Welcome to go with the workflow where we interview world-class leaders and legal and experts in workflow automation to learn from their hard earned experiences in making work more efficient and more meaningful. Today my guest is Connie Brenton. Connie is one of the mothers of legal operations and really needs no introduction to those in this space, but here we go. Anyway, she co-founded Clock the Corporate Legal Operations Consortium and served as the organization's first. CEO. Connie has spent well over a decade in legal operations across her career at Oracle Sun Microsystems, and most recently at NetApp she holds both a JD and an MBA, so she's sort of doubly dangerous and was named a market shaper by the Financial Times, named a 100 Women of Influence in Silicon Valley, a top 10 deputy general counsel in California. And look, I could keep going on, but we don't have time to list all of the awards that she has. But what I personally find more impressive than all of that is Connie's unlimited generosity. She's generous with her time, her expertise, and her influence, and she wants others to succeed and really backs up that intention with action. On this episode, we start with looking back on the early days of legal operations and how Connie sees the evolution of the practise. Today we find out that workflow automation is Connie's favourite technology and how she's been able to use it to generate tremendous ROI and quickly.
I like the hack that she shared in how she explained workflow internally to identify opportunities across the entire enterprise and go from really humble beginnings to hundreds of workflows. We talk about CLM versus workflow, it's involvement with workflow automation and quantifying ROI for this type of technology. It is a privilege to be able to share this episode with you and with that, I hope you enjoy it. Connie, thanks for being here. Welcome to the show.
I'm delighted to be here anytime that I can contribute to the creation of a community and the advancement of the legal operations role, I'm there. I'm in if you've been to one of the regional groups and with that, I'm in.
Love it. Love it. Alright, so Connie, I can't wait to dive in. So let's go ahead. You started clock and at the time there was maybe circa 40 members when you sort of formalised the organisation. Three years in, you grew it to 2000 members and now Clock has well over 4,000 members across the, I want to wind us back to the very beginning where it all started. What did those early days of legal operations look like? Take us right back to the beginning.
Well, the legal operations role is nascent. It really has only been around, and I get some people from the banking industry cringing a little bit, but really in force it has only been around for 15, 20 years, which is nothing when you look at the span of the industry. And so what happened was a series of events I worked at Storage Tech, storage Tech got bought by Sun. It is there where the general counsel tapped me on the shoulder and asked me if I would run the legal operations team at Sun. And at the time there were 26 people on that team that is a huge team even by today's standards. So it was a real gift from him was Mike Dylan and then Sun was purchased by Oracle and it is then that I moved from Colorado to the Bay Area and so I have a soft spot in my heart for creating communities and now I'm in this new environment and I thought, well, heck, let's get the legal operations in this area together.
And we started holding what we call book clubs. After that, at my own company we were having trouble levelling the role because it didn't exist in the original HR reference documents. There was no way to level it. And so that was and continues to be an inspiration for upleveling the role and defining the role. And so Jeff, Frankie and I, who we've been together as partners and partners for a while, Jeff and I decided we should put some structure around this. We actually are in the role we should be defining the role for ourselves. We asked all of the people on the board to become board members Jeff incorporated into what is now known as Clock. And that is where Jeff and I created the original core competencies. We continue to evolve that evolution of the role and right now we have created now an updated, a more modern, we call it the pyramid and there are 15 practise areas and we're using different language. We're using practise areas on purpose because legal ops is a practise area, just employment or commercial or corporate insecurities. Legal operations is a practise area. And so within that there are 15 practise areas ranging from strategic planning to the comm at the top commoditization of legal services.
I think. No, absolutely, and I like that where you've seen it kind of evolve from the early book club days, which is that infamous story of how Clock started to where you're now describing the language you're describing is sort of like legal being part of a broader business. And I think one of the language that I've seen you use actually for many years now is running legal like a business. I know you wrote a book on it. There's articles that you've written on it, and more recently you had a conference that you hosted that was literally called Running Legal like a business. So that, why is that so important? What does that actually mean when you say that phrase.
