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Making contracts future-proof at Appear Here

I’m the only lawyer at Appear Here, the leading online marketplace for retail space.

Physical retail was severely impacted by the pandemic, alongside hospitality and other industries. To combat the challenges brought on by COVID-19, the legal function had to pause our hiring plans - and I had to learn how to become as efficient and streamlined as possible in order to continue enabling the wider business.

Fortunately, Appear Here’s back on the rise following the easing of restrictions - in fact, our demand is back above pre-COVID levels, which is incredible to see. That consumer optimism translates to closed deals, and while I’m still sole counsel, it’s important I create a scalable process that can deal with that incoming demand.

A great example of how we implemented a scalable process is when we minimized negotiations across our enterprise contracts. Here’s what I did, and the lessons I learned along the way.

Launching an enterprise tier 🚀

During the pandemic, we launched a new business initiative for our customers; an enterprise tier offering known as Appear Here Pro. 

The project team had a request for legal - they wanted to embed a standardized enterprise contract into the Pro platform, so that it would remove the friction caused by negotiations of a Word document, moving customers towards signing without needing legal review each time. 

This would speed up the process of closing deals, and free legal from an otherwise time-consuming workstream. I needed to find a way to build a contract that only involved the commercial teams, and I did this by:

  • Designing a template where the commercial teams could only amend certain fields
  • Testing this template - this involved using a draft on a number of counterparties to figure out the friction points in the negotiation process
  • Challenging the way we draft this document - what clauses are being negotiated? Do those clauses need to be there? Where can we get to a standard position? Is there anything we’ve missed out that needs to be included?
  • Getting feedback from the business, and iterating as much as possible. It’s important to continuously improve the draft in the earlier stages to make sure we’ve captured all eventualities

Once the business was satisfied with the final version of the contract, we integrated this into the customer flow for Appear Here Pro. We also set up various approval workflows via Juro, and through Juro I could keep track of contracts throughout the lifecycle. 

juro-approval-workflows
Build approval workflows in Juro, in a couple of clicks.

Once we built the standardized contract, I never had to touch it - and that has been invaluable in the long run. 

Measuring success ⏱️

Time is one of the most effective measures when legal implements a new process - a watertight process should free up significant blocks of time from your day. You’ll suddenly realise you have so much more time to focus on other areas, such as long-term strategy work, and you’ll be able to work proactively, instead of reactively. 

I’ve always focused on empowering colleagues to self-serve on contracts, which is why I was so keen on this enterprise contract project. Previously, I may have empowered colleagues by offering contracts-related training to other teams, in which I walk them through a contract, the areas they need to edit, and so on. 

Although effective, that training process still ate up a lot of my time, and would only continue to do so as the company grew. Instead, I've tried to implement a workflow in which legal doesn’t need to get involved at all - and nor should legal feel nervous about the lack of involvement.

This is also how I approached this enterprise tier project, with the final goal of having a system in place that didn’t need legal involvement, and saved me a chunk of time.

"Much like any project at a scaleup, it’s never a ‘one and done’ deal; you have to remain vigilant to the changing nature of the environment you’re working in"

Anticipating challenges 🔮

Much like any project at a scaleup, it’s never a ‘one and done’ deal; you have to remain vigilant to the changing nature of the environment you’re working in. With contracts, for example, this meant keeping an eye on any changes to legislation. 

There are always developments that result in me going back to review our contracts. This is where Juro’s template function is really useful; having a feature where colleagues self-serve on contracts from a single template means you can keep that document up to date and not have to worry about version control. 

juro-contract-templates
Enable your team with self-serve templates in Juro.

I don’t have to browse through all our contracts to update information in each and every one. Instead, I only have to update the template. It also gives me an added layer of security, knowing that we’re not doing business with outdated terms.

"You need to be willing to test and learn from the outset. Ask for feedback from various areas of the business, and learn from how those functions work"

Scaling processes with the business 📈

I can implement a new piece of tech to deal with a legal problem, but how do I know if it’ll scale as the business does? 

A scalable solution is something that can withstand the test of time - it has enough features and capabilities that it won’t break with a new piece of information. 

It’s a solution that you can implement and leave to run alone, without too much manual input. And that’s what I was striving to achieve with the enterprise contracts project, which seems to be working brilliantly for us so far!

Changing perceptions of legal 🤗

When you first arrive at a business, there may be a hesitancy from other teams about how much they can lean on your knowledge and expertise; some might consider you a blocker, based on common misconceptions. 

Others may be cautious about overloading you in the early stages. Either way, you’re responsible for building that trust and demonstrating legal’s value. With that trust, your colleagues will see that they can rely on you, and start to request more of your time. 

If legal doesn’t implement processes that scale in the early stages, it becomes a clear problem as the business grows, because that workload ends up on your plate, alongside all the legal requests coming at you from every side of the business.

These processes can help legal become more efficient, especially as you have more and more people expecting you to deliver the same levels of service, with no additional support. 

Testing, learning, and testing again 🧪

For scaleup lawyers working to improve the way their businesses handle legal work, you need to be willing to test and learn from the outset. Ask for as much feedback as possible, from various areas of the business, and learn from how those functions work. 

For example, I’ve seen how our finance team implemented a successful ticketing system in Jira, and I’m using their knowledge to build my own. The product team is also a great source of inspiration when it comes to implementing and managing scalable processes - it’s the nature of their work. 

Product managers know exactly how to create scalable processes, because they have to, for the technology they are using. And it’s up to the legal team to reach out and make use of that knowledge. 

Finally, don’t be afraid to get things wrong. A process is only scalable if it works for everybody within the organization. Once you implement that process, don't be afraid to get others in the business to give you radical feedback - and make sure you take that feedback and turn it into something actionable and valuable.

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