, DocuSign, and a whole tech stack, the CLM acts as a single source of truth. We have a whole intranet with resources and a legal services request form with 10 different questions so we get all the information upfront and don't have to go back to ask follow-up questions.”

Jonathan Franz, The Head of Legal, Crunchbase
Navigating Economic Turbulence and Thriving in Chaos

You can also leverage SpotDraft’s AI-powered tool to efficiently search and analyze documents, flagging relevant sections for legal review. 

By automating routine legal tasks, a product counsel can focus more on strategic legal guidance and proactive risk management. This enables them to better support other teams, provide timely legal advice, and contribute to the company's growth objectives.

#4 Empower and educate your colleagues on the basics of legal processes

Helping your colleagues learn the ropes of legal processes relevant to their roles has numerous benefits that tie directly to business growth. For instance, when they’re well-versed in the basics of routine legal processes relevant to their tasks, they can go ahead and safely complete milestones autonomously.

This means faster decision-making, accelerated product development and procurement processes, and, ultimately, growth.

There are several educational resources you can introduce them to, including webinars, books, blogs, and online courses.

Also read: Top Contract Management Training and Resources in 2023

#5 Let the numbers lead you

In the words of Peter Drucker, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.” As a product counsel eager to support business growth, measuring your efficiency and the impact of your contributions on business growth helps you know where your strengths lie and where to optimize for even better outcomes.

In contract management, a CLM like SpotDraft offers access to insights and analytics tools that help you quantify your performance and identify areas of improvement. For instance, you can measure the average turnaround time for review processes between different periods, the total number of contracts executed and renewed at a given time, the volume of high-risk contracts recorded, and many more.

Also read: Rethinking In-House Legal OKRs, KPIs, and Goals

#6 Be open to feedback

Feedback is a crucial element for growth. It lets you assess your performance through the unbiased lenses of other people.

Encourage your colleagues in other teams to provide constructive criticism of your performance at the various phases of your engagement with them.

Take every feedback positively and use them as fuel to push yourself to do better. Over time, you’ll get better at the job, create a  more positive collaborative environment, and influence better outcomes for your organization.

Bottom line

The modern product counsel is not limited to legal tasks. They’re business masterminds and strategic co-partners, knowledgeable in the intricacies of product development, marketing dynamics, and competitive advantage.

To remain relevant in your organization and industry as a product counsel, evolving from the confines of traditional legal roles is crucial. Get involved in the business, bring every ounce of your competence to the table, innovate with technology, and cultivate a growth-oriented mindset. By doing so, not only will you be instrumental in your company’s success, but you will also establish yourself as an invaluable asset even beyond the walls of your organization.

Curious about how SpotDraft can help you accelerate business growth as a product counsel? We’re happy to set up a free demo session specially made for you. Click here to send a request, and we’ll be in touch ASAP!

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