Running legal like a business is almost the description of what has been happening with the role of the general counsel. So not all that long ago, the general counsel consisted of one person. It was somebody who really wasn't making it well in law firms, and so they would move to corporations and manage outside counsel. That has significantly changed in the last 20 years. Now you have general counsel who guard the business, which is what a traditional legal department did. It was a risk organisation. In fact, when we first took over the role at or when Matt Faucet took over the role at NetApp, we were known as the department of No. One of our standard documents were the nine nines. So nine and nine being no in German, nine things you shouldn't do. Now it is guard the company and guide the business. And so we became part of integrated into the business itself.
We have a very unique role as legal leaders because we're one of the few organizations that spans the entire enterprise. That's the same with the general counsel. So you're also seeing the role of the general counsel be elevated. So there are many times now they're taking over corporate governance, they're taking over hr, they're taking strategy, and many of them now are becoming CEOs that would not have happened and board members, that would not have happened even 10, 15 years ago because anytime you brought a lawyer in the room, everyone's like, oh my goodness, don't talk. They're here to stop something. That's not the case any longer. So with that came the growth of legal departments. So we went from a general counsel of one to a legal department of thousands. Well, when you have a legal department of thousands now you have all of the challenges that all of the other business operations have in the corporation and every one of those has an operations leader, sales ops, finance ops.
And so it only makes sense that as we begin to run our legal department as a business, we need to create and push forward a role in legal operations. One of the other things I should mention is that technology in the legal space, we were very late adopters of technology. So one of the good things about technology in the legal space is most of it is brand new. And so oftentimes you can use it across the enterprise. That's the one of the things that as you know, I love about workflow and if I had a choice, workflow is where I would start in terms of technology roadmap and rollout.
I was in a conversation with someone the other day and they were saying that in fact, legal technology tends to have better user experience because the technology providers have to work that much harder to get legal industry and lawyers to actually adopt. And so you tend to get actually very UX considered technology coming out of the legal industry. And then if you can apply that at an enterprise level, then you might actually have a better experience, not just for legal, but actually it's just overall a better enterprise solution. But you talk about workflow, so let's segue into that. That's sort of the theme of this entire show. I know that workflow automation has been instrumental in your legal ops career and what I've found over the last few years as well is that a lot of legal ops professionals are still unclear about what a workflow is. They hear it a lot. It might be a feature in many other systems, but maybe they're not clear exactly what it is. And I know that at NetApp you had something like over 140 workflows helping save on efficiencies and cost savings, and a big part of that success was helping other people understand what a workflow was. So how did you help other people understand what a workflow was to get to that scale?
A workflow is very easy, and so when we first rolled our initial workflows out, we put together a deck, we went on a campaign, a communications campaign to teach workflow. It wasn't too far into that that we realized that it is so self-explanatory that we really didn't need to do all this formal training. But what we did do is there are two instances that when you spot it anywhere in the enterprise, we would step in. So one is if you're getting approvals via email, that is a huge heads up that something's wrong, that is a very difficult workflow to manage and to govern. You lose documents, it gets put on people's hard drives, and it's a very difficult situation. So if we see approvals being email, that was one. Workflows are then that if you're using a spreadsheet, if you're using email, those were good times to think about and talk to the business about implementing a workflow.
I love that because it's actually, when you distil it down to those two examples, it's very easy to understand, right? Because I think when you're trying to explain what workflow is, maybe from a technical perspective, you kind of just lose people. But if you speak to them in terms of their daily work and the kind of work that they are struggling with, and it's very visual, right? You're doing approvals and email, oh yes, I did that just yesterday, or what are you tracking in spreadsheets? It's like, oh yeah, I hate tracking things in spreadsheets and manual data entry and collection and all that back and forth emails, et cetera. So I think describing in that way is very, very successful, which I love.
The other thing about the workflows, especially the workflows that have been developed in the legal space is that they are easy to use and almost anybody can put a workflow together. At one point I thought anybody could put a workflow together. However, you really do need to have some kind of linear thinking process because it's if this then that, if this, then that. And if you miss one of those steps, your workflow goes all haywire. However, the other advantage of the new legal technology workflow is if you blow it, it's so easy to fix. So you can catch it during the testing period and you can fix it and you can tweak it. We use workflows for things like we would have a treasure hunt because we wanted to get people familiar with the workflow. And guys, you just used one of our legal technologies to tell everybody, all right, we're having an offsite and so do you want to choose this?
