Episode 10: How to create a business-savy legal team

Working in-house means understanding and taking business needs into account. So far so good, but how do you get there? How do you get the understanding needed to be offered a seat at the decision table? How can you use that understanding to help your company even more? Press play to find out.

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Inspiring Legal is back. My name is Stine and I'm a part of Openli. You might have heard me before and if you haven't, well, welcome to Inspiring Legal. This is a podcast for in-house legal, for the people that are working as general counsels, head of legal, privacy counsels, and supporting the business. This year we have some amazing lineups of speakers, people with extreme experience and they've been working within legal for I don't know how many years. 

So today, this episode is about what we're going to be focusing on for the next couple of episodes with these amazing speakers. How you become a business savvy in-house lawyer. I think we all know that working in-house means you need to understand the business. Otherwise, it's super difficult to support. It's difficult to give good legal advice. What's even more difficult is to make a difference. And we all want to make a difference, right? That's why we went into law. This is why we're working with either contracts, privacy, or marketing as an example. Supporting the business with complex matters and trying to decipher it in a way where they get it. So still, I think we can do better. Or at least I know I can do better. It's all about getting on top of your business. 

We will be talking with Zendesk's general counsel and she's a force. She knows something about supporting a business and being that business savvy lawyer. She has a very impressive resume. She's been working for not only Zendesk, but some of the fastest growing tech companies out there. And having a seat around the table. And to get that, you need to understand your business. So how do you do that? Well, take a look at what I did myself. And also take maybe a few references for some of the speakers that we've had. I started my first job out of the law firm working at a tech company. 

I have to say it was quite the experience and a bit of a rollercoaster. Because when you're sitting at the law firms, you know your clients. They're the same as you. They are lawyers or maybe they're like CEOs or CFOs. But as a main role, you're talking to the same persona. And when you then go out to the business, all of a sudden you're not talking to lawyers. Well, you might get legal advice sometime from like your external law firm. But you are supporting marketing. You're talking about fast moving people that just want to get things done. Or the developers that just want a yes, no answer. And ideally, yes, preferably, if doable. So what you need to think about and what I did was how do I communicate? So that was the first one. 

Becoming that business savvy lawyer, it's about how you communicate. How you speak to people. And show that you're honestly super interested in what they do. So the perfect example, or maybe not perfect, but just like explaining where I came from. 

So I came in at this tech company and on day two, the VP of engineering came over. And we're in around . And he came over and he said, hey, Stine. We're thinking about using APIs. I just want to make sure from a privacy standpoint, but also contractually, is there anything that we should be aware of? And we're considering building it into the product to make it even more easy for our customers to integrate. And I was sitting there and just thinking, APIs? What the hell? What's that? And I had no idea, right? And you don't want to really seem as if you have no clue what he's talking about. But I kind of really, really fast just came to the conclusion, I just have to ask. And I just said, okay, what's an API? 

And then he started telling me what an API was. And I still really didn't get it. So we went to a whiteboard and he started drawing how the data floated. And all of a sudden said, oh, so it's kind of like a traffic light. Like you're on a freeway. And he's looking at me and I'm thinking, what is she talking about? So the way I kind of like tried to get it was like, okay, so APIs, they're kind of like a freeway where you can go in your car and you can go really fast back and forward to your destinations. And then there are traffic lights. So if it's a public API, it's normally just green. And I can take my little car and I can drive. And if it's private, well, sometimes there's a red light and I have to show my credentials before the light will go green. And it was kind of like, yeah, okay, we can work with that. 

But just the fact that I really, I think, tried to get it persuaded him. So a few days later, yeah, the story isn't done yet. He came over again and he started talking about iframes. And by the way, I've been doing privacy and tech for I don't know how many years. So I do know something about tech, but when you're talking about the VP of engineering, apparently there's a bit of a way for you to learn at that point. So he came over, he started talking about iframes and we're talking about widgets and performance on websites and stuff. And I started, okay, so far so good. 

And all of a sudden, one of the other engineer people came over and he was a front-ender and he started talking about HTML and stuff like that. And I was kind of like, okay, I know what HTML is, but I don't know how to program. And I said that, but I think it's super cool what you're able to do. And he said, Stine, do you want to learn how to code? Like we can do kind of like a press course for rookies. I said, I would love to, by the way, I'm not very good at coding. But so every Tuesday in the afternoon, we were programming just small stuff. 

He told me about JavaScript and what's the difference in like working with me. And I think that's where I gained respect. That is where the engineering team just really started, although having more patience with me when I didn't get what it was that they were talking about. But what happened was that I experienced that all of a sudden they were asking me much more. They were coming to me over and over again. They were asking me for feedback and ideas in sharing and inviting me to their Friday stand-ups. And all of a sudden it became so much more fun supporting the dev team because I also felt included. And that's how I started. 

And what then happened was I started going down to the sales floor, talking to the sales reps. And typically always end of month going down there and saying, hey, just wanted to let you know I'm here if there's anything. And started talking to some of the reps and one of them came over and was like, I have this customer and they keep talking about SLAs and I don't know what to respond. And I said, okay, cool, we can work with that and let me kind of like help you out. And the CCO, the Chief Commercial Officer, randomly just passed by and heard me talking and explaining and supporting his team. 

Then he sent an email to the CEO telling how much his team felt appreciated, understood and supported. Which then meant my CEO came over and said, hey, Steena, the sales team, they love you. Keep doing what you're doing. But what I'm trying to allude to here is that sometimes the small things when it comes to showing that you're honestly interested in the business, is how you get to become that business savvy lawyer. That is how you become the person around the table that they go to, they look for, they are in desperate need of when on vacation, which is a bad thing sometimes. I completely get that. But it just shows that you're making a difference. 

What I suggest, and what I also know that Martin, who you will hear from as well from CENBIC, super cool guy, is getting out there, understanding your business. And Shanti from Zendesk is all about that too. She's about joining meetings if you're supporting the HR team, being a part of their stand-ups. And I can only % agree. 

The next item, of course, becomes time and resources. But often, when you are included, very early on, the time you spend being on those stand-up meetings means that you're able to support that team much more. So much more fast responses, so much more appreciation. And what it also means is that often you're included in the decision-making of where we're going, what we're doing. And five minutes later, who knows, it might be you even coming up with some of the proposals and ideas of what should be the strategy for the team. Not being the driver, of course, but being that business partner. The true business partner. Having a seat around the table. 

So that is what we will be talking about this next episode, where we will have some pretty amazing guests, both with Shanti from Zendesk and from CENWEEK as well. And yeah, you'll probably hear from me as well too. I hope this is insightful. I hope that you are learning, well, at least just getting inspired. Or at least, I mean, I would love to. That's me going overboard, right? 

I just want to say,  it is about sharing. It's about learning from others. It's about getting better at what we do. And that goes for me too. So if you have any feedback, if you have good guests that you want us to get on the podcast, please share. We want to get those people on that can all help us get inspired. So on that note, stay tuned. Have a wonderful day. Bye.

Thank you so much for listening to Inspiring Legal. Remember to subscribe and if you want more information, you can always go to openli.com/community.