In this series of interviews with legal's key internal clients, we learn all about what effective collaboration looks like, what 'excellent' looks like, and what ultimately they want from their legal colleagues. Read the whole collection here: Enabling The Business
Richard Mabey is the CEO and co-founder of Juro, the all-in-one contract automation platform. He is also a Forbes Council Member, and one of the FT’s top 10 legal technologists. Before Juro, Richard was a Magic Circle lawyer.
What’s been your experience working with lawyers?
One word: binary! I’ve had great experiences with lawyers who understand the end user, and awful experiences with lawyers who over-engineer, slowing the business down.
Working with lawyers who were able to make a transaction happen in one month as opposed to six months was invaluable
How would you define a great lawyer in the context of a scaling company?
Great lawyers tend to be commercially minded, which is invaluable, especially in a B2B context. They understand the business goals, and advise and mitigate risk on the points that really matter. They keep it simple, and make a point not to over-engineer.
They’re also not afraid to challenge you as their clients, and do their best to keep processes moving along. For example, in funding rounds, working with lawyers who were able to make a transaction happen in one month as opposed to six months was invaluable.
We recently hired our first lawyer at Juro - what was the turning point that led to that hire?
We were in an unusual situation in that I was both a co-founder and previously a lawyer. This meant I was able to make sensible decisions to navigate the business through various stages of growth.
As we scale, we also grow in complexity. Growth was our trigger - we were increasing in:
- Countries in which we operate
And all these points add a level of complexity that require full-time attention. I wanted to hire a lawyer relatively late so we could make a really strong hire who would be kept busy with interesting challenges instead of focusing exclusively on the grunt work.
I was super thrilled to hire a two-time customer as our first lawyer; it’s great validation of our product and our mission.
What skills did you look for when hiring our first lawyer? What did you prioritize, and how did you test for it?
Empathy and clear communication - is the candidate making an effort to be understood? Are they getting to the point? Are they considering other viewpoints, or thinking in black and white?
Our interview process also included a written test, which involved marking up our own MSA. We wanted to see if that candidate could prioritize the most significant points - are they redlining contracts strategically, or are they striking everything out?
If we ended up with a heavy markup, and several points that are inconsequential by comparison, that’s a sign that the lawyer is focusing more on correction and less on value-add.
There are issues that I won’t have as much insight on as legal. Having someone who’s willing to challenge me on these issues is important
At what stage should CEOs start to consider hiring a lawyer?
We started thinking about this a year in advance - looking ahead at what we would need in a year’s time.
What would legal support look like with upcoming funding rounds, new offices across the world, employment or IP challenges, or worse-case scenarios, like threatened litigation? These are some of the questions I asked myself as we continued to scale.
How should legal support the business through challenging, uncertain times?
Tech scaleups tend to focus heavily around commercial teams. Being able to enable these teams around commercial contracts, for example, would make a huge difference.
During economic uncertainty, legal can also play a role in mitigating unwanted costs. They can partner with finance on topics like FX transactions and hedging, and act to mitigate the risk of penalties, fines, and damages.
They can also advise on corporate structuring, especially around international operations. There’s a whole stack of work which doesn’t necessarily contribute towards growth, but is certainly important and can help the company through unexpected difficulties.
What can legal do to enable you to enable your business to grow?
Firstly, transparency: be really clear on legal’s objectives, and communicate those clearly.
Secondly, not being afraid to challenge me. There are clear issues that I won’t have as much insight on as the legal team. Having someone who’s willing to challenge me on these issues is super important.
Finally, educating both me and the wider business on key issues. Legal needs to make sure that information isn’t siloed and that the business understands the ‘why’ behind legal’s decisions.
Find out more about what business leaders expect of their legal team - read the collection in full: 'What the business wants from legal in 2023'.