If you chose that, then you went on to this island and if you chose that, then you went on to this and you won this prize and at the end of the day, woohoo, you got the prize. And we're having an offsite. We used workflow in that capacity and we all for fun, and we also used workflow in very complex situations. So there are two that come to mind. One is that we moved headquarters from one big location in the Bay area to another location and within a couple of weeks, and it happened during covid and within a couple of weeks we had to have permissions from everybody in the building to box up their material to put it into a certain location and to choose whether or not they wanted to have a chair and come and pick it up at a particular time.
All of those components were simple workflows all combined together, and within two weeks we had it up and running and we're out of the building. The other, we have used it for rifs reduction in force where before we had war rooms that were set up for a week with people taking phone calls, it is a far better way to govern those really complex workflows and situation easier, faster, more reliable. In fact, a lot of the CLMs won't love this, but you really could put a workflow on a pre signature process and start with a workflow instead of a pre signature CLM and see how you can make it work. The other thing, another nice thing about workflows is you can change it up. So if your processes change or if one part of the business processes change, you can change and tweak and modify to accommodate the business.
Yeah, I love that because you've shown such a broad application of workflow, and that's the point I can play in the approval space, even ops, that's not even within legal. And then even in the contracting space, as you mentioned, and I've definitely seen a lot of legal departments implement workflow as a foray into contract workflows rather than diving into a maybe multi-month, multi-year implementation. That's quite heavy. That typically comes with CLM to have these more lightweight ways of just getting, as you say, the pre-signature from intake through to signature. And so that's really great, and in fact, you've touched on a point that I want to ask you about because I think it's definitely a common thought in the industry today, which is CLM obviously is very popular. Everyone's implementing CLM or has, and some of them, not all of them, some of them have the concept of workflows. So sometimes people might hear, oh yeah, workflows I have. My CLM has that, but that's not the same as a workflow platform, right? Workflow is a feature in CLM is not the same as a workflow platform. So what's the difference? Can you help us understand that and which one I think you said you would. Okay, so you
Have to remember that yeah, we had 140 workflows. Only about 20% of those were inside legal. So 80% of our workflows happened outside of what people think of as ACLM process. Compliance had a whole set of workflows, hr, onboarding, offboarding, finance had a tonne of workflows. So what do you want to do at the end of the year? You need to get permissions for certain payroll requirements. All of those are not even related to CLM. So CLM is one tiny piece of a very large legal operations pie, and that's one of the reasons I'm a big huge workflow fan because it's so versatile. It can play in compliance, it can play in hr, it can play in corporate and securities, it can play outside of legal. And when we were first introducing it to the enterprise, we paid for the workflows. We paid for it out of legal because we thought it was such a game changer that it would impact the entire business and as good corporate citizens, it made sense that we would pay for it.
At 140, it gets harder and harder to pay for it. So at one point we had to modify the financial structure. Even internally, we had to ask that the businesses start to pay for themselves, but what really happens is they try one and then they are able to identify the workflow because the hardest thing about workflow rollout is identifying the use cases. That's why, okay, if you're keeping track of something on a spreadsheet or if you're getting approvals an email, those were two huge red flags every single time that was happening. That was a good use workflow case. So that's harder initially. And then once the business starts to play around with it, then they identify use cases within their own business units. That's what made Bruce so substantially.
Wow. So clearly the impact was strong and you're a big fan of the category, but sometimes size of impact needs to be slotted in the right place of maturity. But at the very beginning, you mentioned that you would bring workflow in first. Is that right? Why First as well,
Legal operations, and I'm preaching to the choir, but legal operations, our primary hurdle is change management. We have all kinds of really cool things that we have difficulty rolling out only because of change management, not because the technology isn't great or the processes aren't interesting, it's because of change management and workflow requires as we found out, no training, right? You just deliver it as a gift here and it's quick. It isn't. You have to wait in line for the IT team and you can drag and drop and create your own workflow. You can help create workflow experts throughout the company. So that guide the business side, we had the guard and guide is very simple when it comes to the use of workflow technology. One of the other things that we found as we started to roll the workflow technology out beyond legal is it brought us very close to our internal customers. You cannot ever take a manual process and plug it into a digital process. So you have to have some time together with the users and the SMEs to redesign the workflow process. And in order to do that, you have to sit in the same room with your internal customers. So you become a trusted advisor on many levels, not just on the legal side any longer because legal operations take us beyond that.
