Zeno Capucci

Can teams outside legal do legal work?

Scaling legal
March 27, 2024
Task volumes increase as you scale. The team might not. Where should the work land?

Zeno Capucci, General Counsel at Docplanner shares his thoughts on how the legal team can empower other business functions to carry out tasks that would historically sit with lawyers. Zeno coordinates the group's legal, privacy, and public affairs team of more than 20 people across various business functions. 

Delegation - or perhaps more accurately, empowering colleagues to take on legal work at the point of requirement, can be hugely effective. The key to this is giving people the confidence and the resources to answer questions or follow processes without needing to fall back on legal. 

The fact is that lawyers are usually a small, expensive function within a business. For example, your customer success team is likely larger and less expensive per head; and crucially, more apt at automation. 

In a team where a significant portion of the tasks are repetitive, they’ll likely have a few tools in place (and/or the budget to find those tools) to automate them, as they’re more used to thinking that way. 

For legal, it usually doesn’t work that way. Legal advice and interpretation is often bespoke. For the high-volume, low-complexity tasks within legal, this means that you need to look at how where you can move that work to the point of requirement. 

When it’s time to roll out this ‘self-serve’ process which moves legal work into other teams,  there’s always training first, followed by frequently asked questions, and then a babysitting period, where for a few months we’re here in the background to answer questions before we dial down our involvement. 

With that in mind, here are a few examples of how we delegate legal work amongst our colleagues at Docplanner. 

Anything that doesn't require bespoke intervention, creative thinking, legal judgement, we delegate it.

1. Content moderation

At Docplanner, when it comes to content moderation (or moderation of difficult cases), we have a whole set of guidelines and policies to decide what we would accept, moderate, or reject. This enables people in our moderation team (we call it “Patient Care”) to make an informed decision, and gives them a clear point of contact for escalation that isn’t the legal team. 

This effectively makes legal the last port of call, if something needs to be raised beyond a specific level. A lot of this work isn’t being done by the teams themselves either - it’s being done through automation with AI and human supervision. 

This frees up the legal team to focus on high-value areas, or pressing legal issues that require more time and expertise. 

2. Data Subject Access Requests

Data Subject Access Requests (DSARs) are unavoidable, but that doesn’t mean legal has to oversee every single one. Particularly as your business begins to scale, the delivery of processes like this should be delegated into other teams. 

At Docplanner we’ve put a process in place that everybody has to follow when a DSAR comes in, which means everybody is singing from the same hymn sheet and can action most of the key steps without the legal team being involved. This ensures that the business is compliant and the legal team isn’t spending its time chasing inconsistencies and ironing out minor issues. 

3. Non-Disclosure Agreements 

Our Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs) are 100% automated using oneNDA and autoNDA, a related plugin. This system saves the entire business time, effort, and money - not just legal!

In our current system, LegalOS (our legal chatbot provider) monitors Slack and sends the user a link to self-generate their oneNDA, which we then review and approve if needed (for example, if the other party is in a country where we do not operate, or if the underlying information to be shared is extremely sensitive). 

We’re also trying to do the same with contract reviews, exploring solutions with Legal OS based on our contract value risk thresholds.

In our experience, teams that are driven by deals tend to welcome empowerment initiatives like that - if they have the tools to deliver it themselves they’re more than happy to do it

How does this work in practice? 

Moving these processes out into the business can be hit and miss. While some people feel comfortable doing this kind of task themselves, others will feel less confident. 

It’s worth bearing in mind that delegation doesn’t work 100% of the time. For example, some people always will reach out to legal, no matter how much enablement we offer; but a majority of individuals will be happy to follow processes alone, and be grateful about the self-empowerment: ultimately, it saves the time, and the need of having to speak to a lawyer!

Empowering business functions to perform these tasks themselves comes with unavoidable risk, of course; so we assessed that risk with management. We looked at our average contract value and came up with a specific monetary threshold, below which we’ll generally not have a full legal review. 

However, if it’s a business-critical service, or if a lot of personal data (or sensitive data) is involved, then regardless of cost, legal would need to be involved. For instance, if it’s a service which, were it to be withdrawn, would risk the business being able to operate, or if it’s heavy on data risk or processing of sensitive data, then we’d be involved too.

For more replaceable services, such as UX design platforms or project management platforms, we can survive if they go down. Of course, we still try to negotiate there in terms of the value we get from the contract, but want the business to self-serve where possible.

How does this benefit my team?

For us, there have been numerous benefits but the most important one has been that we hire less. We have a smaller, less expensive team, which keeps the CFO happy and increases the company's profitability. But it also enables us to decide where the high-value work is and work on projects we’re most interested in. 

For a company like ours moving towards maturity and possible ‘exit’ scenarios, there’s so much more valuable work to be doing. For example, new regulations, which still require lawyers to intervene and do their magic, have meant tonnes of value-add work that intelligent, well-educated, experienced human beings in legal can do. 

Even if there weren’t those kinds of tasks, we’re always finding new ways to help the business, by getting involved in value-adding initiatives. We also handle risk and compliance and public affairs which means there’s always plenty of stuff to get our hands dirty with, bringing more interesting work for the lawyers. 

We just did our first ESG policy, for example - it’s really interesting work, and we’re passionate about social impact as a business and individuals. We have M&A and governance work in the pipeline and are trying to get the company to a more mature state in terms of policies, processes, and controls. This is the sort of work we’re only able to do because we protect legal time for high-value work by delegating and automating wherever possible.

In-house lawyers do often get bogged down in the everyday workings of a business. Encouraging delegation and allowing teams from every department to self-serve will enable you to focus on the exciting parts of a legal career and likely make you a better lawyer. 

Find out more about how you can unlock business growth by automating routine contract admin.

Zeno Capucci is the General Counsel at Docplanner.

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