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Legal for SaaS: the strategist

An in-house lawyer at a SaaS company has many roles to play. Trustpilot's chief legal and policy officer, Carolyn Jameson, explains the value of being a strategist at a company geared towards growth.

In-house lawyers are expected to be advisors to the leadership team and enablers for the commercial team. But depending on the business’ growth stage, the role we often have to adopt when we land in the business is that of a strategist - finding the balance between planning ahead and making sure key legal processes continue.

This can be painful if certain processes and systems have been embedded in the company since day one. I joined Trustpilot in 2019, as the Chief Legal and Policy Officer. Trying to get a clear picture of how the business operated was a challenge. Some teams had over 60 processes in place and no source of truth that codified that workflow.

Other processes that worked well in the earlier stages of the business were no longer efficient as the business doubled, then tripled, then quadrupled in size. My arrival coincided with this, which worked out in my favour (my colleagues were less resistant to change!) - but how did I approach these tasks in a strategic way that would help the business as it continued to grow?

I focused on four main points.

Simplifying our legal terms and the way we respond to queries helps us to maintain trust as the value that guides and differentiates us.

1. Reasserting trust 😊

My team is referred to as the “trust and transparency team” - we’re dedicated towards adding value to the business, setting a standard for how our basic processes should work, and reasserting trust as the value that guides everybody, differentiating Trustpilot from other review platforms.

When I joined the business, the team had dozens of members and was spread globally. It was a huge team to get to know personally, alongside trying to understand the history of the business, and how it operated. Those relationships with colleagues in the legal team but also the wider business were important in helping me understand what I could do to make improvements.

It also helped from a headcount perspective - building up a positive working relationship with the CFO made getting buy-in for legal hires easier. They knew that the point I asked for extra headcount was the point when it was absolutely necessary, as there was a foundation of trust between myself and others in the leadership team.

2. Doing the basics better 💅

Enabling self-serve is really about looking at things with a fresh pair of eyes, picking apart set workflows and simplifying them - in the context of processes within the legal team, but also in the wider business. We focused on:

  • Commercial contracts: The business was looking at streamlining the sales process, which gave the legal team a great opportunity to explore how contract process could help. We brought contracting online, which made things easier for both sales and legal - sales could close deals faster, and legal could reduce their involvement in day-to-day contracting tasks
  • Messaging: I focused on our language, in terms of how we respond to complaints and how we engage with the consumer. We also refined our terms and conditions to reflect that improved messaging. Simplifying our legal terms and the way we respond to queries helps us to maintain trust as the value that guides and differentiates us.

Most tasks have an impact beyond legal, which means it’s vital to think holistically... What does legal want to achieve, and how does it interconnect with what the wider business is trying to achieve?

3. Employing automation 🚀

The business has been receptive towards the legal function trying to introduce new tools and systems. Often, when we say “legal tech”, people automatically think about operational challenges that the legal teams need to mitigate. But there’s value in rolling out solutions that help us deliver the actual legal work itself.

For example, we implemented a counterfeit detection tool to help us in the context of finding fake reviews on the website. We’re also looking at automating cease and desist letters instead of having to recruit tens of lawyers, or investing in external counsel to help us along that process. Automation is always useful to take on heavy lifting at a high-growth business.

4. Thinking holistically 🤔

As most in-house lawyers already know, legal at a high-growth business like Trustpilot is a constant balancing act. I have to keep reminding myself not to lose sight of the strategy, but also dedicate time to the here-and-now tasks; the legal requests, the contracts that need approval, the manual tasks I look at automating.

Most of these tasks have an impact beyond legal, which means it’s vital to think holistically about the changes I want to implement. What does legal want to achieve, and how does it interconnect with what the wider business is trying to achieve?

Keeping that strategic overview at a company growing quickly can be daunting and difficult - especially when the company is so well-established. But by focusing on the quick wins, you can see how simple changes can make a massive difference that helps the company scale from where it is today into its next phase of growth.

This is a chapter from our eBook 'Legal for SaaS: how to scale legal work without scaling legal headcount'. Download for free.

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