And again, it plays into the evolution of the legal industry. We're in a really good place at a really good time.
And I know a little bit of what happened back at I think NetApp when you rolled out workflow because as you say, the impact was so big, not just for legal but for the business that legal became a little bit of a friend almost to it, and whenever they rolled things out, they came to you was So can you tell us a little bit about that? What was your relationship with it? Because I feel like in a bubble, if you were to say to it, look, legal is going to start doing process improvement work, some IT teams might get scared, they might get worried, why is legal doing it? So how is your relationship with it and why is legal best placed do you think, to own such transformation in the business? Well,
I think at different companies you might have different situations. So anytime we ran a new technology, we would bring in it by example, and we have so many different technologies available to us now that we were regular customers of it. This one we developed, Emily Tobin became an expert at workflow creation. And so we would go in together on the initial process modifications, and then after a while there were so many of them, they let us go out on our own. Then they could also see that we understood technology with that. And because not only were we rolling out technology, we were rolling out all kinds of other, I mean workflow, we were rolling out all other kinds of technology that ultimately when they were rolling out new technologies, they would come to legal as beta testers. So we beta tested the RPA, we beta tested the chat bot for NetApp. So if you can make that connection, there are a lot of payoffs because when we were beta testing, then that came out of the IT budget as well.
That's really cool. I love that story because often legal isn't seen as the early adopter, but for us to leapfrog by using a tool that is not just legal centric, but as you say, it's actually adding business value. And so it gives us that visibility. It's really high profile is what I find. I've spoken to many other people around workflow and people who have gone through that journey tend to say it's their claim to fame. It's that really high visibility piece that touches on so many parts of the business that is not just working with your own team. And so that's how you kind of elevate that sort of influence in that position and become better partners. Right?
No, I think you nailed it. Change management is much easier. It is quick. There's a clear ROI, so you can build a business case, easily build a business case because you can measure the time. That is one, there's a lesson learned. Make sure you get your baseline before you start putting your workflow in place because you really cannot believe, well, people won't believe the decrease in time that it takes. Once you get a good workflow in place, a 4000% increase in speed, people are like, yeah, maybe. So you really need to have a solid baseline before you start.
That's such good advice because I was literally about to ask you, A lot of people struggled to do the ROI for workflow because the baseline is a manual process, so they're not measuring or collecting data around that. And so even as they're making a decision as to whether to automate or implement workflow, they can only talk about it qualitatively. So it's good that advice to understand where you're at now,
You don't need to take forever to create that baseline. You can just sit with the team and say, okay, how long does it take to do that? How long does it take to print the document? God help us and mail it, and how much is the mailing and how much time do you spend chasing an approval? And then you can create a rough baseline and a rough business case and then make sure that you track all of the metrics. Because one of the other things that if you were tracking workflow metrics, you can tell almost immediately if you have a mistake in the system. So you might have something running very smoothly and it's taking two days to complete this type of agreement and then all of a sudden you're at 16 days. So something is wrong in the process. Going through a workflow redesign and workflow process design makes it easy to identify what happened on the RPA. You have to think like a machine when you're designing for RPA because the RPA does exactly what you tell it. And it was pulling data off the rev number, so the legal team updated the agreement type and put a new date there. All of a sudden, none of our technology worked. But it's the kind of thing that if you're capturing metrics, you'll know it almost immediately and you can tweak.
And I like that you used the adjective rough. I think some people might sometimes get hung up on getting to the very accurate number for estimations before they're able to commit to it. We're not publishing it anywhere. This is just internal business cases. You don't have to nail it because sometimes perfection is the enemy of good. And that applies quite a lot of times to workflow.
