What C-suite executives want from legal

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What are C-suite executives asking of their legal teams?

General Counsel, and legal teams in general, are amongst the most important advisors to the C-suite. It's their job to protect the company from risk and safeguard its sustainable growth. But what do those in C-suite positions actually expect from lawyers. What does great look like, and what are common pitfalls to avoid when working with the C-suite? We asked a panel of executives to share their insights.

Our panel included:

  • Seyi Sosanya, CEO, Gravity Sketch
  • Andras Mecser, CFO, Leapwork
  • Katie Obi, CPO, Advanced

The panel discusses the role of legal teams in adding value to the business and mitigating risks. They highlight the importance of legal teams in risk management, optimizing commercial agreements, and maximizing value. The panel also emphasizes the need for collaboration between legal teams and other departments, such as sales, people functions, and compliance. They discuss the qualities to look for when hiring a lawyer, including collaboration skills, concise communication, and problem-solving abilities. The panel also shares positive experiences of working with lawyers and the value they bring to the organization. They touch on the changing role of legal teams as companies grow and the importance of governance and decision-making processes.

C-suite executives and legal: key takeaways

  • Legal teams play a crucial role in risk management and optimizing commercial agreements.
  • Collaboration between legal teams and other departments is essential for success.
  • When hiring a lawyer, look for collaboration skills, concise communication, and problem-solving abilities.
  • Legal teams should be involved in governance and decision-making processes.
  • As companies grow, legal teams may need to specialize and adapt to changing needs.

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Tom Bangay: Hello everyone, welcome to this community session, direct from the C-suite. Our session today, we have about 45 minutes and it's actually an updated 2024 version of the headline session at our Scaleup GC conference in which we stopped guessing and just got a panel of execs together to tell us what a great legal team actually looks like. So we've updated our panel for 2024. If you have any questions during the session, just put them in the chat or in the question function, and we'll try and feed them through in real time to the panel. And yeah, we have a lot of exec firepower on this panel, so I'm not going to waste any of that time. I'm going to get them to introduce themselves. So I'm going to go left to right, which on my screen is Katie first. Hi, Katie.

Katie Obi: Hi everyone, great to be here. Thank you for your time that you're sharing with us today. My name is Katie Obi. I'm the Chief People Officer at Advanced. Great to be here.

Tom Bangay: Lovely. Thanks very much, Katie. And then I have Seyi in the middle. Hello.

Seyi Sosanya: Hey everyone, I'm Seyi Sosanya co-founder and CEO here at Gravity Sketch. We're creating a 3D design platform that services the automotive and footwear industries. So designers can work directly in 3D from the beginning of their journey all the way through to fabrication.

Tom Bangay: Lovely, thank you. And as a marketing person, I have real logo envy looking at your website. So congrats on those. And then finally, on my right, we have Andras Mecser from Leapwork. Hello.

Andras Mecser: Hi, everyone. I'm Andras Mecser. I'm CFO of Leapwork. Leapwork is a SaaS tech company providing solutions for enterprise customers and previously CFO of Zeps and Ebrick.

Tom Bangay: Well, thank you all for giving up what I'm sure is very hard real estate in your calendars today to come by. So we had dozens, actually dozens of questions in advance for the panel, which made it very easy to work out what to talk about. So we're only going to cover two broad topics today, as you can see on screen. So we have the legal team's impact and adding value mitigates risks. And then we have cross-functional collaboration. And we have some kind of big meeting questions to dive into. So I'm just going to get started. So this is the

Tom Bangay: The Alpha and Omega questions for legal teams in 2024. What is the best way for a legal team to add value to the business? It's a nice way to share some positive noises about legal teams. So let's go back in reverse order if I stay with Andras Mecser on the right.

Andras Mecser: Yeah, absolutely. So in terms of the way I think about in terms of the value add is the legal team is part of risk management for the company on the one hand, and also it's an enabler of optimizing commercial agreements on the other hand. So going from the spectrum of mitigating risk versus adding commercial value and starting with the risk mitigation in terms of managing the company's liability in whichever shape or form through contracts, through negotiations, through interactions with potential customers. I think that's one of the key aspects of it because in some companies like the tech company I'm working at, there's no dedicated risk management function unlike some of the regulated businesses I've been before.

So here in my head, legal plays the most important role when it comes to risk management and governance and dealing with the investors. And that comes through in a lot of different shapes of form of negotiating commercial contracts, negotiating investment agreements, negotiating debt agreements. Through all of those, it's always a negotiation space, give or take on that. And when it comes to the commercial part, I was fortunate enough to work with legal teams, especially at SEPS previously, where the legal team negotiated a lot of the commercial contracts and were in conjunction with the commercial finance team designing different negotiation templates of how to optimize a contract using volume, using discounts, using different types of structures. There's an awful lot of value how to maximize a relationship in both directions. So it's always there's always a win-win in a negotiation and the team could deliver that. So I would just pose on these two major points.

