As the Head of Legal at Intercom, Adam Glick’s ultimate goal is to promote business objectives with minimal legal intervention, move quickly, and help the in-house legal team be viewed as a growth function in the business.
Often that means effectively communicating your value to the stakeholders and building legal policies that prioritize business objectives.
For the 8th edition of LegalMatters, we pick his brains on incorporating business centrism in the in-house legal function, hiring and managing a dynamic legal team at hypergrowth businesses, and his favorite hobbies.
As the head of the legal function at Intercom, you have a front-row seat to technology’s impact on business operations. Do you see the same impact in the legal industry?
Technology has altered the landscape of the legal industry in the sense that some lower-level manual functions of a legal department have become more automated. For the legal team, this creates more efficiencies, which allow us to be more readily available to the business to help streamline corporate objectives and enable Intercom to continue to focus on growing and scaling.
There is also a rising cadence of technical and alternative legal department roles - legal operations professionals who help with procuring and managing our tools, or program managers who play a critical role in working cross functionally on legal initiatives with our business partners. As technology improves for legal departments, we will need experts to optimize processes and integrate technology into our daily operations.
However, it is important to understand that technology cannot fully replace the more human aspect of our day-to-day responsibilities. Building relationships with our internal stakeholders and partners on business initiatives as well as with our customers and their legal teams is critical to our success. There is no substitute to having a meeting or a video call to work through challenging legal issues in order to determine a path to resolution.
How can law schools accommodate these new legal careers as a part of their curricula?
Beyond training for legal proficiencies, law schools teach students to be critical thinkers. While that is a good starting point, there is room for improvement in terms of applying their critical abilities to real business situations.
Law schools, as part of their curriculum, should aim to be as business-centric as possible, and help students understand the importance of applying legal principles to real world business issues, as well as provide instruction in more “non-traditional” legal department roles such as operations and program management, which are adding value and productivity to legal departments. This includes practical exposure to business concepts, training on general workplace technologies, and continuous education on industry transformations.
Let’s talk about the in-house legal paradox. Despite working with multiple other business units, the in-house legal team is still sometimes treated as a backend function. How do you think that notion can be changed?
We want Intercom’s business to consider us as a frontline partner and engage with the legal department so we can provide guidance in order to obtain a successful business outcome. If we are constantly communicating and developing strong interpersonal relationships, we will build a level of partnership and trust as a business enabler, as opposed to a backend risk manager.
Yet most business teams don’t understand the work a legal team does. How do you demystify legal for them?
Most people think that the role of a legal department is to negotiate contracts and reduce risk to the business. But we have a much greater charter and educating the business on our role is critical to our success. We educate through constant communication and training. It is important to speak to your business partners using terminology they understand; trying to avoid too much “legalese” when explaining various legal concepts and how they apply to the issue at hand.
For example, when you’re discussing an indemnity provision in a contract, provide them with an example of how an indemnity could apply to their set of circumstances. Give them some real world perspective on how legal concepts could affect their business outcomes, either in a positive or negative manner.
Additionally, offering live training sessions, building out training modules and making the legal team available to answer questions through a form of “office hours”, are all very helpful to educating the business on our legal initiatives and offerings.
Do you think it is a good idea to make basic legal functions self-serve for the other teams?
As much as we can automate legal reviews using tools, automation, AI--the more efficient we can be at supporting the needs of the business.
My goal is to have as little legal intervention in business operations as possible.
If continuous back-and-forth email or conversation is required for every contract initiation or every discussion, then there is process inefficiency, and perhaps more training and education is required to enable more self-service.
What qualities do you look for when you’re hiring for a dynamic team like Intercom?
Beyond the legal proficiencies, I look for great communication skills, responsiveness, and the ability to be solutions-centric and creative. We must be able to look at a problem and identify a method of resolution that is attuned to the business’ objectives.
Additionally, legal professionals should have a high emotional quotient and be comfortable and proficient interacting with our clients not just about legal issues, but about our day-to-day challenges in the workplace. I look for people who are passionate, caring, authentic and are interested in taking on a challenge. Great people build great companies!
And how do you go about monitoring the performance of your team and its members?
At our stage of growth, we have not implemented KPIs but operate more from a goal-based perspective. We set quarterly goals based on Intercom’s longer-term strategy, as a team and on an individual basis and evaluate a certain amount of our overall success on our ability to achieve these goals. But success is not just measured on goal setting and achievement, it is just as important to ensure we are providing high level legal support to the business every day, regardless of how we are tracking against our quarterly goals.
It is important, especially in a company like ours, to be dynamic about performance metrics. If we have a target of completing one hundred contract negotiations in a particular quarter, that does not mean that we need to complete one hundred twenty in the next quarter if the business has other initiatives that it needs us to focus on during that time period.
Work hasn’t been the same since the pandemic. And as offices start reopening, there are multiple factors to take into account. How are you coping with this?
My team and I are still working from home. There are multiple benefits to being at home—we continue to be very productive but are present and available for our families and we all have more time because we are not commuting to the office.
In the near term, we hope to get our office open and have some face-to-face interactions, rather than talking to each other via video calls every day. We all miss the camaraderie of being together, learning together, sitting in a conference room, white boarding and discussing our initiatives, and being able to support each other in person.
We are focusing on a hybrid model of returning to the office, which will allow the team to continue enjoying the benefits of working from home, and still not miss out on office camaraderie and interaction.
On a lighter note, what are your hobbies when you have the time?
I really enjoy traveling, but it is difficult to do that now, given global events and circumstances. Exercising is critical to my well-being and allows me to recharge and refresh. Just having some quiet time with my wife and daughter as well as other family and friends is something I really cherish.
Finally, if you could go back to the start of your career, what advice would you have given yourself?
I am constantly trying to learn from my experiences to become a better lawyer and leader of a legal team.
At the beginning of my career, practicing law was about reducing risk and exposure for my clients - without taking into consideration some of the practical implications of whether my guidance was helping my clients achieve their strategic objectives. As I look back, I would have been more practical in my advice and realize that there are times where risk is acceptable, and the true “practice” of law is evaluating the risk vs the desired business outcome.
Today, I need to remind myself that building an impactful and successful legal department takes time. It’s important to find the right people with great skill sets to build a successful team. With those people in place, if we can create sustainable and viable long-term solutions for our clients and their business objectives, the rewards are well worth the effort!