How do cutting-edge startups with no legacy constraints do legal operations? At our latest event, we asked Monzo and Habito how to build a legal function fit for the modern business.
Joining me on stage were Hannah MacDonald, Supplier Operations Manager at Monzo, and Rohan Paramesh, VP Head of Legal at Habito. Their experiences in high-growth startups unearthed these four key lessons that could help improve legal operations at any company.
1. Information governance is more about practice than theory
In recent years, information governance and records management challenges have increased dramatically - particularly for companies handling huge amounts of sensitive data, like Monzo and Habito, who we trust with our spending habits and credit histories. One part of doing information governance the right way is the creation and sharing of legal documents, policies and procedures; but as Rohan explained, what ultimately brings this all to life and moves it from theory to practice are the behaviours that underpin them.
"Our challenge is to maintain our plucky start-up status whilst growing into a larger organisation, without becoming the kind of business we've set out to disrupt" - Rohan Paramesh, VP Head of Legal, Habito
This is a fine balancing act. To achieve it, the company must ensure there is a framework of governance behaviours that are second nature to the whole business, underpinning everything they do. This is fundamental to successful governance, and is the foundation for moving from theory to practice in a fast-paced environment.
Interested in information governance? Read Rohan's full chapter in our legal operations eBook.
2. Facetime is non-negotiable
For both Monzo and Habito, the weekly 'all-hands' meetings are key to their success. Both companies are scaling quickly, but at different rates; Habito onboards 3-4 new employees a week, while a big week sees Monzo add an eye-watering 30-40 to their headcount. Inevitably this creates a communication challenge. Both organisations take the view that no matter how large you become, you must preserve those opportunities to speak in person to the rest of the business. At Habito this is a big part of how behaviours are communicated; at Monzo, these types of interactions help to build trust within the organisation.
"Taking everyone away from their work is expensive, but it gets it done in a way that some document won't" - Rohan Paramesh, VP Head of Legal, Habito
Lots of companies lose sight of this - understandably - as they grow, pushing out policy documents and resources into seldom-read corners of the intranet. Of course, it’s expensive from a people/time perspective to get everyone together, and it might seem contrary to the heads-down, get-things-done attitude at high-growth companies. But this kind of facetime is exactly what you need to make second nature the types of behaviours you want to instil within the business - and it's key both to their adoption and success. A policy document on the intranet or a google document shared around Slack can never have the same impact as actually talking to the people you work with.
3. Partner with the business from day one
Establishing legal as a value-add rather than a cost centre is an ongoing challenge for every legal team. Monzo and Habito both focus on partnering with the business wherever possible, right from day one. The legal team at Monzo frequently hold lunch and learn sessions with the business; the most recent topic was influencer marketing, and Hannah noted that the engagement it drove reminded her how important it is to talk about the things your colleagues actually care about, because it makes a material difference when you are trying to build trust for the ‘serious stuff’.
"Talking to your colleagues regularly about things they actually care about makes it much easier to build trust for the 'serious stuff'" - Hannah MacDonald, Operations Manager, Monzo
Interestingly, Rohan noted that this partnership and engagement with the rest of business can work both ways. Habito focuses on leveraging other business channels to communicate more effectively, regularly working with marketing and comms to enable this. This is all part of the same tactical approach to instilling certain behaviours in the business as second nature: if you want to drive good cultural behaviours, and hold onto them as the company grows, then legal should interact with the business in the same way as any other department would.
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4. Transparency IS efficiency
Transparency by default is a basic principle at Monzo, both internally and externally (if you open the Monzo app, you can find the progress against the public product roadmap under 'Making Monzo'). Slack is Monzo's comms platform of choice, and every channel bar a couple are open and accessible to all employees. For legal this means a greater ability for the business to self-serve, with answers to most questions searchable directly within Slack, reducing friction and ensuring the business can move as quickly as it needs to.
"In legal we're always looking for the smallest possible privacy box - transparency must be the default" - Hannah MacDonald, Operations Manager, Monzo
It also helps make legal's workload visible, helping to squash any 'bottleneck' sentiments: the legal team uses Slack to triage and filter requests, which goes a long way to banishing questions like ‘what is holding this up in legal?’, or ‘when will you deal with my request?’. In a company like Monzo where white-hot growth is the only driver that matters, transparency helps legal to move any issues that might distract from growth out of the way as quickly as possible - and the business has full visibility. In a company with legacy systems, that perhaps don't live on Slack, this kind of transparency should still be a goal - it just might involve creative use of email, intranets and shared drives.
I have the pleasure of working with innovative companies like Deliveroo and Skyscanner every day at Juro, but it was great to hear from Hannah and Rohan on how legal is pushing innovation forward at their respective companies. If you're looking for more actionable advice on how to get started with better legal operations today, then check out our legal operations eBook, featuring chapters from Monzo and Habito; and subscribe to our blog to make sure you don't miss our next live event.