Tom Bangay: Yeah, very nice. I think especially that point around maximizing value because lawyers, I mean, I'm sure everyone on the call has been at some point referred to as the Department of No, but like job is actually often to maximize value rather than only protect risk or mitigate. Seyi, does that kind of chime with your experiences in terms of getting value from the legal team?

How C-suite executives get value from the legal team

Seyi Sosanya: Yeah, I mean, I definitely got it down and not to kind of repeat what Andras said, I think he hit the nail on the head on both points. I would just maybe take one point and expand a little bit more. I think it also helped, like at the stage of company that we're at, we're quite young still, the legal team has been helping us maybe like rethink our business model a bit through those negotiations and through understanding as we move from a six-figure deal to a seven-figure deal or multi-figure deals, you know, what are the kind of indemnities or what are some of the things that we need to ensure from an uptime perspective with our product? And, you know, there are opportunities in there to adjust the business model or even to find other vehicles of revenue through that. And it's been really invaluable.

Whereas in the past, I kind of try to compress all of my questions into like one half an hour to hour long call with our outside counsel. Now it's kind of, you know, the legal team just joins the meeting, right? And through them, we can have a debrief on, you know, how we might want to structure a deal. So it's been extremely valuable to have them as a thought partner when it comes to the business model and pricing and packaging.

Tom Bangay: I love that. Yeah. And I think definitely obviously you've got a new role now, Katie, but in your previous job, you know a bit about your legal team there and I think that kind of legal in the room rather than being a scary door to knock on is definitely part of the value story there. What would your experiences be?

Katie Obi: Yeah, our legal team at Beamery were fabulous and I know some of you know them well and won't be surprised by that. And I think it's I find this question really interesting and I think there are lots of parallels between people functions and legal functions in you know what is our value that we add in the business, yes, doing our kind of day-to-day job well and making sure that that's frictionless, great.

But I also think the best way for teams like ours to add value to the business is really understand what the business does, because that will help you work out what are the right things to be able to focus on and prioritize in order to get the right result for the company's customers and for the company itself. And you really have to spend time with the business leaders, really understanding what they're trying to achieve and why it's so important. I also think there's another element where our functions can work really, really well together as well, which is we, in some ways, are the moral compass of our organizations as well.

So really helping to go after around making sure from a risk standpoint and from an ethics standpoint and a behavioural standpoint, we are making good decisions, there's good governance in place. We are doing things that won't lead to unintended consequences, we're challenging behaviour that isn't acceptable. And because there's always grey areas to things, rather than absolute clarity, the answer is often it depends.

So really having your thinking through beyond the specific question that you might be being asked to, okay, so why is this being asked? Why is this important? What needs to be thought about? How does this all come together? Is there anything going on that's not being talked about? How do you read between the lines? I've always found that having a really good relationship between the people function and the legal function really helps to be able to catch things if there are things that aren't necessarily being spoken about, then there's more going on and needs to be unpicked. And I found a great partner to be able to help to tackle and raise those issues as well. So I think beyond our day-to-day operational effectiveness for legal teams, those are other areas that you can really drive great business customer and employee outcomes as well.

How can C-suite executives find good lawyers?

Tom Bangay: Yeah, I think it's a really interesting one with lawyers where they're one of certainly a small minority of roles in a scaling tech company, for example, that has a professional body that mandates ethical standards of them. And I think it's often something that's like forgotten a bit in the early, early of a startup, but like it's incredibly valuable to be able to deploy that in the business. I want to stay with you, Katie, because obviously in your role, you'll have had to bring in many execs. And I think finding a really great lawyer is quite difficult, especially if it's the only lawyer in the business and by definition, everyone else is not one. And I think if we judge, if we look at a click map of our community newsletter, lots of the people in the chat today are interested in getting new jobs. If you have any tips on kind of what execs are looking for and what you look for when you're hiring a new lawyer to the business, that would be really helpful.

Katie Obi: Yeah, it's a great question. And my answer is going to be, it really depends. It depends on what the company is doing. It depends on the leadership style of the people in the organization. And it depends on what's needed. At different stages of company growth, different skills will be needed. And you go from being maybe more general is broad covering everything, so someone needs to have a breadth of experience and then companies go through more growth and there's opportunities to bring in more specialist expertise as well. I think also understanding more about chemistry between the lawyer and the teams and stakeholders that they're going to work with is really important. I personally always look for a collaborative style in terms of getting to that win-win outcomes we talked about earlier Is really important.

