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
Stephanie Bowker is the co-founder and CMO of Ourspace. She was previously VP Marketing at Spendesk, the spend management platform for smarter company spending. She’s worked across product and growth teams from established brands like Intuit to early stage startups as the first product marketer at Gusto.
Before you worked with lawyers, what was your perception of them?
I had a perception that they could be inflexible, always playing by the rules - I assumed working with them would be the same. I thought their approaches might be overly complicated, drawing on personal experiences where interacting with lawyers tended to complicate things.
I thought that lawyers were not necessarily tech-native - preferring to spend their time in Microsoft Word and Outlook.
And how has your perception changed?
I found that working with lawyers is stronger and faster than avoiding them. Where previously I might look to go around them, it’s actually more powerful to bring them in at the right moment.
It’s also my responsibility to create a clear brief and work with them like stakeholders and not roadblocks. The legal team brings much more value when given the right seat at the table and with a collaborative mindset.
If legal has multiple, unexpected revisions to the contract, it can risk the project. You need to set up timelines and be flexible to make sure we can meet deadlines
How often do you work directly with legal, and on what kind of things?
A whole range of issues:
- Contracts: whether that’s with new vendors, partners, partnerships with other companies, and so on; working with legal on risk mitigation to make sure both parties end up in a good place
- Copyrighting, registering trademarks, creating templated materials for our commercial teams (for example, gathering testimonials, pictures, videos and so on with rights to use them on our customers’ behalf)
- Reviewing privacy language, GDPR compliance, and our terms and conditions
- In previous roles, dealing with regulated industries, there’d be legal involvement in product launches, product copy, and even content creation
What qualities do they need to work with marketing successfully?
Both sides need to give correct context, assume that they’re operating as partners and not adversaries, and meet each other where they’re at. They should also make sure they’re looking not just at their own objectives but also the project objectives - there’ll be clearer expectations as a result.
Setting up the necessary timelines is important. I’ve had problems in the past where marketing timelines are fast - for example, where we need contracts signed within three weeks so we don’t lose a billboard placement.
If you have multiple, unexpected revisions to the contract, it can risk the project. You need to set up timelines and be flexible to make sure we can meet deadlines.
Legal’s role isn’t to be the bad guy, so it helps to think tonally about communication
How can legal align better on company growth?
Firstly, it’s on the growth teams to give more credit to the behind-the-scenes and operations functions, which can include legal - bring them in wherever you can and recognize their contributions publicly.
Secondly, I would flag realigning their projects to company OKRs - that’s where often I see the breakdown with ops functions. Things like speed to sign, or contract turnaround time, are more powerful if they’re linked with the end result, like ensuring ads are bought.
And what would poor collaboration look like?
Legal using aggressive or abrupt language, or being overly defensive to key partners. Legal’s role isn’t to be the bad guy, so it helps to think tonally about communication.
Marketers who complain that they don’t want to get legal involved, for whatever reason - that kind of negative reinforcement language isn’t helpful. Words matter - be mindful of your communications and the tone you take with internal and external partners.
Finally, using two different tools is so pointless - for example, if we’re working on a contract in Google Docs and then legal copies it into Word and sends it back but with all the comments dropped off, it isn’t collaborative - we’re in one company, let’s use one tool!
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'.