ROI on workflow is so big that you always underestimate if I am trying to get to a rough number, I am very conservative in my numbers. Let's say it takes this long so that when the users start to use it, they're thinking to themselves, that doesn't take 10 minutes, that takes 30 minutes. I'd much rather have it go in that direction versus you're puffing up all these numbers to make the workflow viable because workflow, it just is innately efficient, just is just built into the technology.
Very cool. Okay, so we've talked about the impact of workflow measuring ROI. We were talking about it being one of the first things to put in place because it's sort of quick to implement and it has minimum change management as well. When you roll it out, can you share a story? I think you shared one earlier around taking two weeks for that office move, but can you share stories to illustrate just how fast working with the workflow tool can be? What are the steps from maybe a problem or idea through to it going live? What does that look like for the people who have never used workflow before? Maybe make it a bit tangible for them.
Okay. I'll tell you a couple stories and ultimately it will depend on if you have a workflow, somebody who's good at workflows, and again, I'm telling you, they need to be able to think linearly. So I had a colleague sitting in a meeting and they had one of the providers that it had brought in who offers a workflow, but it is a complex workflow technology in terms of IT needs IT involvement. So I actually am a workflow proponent of those that you can drag and drop and you can create your own workflows. And so they were talking about, okay, this is what we'd like to say it's an intake process, this is what we would like it to look like. And the IT group and that other team of workflow experts said it would take two months or so to put that in place. And when it came around to the legal workflow technology, the admin who was sitting in with the head of the legal operations team said, you know what?
While we were talking, I just put this quick workflow together. So would you guys like to see it? And it only takes a couple of those and you realize, oh man, it's so much easier than what even the rest of the business had been used to dealing with. Once it becomes self-service, it is easy. It is easy. I'll say it one more time, however, because this is one of the mistakes I made, assuming that everybody on the planet could create a workflow, a good workflow, and they can't. They just can't. So we ended up, it got to be such a big demand for our workflow that we did bring in a third party provider. So KP Labs came in and started to help with some of the workflow design because we just couldn't keep up. But what happens if you don't have somebody who loves to create workflow? You'll get a workflow three quarters of the way made and it won't get across the finish line.
Yeah, wow. That's a really funny story. So you're saying that in the time that someone else was discussing how to build the workflow and the time it would take that in the meeting itself, your workflow expert built the workflow,
Totally built it, built it and showed it, demoed it
Just like she's heads down busy during the meeting. Most
Of your workflows are like that. It's the exceptional workflows. It's the moving out of the building, it's the covid, right? We get an executive order that says, all right, now if you don't have a covid shot, first of all, prove to us that you have a covid shot, and if you don't have a covid shot, we're going to have to let you go. That's a very, very sensitive dealing with personal information workflow. And that workflow got put up in like three weeks. So you can have the very complex tightened down button down workflows, and then you can have an intake workflow that is easy, and an NDA workflow easy. Those are just easy. And most of the workflow providers have already created them. So don't start from the beginning either use something. In fact, we were one of the first to put in an NDA workflow, and then our GC saw it and said, that looks too complicated. So to make something simple is way harder than giving you a tonne of choices. So then that took about four weeks to just get it simplified. And then once we were done simplifying, we saw the workflow over at Juniper, and I said, I like that one. And so we called Juniper and said, can we borrow some of the elements that you have created in your workflow? And they said, yes, no problem. That's the part of the community also that is very valuable, especially in the workflow space. Most workflows have been created by somebody.
Yeah, absolutely. And I think a lot of the workflow providers as well have the concept of templates that you mentioned, and also the ability to actually share some of the workflows, even cross platform within the function functionality of the tool. So that just makes it so much easier. And we talked a little bit about the person who would build on the workflows. Like you said, it's not everyone, but on the flip side, what about the beneficiaries or the users of workflows? Do you have a sense of who should be the, perhaps early adopters when you first start with workflow? You mentioned that 20% was legal, 80% was non-legal workflows. So would you recommend to start with legal workflows or workflows that are outside of legal, who is your early adopter?
