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How legal can enable velocity - Sophie Salisbury, Appear Here

If your whole company is geared towards velocity and growth, then legal has a key role to play. What are the practices and behaviours that ensure lawyers are enablers and not blockers?

This is a chapter from our 'Legal for scaleups' eBook, featuring legal leaders from some of the world's fastest growing companies. Download for free now. 

The founders of high-growth tech companies can sometimes be reluctant to hire lawyers. Some will happily get by with expensive outside counsel until the company has hundreds of employees. We all know the misconceptions: legal is seen as a handbrake, and scaleups are geared towards rapid growth in a fast-paced environment. There’s a fear that legal will introduce friction.

I was lucky when I joined Appear Here; the CEO and Founder always understood the value of having a strategic partner in legal. Not all founders share this mindset - after all, before making the hire, they’ve managed thus far without you - but legal tasks, processes, risk and spend will eventually become unmanageable if left unchecked.

At the core of our mission is to empower people to make ideas happen. Appear Here is the fastest way to find and book space online (our fastest booking took as little as seven minutes). Speed is core to our success as a company, so when I eventually joined as Head of Legal, I knew I had to positively impact that metric. This is my experience of how you, as the first lawyer, can hit the ground running and enable your business to maintain and increase its commercial velocity.

“I chose to dive into collaboration to dispel the belief that legal only exists to slow others down. You may be surprised at the breadth of the projects you’re able to improve and accelerate”

You own growth too 💪

When I joined the business, my role was less about looking for fires to extinguish and more about accompanying other teams on their growth curve. It was key to get involved in strategic projects and add value at an early stage. Certain areas of the business are accustomed to working with lawyers, and understand the value of inviting you in; others are worried you’ll slow things down and put up obstacles for them.

I chose to dive right into collaboration with various teams to dispel the belief that legal only exists to slow others down. You may be surprised at the breadth of the projects you’re able to improve and accelerate. At Appear Here, valuable projects have included:

  • Instant bookings: signing a lease online is at the core of our offering - it’s a unique feature that allows brands to book and reserve space without ever having to speak to anyone, and it’s legal in nature. It needed legal input from the outset, to safely navigate the tension between speed of booking and landlords’ control over their space. Achieving this meant that our sales team had the confidence to sell to landlords, without getting caught up in back-and-forth legal conversations; and customers were reassured by a user-friendly experience
  • Pricing: we offer a dynamic pricing facility that adjusts costs in real time, based on seasonality, occupancy, and projected future demand for a space and the market as a whole. This agile system can reduce friction and save time on both sides of the marketplace, but the legal structure underpinning it is complex, and needs to be watertight
  • Product updates: it’s always valuable for legal to provide input on new features and updates, particularly in an industry like ours. Adding insight that has commercial value through the development of new features is a great way for legal to enable velocity

Find out how you can create, build and scale a dynamic legal function from the ground up - download 'legal for scaleups' for free today.

Some of these experiences are specific to a business like ours, and your opportunities to enable velocity will vary with your scaleup’s business model, but there are some legal challenges and processes that are likely universal at most high-growth tech companies:

  • Building trust: as early as possible, give your colleagues an opportunity to understand how you operate, in terms of ways of working and communicating. Conversely, use the opportunity to see how they operate - what systems do they use to collaborate? What are their objectives and pain points? Building trust here will result in smoother interactions and less friction down the line
  • Sharing knowledge: beyond its core identity as a document that needs a signature, many of your colleagues won’t have a great understanding of what contracts are and why they need to follow a particular process. And why should they? Educate your colleagues on the positions you’re prepared to take in contracts and why. This knowledge empowers colleagues in commercial teams to steer negotiations themselves, knowing when to push back with an understanding of legal’s position
  • Being clear on priorities: a common theme of this eBook is that it’s easy to get lost in legal firefighting, to a point where none of your daily tasks get accomplished. Sometimes, saying no is more valuable than saying yes; it helps the team identify your priorities, and also helps legal manage its precious time effectively

“If your company has an expectation of universal transparency, there’s no reason (nor excuse) for legal to be any different”

Transparency first 🔎

If your company has an expectation of universal transparency, there’s no reason (nor excuse) for legal to be any different. Everyone at Appear Here strives to keep company information open and accessible, so the legal function needs to set rhythms to maintain this culture of transparency; from standups and all-hands meetings, to discussions during our Friday lunches where we can surface important topics in a casual setting.

I try to enable others, offer transparency, and add value by simply talking to everyone whenever I get the chance. This was one of the first things I learned joining a scaleup - involving the right people from day one and engaging different teams in discussions helps you to understand their priorities, their timeframes, and how they operate. The chances are you won’t get all this information from your first meeting, so it’s essential to keep those discussions going.

Keep what you have - and scale it 🚀

As the business grows, so does your legal inbox, and you’ll develop strategies to ensure you’re not overloaded with work. These might be small changes to processes, or outsourced solutions, but if done correctly, they can have huge, time-saving results - setting risk levels for reviewing clauses, for example, or creating standardised terms. The payoffs that follow the time investment in these challenges early on become dramatic as the business matures.

Ultimately, if you can show business leaders your ability to influence velocity in this way, then instead of inserting yourself into processes, they’ll come to you first - and with their buy-in, you can build a legal legacy robust enough for hypergrowth.

This is a chapter from our 'Legal for scaleups' eBook, featuring legal leaders from some of the world's fastest growing companies. Download for free now. 

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