So somebody who can negotiate really well, but always keep an eye on the big picture. It's not the negotiation for the negotiation sake, it's to get to the right outcome where actually everyone walks out feeling happy about it. So those interpersonal skills are really important. In many ways, your technical legal skills, they're a given. That is your cost of entry to kind of get into this process. But those are the value added things that I would look for in addition to really understand alongside an interest in what the business does and an ability to be able to understand what our customers need as well.

Tom Bangay: Very nice. Yeah. And what about you guys? I'm saying on the right, like I know that you're on the right of everyone's screen, but you're certainly on the right of my screen. What do you guys think in terms of, I guess there's two things I want to dig into. One is that whole technical legal skills question, it should be given, right? But can't really chance it. Like, how do you test for that? Do you use proxies like where they worked before? Take your references with former employers, that kind of thing. And then, yeah, I guess from the CEO, from the CFO angle, what are you looking for in that kind of candidate? Maybe let's go to Andras first, because I think you've looked after legal in a few roles.

Andras Mecser: Yeah, I mean, I had the joy of hiring GCs and also senior counsels. I mean, in terms of technical skills, I mean, I'm not qualified really to make that decision. And in a hiring process, it's always designed that somebody tests those items, unless it's debt or equity, finance negotiation. What really, I mean, Katie mentioned a lot of good points. I mean, the number one is for me, it needs to be collaboration because, I mean, let's face the CFO function, including legal function, people function. These are not front office functions. So basically it is how to create value for the organization. That's the primary point is being collaborative. That is one of the key attributes.

The other attribute what I'm looking for in candidates is that whether they can communicate in a very concise way and in a top-down manner and actually having an opinion. So basically regarding the communication, there are two points. One of them is that, please don't give me the, it depends on answered. I care about your opinion and that opinion has to be backed up by logic. Whether that holds up or not, I don't care in an interview process. What I care is that you can say that, okay, A, I think B is the right solution for reason A, B, C. That's what matters. And in this communication format is that it needs to be top down as opposed to cite me with a 10 sentence long paragraph and then come to the conclusion because you're gonna lose me after like literally 10 seconds because it's the attention to details.

So for me, collaboration, top-down communication, and related to top-down communication, have just be brave and raise your own opinion. So for me, these are the three points that I'm looking. And related to this, the last point is problem solving. So having an opinion is also that, okay, how you can break down a problem because where it goes back to the value-add point, for me, in-house counsels should have the ability to understand the business. So it's just basically what is the application of law in that business problem and connecting the two and try to problem solve. So that's, yeah. In the interview process, these are the key points for me.

Tom Bangay: Very nice. Seyi, I see you nodding sagely at the problem solving element there. Is that something that you're really picking up the phone to your lawyer for when your account is getting thorny?

Seyi Sosanya: Yeah, Andreas took it straight out of my brain. I was going to say problem solving is the number one thing. You know, we obviously are trying to sell to a customer and we're trying to understand like what are the risks involved in that process and also, you know, where are the opportunities for both of us, the customer and ourselves. And so I think of a sales, not a win-win is not really a genuine sale, you know. And so part of that is the legal element to it and helping to solve the delta, right? Here's where the customers are, here's where we're at. And like, how do we get this to the point where everyone feels like we're getting what we agreed upon?

And then I guess when it came to like looking for inside counsel, to be honest, I didn't know I needed it until we had it. And so I'm quite ignorant to the whole thing. I was spending a lot of time going through contracts with our lawyers and like kind of do the back of the envelope calculation. It's not that FTE, you feel like it's, all right, cool, we're saving money, then I realized we're probably spending a lot less time than what we need to be on these contracts or even on like understanding what the indemnities could really mean for the business in the long run.

And so when it came to finding it, it was actually our CRO who brought our in-house counsel to us and said, hey, look, I know that we're a little bit early for this, but we're moving from six figure to seven figure deals and the documentation is becoming more and more bespoke and it's not giving me the flexibility that I need. And that was like quite an eye opener for me, but I didn't know how to hire or interview for this, right? Like I'm not qualified. So what I always go to whenever I have a role like this where I haven't spent much time in, I just try to go to the cultural values. So is this person curious about what we're doing? Is this person passionate? Do we think that they can get to the empathy of like our customer and the other teammates?

And then also, I don't want to hire for what we need right now, but can we hire like a little bit ahead, like more work? We're going to be doing maybe six, seven figure deals this year. Has this person seen that before at like a bigger scale and are they, are they interested in redoing that part of their journey again? And so that's kind of what I was optimizing for when we were interviewing this individual. And I think our CRO found that a really great, great person to join the team. We had worked with in the past. I think the recommendation also is really helpful.

This is an excerpt from the full transcript. To watch the webinar in full, click the preview at the top of this page.

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