So every single time you roll out a technology, there's going to be a mistake. It's just a given. So I always roll out in legal first, and I always roll out in, if possible, in isolated legal operations function first so that we can test it and we can get the bugs out and we can understand and we can anticipate what might happen in another group. So I always test myself first. So 80%, it's always the 80 20 rule. So now 80% of the workflows exist outside of legal, but when we were starting, 80% started inside legal, and then it's the same as with any other change management. Choose somebody that is a friend or see a process that is so bad that the baseline is so low that you know can make a difference quickly. Yeah,
Agreed. Awesome. That's really good advice. We've talked a lot about workflow and sort of where you would basically onboard it at the very, very beginning, but I think different teams are on different parts of their own journey, their own maturity journey, and different priorities that are coming down from the GC and the CO and maybe the CEO. What's your advice in deciding or helping do the internal sell for bringing in workflow now as opposed to maybe it being a next year thing or a next year thing or item number 10 on the list, or maybe it's not even on the list. How do you help, what's the advice you have here for people who might want workflow but maybe don't know how to advocate for it just yet? Internally?
So I would identify the issues that the GC cares about. Most of the time a workflow can resolve some of the requests that the GC wants to solve, intake high volume, low risk agreements, making those self-service. One of the reasons that CLM has become the new shiny object is because it looks so easy, it looks like workflow is, but once you get into CLM, it becomes sticky. It's much more complex because of how, at least the pre-signature, it's just more complex because it needs to be configured for each agreement type. And so if you can identify a couple of the hotspots for the department, most, at least some of those can be solved with a workflow. It, it's one of the reasons that I'm a big fan, but you have to get somebody to try it. You really have to, it is like a little piece of candy. Once you've tasted that candy, you're like, yeah, more of that.
And so you just need to find a very easy place to put the workflow in so that it will eliminate or alleviate one of the identified issues. So don't just start saying, oh, we could do it here and we could do it here, and we could do it here. It can go anywhere. So if your department says, we don't get enough training, we'll build your training into some kind of a workflow so that you can track it so that you can provide some numbers so that you can make some good decisions around something like training. How many training sessions have you taken? What would you like? And you could create a workflow that it sends you along a path, and then it ends in, okay, here are five classes that you might be interested in taking. I'm only mentioning it because training, because every time we did a survey, our department said, we'd like more training,
If you offer it. However, they don't generally come, but you need those metrics to say We're offering it and nobody's attending. That's something that workflow can also provide.
That's awesome. I love the candy analogy. I know that you've told me before that it's addictive and people started running to you with the hands wide open looking for more candy, AK, a workflow. So you definitely become the most popular kid on the block very quickly.
Yeah, because you're doing, you are running the entire business like a business, not just legal like a business, but you're helping to create efficiency across the enterprise that I think some didn't know existed.
Great. Awesome. Well, thank you for sharing your expertise and your time here. Connie, you've been very generous. I know that you're doing a lot of interesting things right now in your life, and part of that is legal ops.com and running a lot of these regional groups, which you talked about. How can people get involved, what should they know to stay connected with you and continue to kind of grow this community, which is legal operations?
You can get onto legal ops.com and become a member if you're in-House, or you can reach out to me directly at Connie dot firstname.lastname@example.org. I'm always interested in getting feedback from the community.
We have 15 regional groups going, so my guess is that most of the people on here are close to one of the reasons that we have been having events, quarterly events,
And I've heard really great things about them. So if you haven't been to one, definitely go check it out. And with that, Connie, thank you so much. I always, I've told you before, I always get really energized speaking with you. I loved having you on the show and for everyone else as well, thank you so much for joining us. I know it's a busy time in the year, so appreciate you all carving a bit of time out for myself and Connie, and with that, that's another go with the workflow episode done. If you want to check out the other ones in the past, they're on the website or the ones coming, there's more exciting speakers to come. Connie, thank you. Thank you. Thank you again. I'll speak to you soon. Thank you,
Evan. Okay. All right.
See you everyone. Enjoy the rest of your day. Thank you so much for tuning in to this episode of Go With the Workflow. If you found it valuable, you can subscribe to the show on your favorite podcast app like Spotify or Apple Podcast. Also, please consider giving us a rating or leave a review, as that really helps other listeners find the podcast too. That's all for now, so we'll see you in the next episode.