Legal Operations

Serving Your Legal Operations Team Effectively, An Interview with Seth Metsch, General Counsel, Operative

CCBJ: When you came to Operative, how was your legal department managing all content related to their legal work?

Seth Metsch: Content was managed in a hierarchy of Box folders and each version was saved as a new file with a version number and explanation. In addition, we had just started sharing documents in Microsoft Teams for collaboration but were still saving everything as a new version in the Box folders as they were exchanged with other parties in order to track.

What caused you to choose the Microsoft platform as your core solution?

When I joined the company in 2019, Operative had already decided to be a Microsoft Office 365-based company and it was in use across the whole enterprise. When I started, the first change I made was instead of sending out documents by email, having lots of people comment, and then having legal aggregate the comments, we created a team (using Microsoft Teams, Microsoft 365’s business communication platform), put the document in there and started using the threaded comments to enable conversations directly in the document and get feedback all at once. Because the organization was already versed in Teams and that was the way everyone was working, it was a natural fit for legal to stay within the Microsoft platform.

So how specifically does the Microsoft platform serve your legal operations team effectively?

When I was looking for a DMS [document management system] we went through a detailed RFP process and spoke to lots of potential vendors; what I was really looking for was the economics and flexibility of a platform that met our specific use case for our business at hand. A lot of platforms were going to charge me based on storage and use, or on the number of users. Being charged based on storage and use was not really a good fit for me as a smaller company because that doesn’t encourage me to put everything in the DMS. Being charged based on the number of users also was not appealing to me. We are a SaaS provider and when we do a contract there are people from engineering, finance, delivery, etc., that all have to collaborate and comment on the contract and I didn’t want to pay for all those users. The reason that I chose the Microsoft platform was that everyone was already covered in our Office 365 subscription so there was no additional cost associated with it.

Meanwhile, Epona was a software solutions provider I found researching the web. I’m able to use Epona’s document management tools for managing workspace versions and metadata just licensed to the legal team, while allowing the rest of the company to collaborate into that in that same document. I looked at other solutions that were starting to recognize the use of Teams, but they stored the solution in their cloud and unless I licensed their cloud for the whole organization, I was going to have to copy versions back and forth to Teams or wherever I was storing them and this didn’t seem efficient . So, in a nutshell, this gives tools to my legal team and lets the whole company collaborate on legal documents the same way they’re collaborating on non-legal documents.

In that research, did you identify anyone able to help with the setup, management and support of the Microsoft 365- based collaboration tools?

I spoke with three or four companies that were building DMS’s in Office 365 and I decided on Epona because I liked the way that they’re set up, and their experience and their reference customers were really helpful to me. Epona also helped us set up SharePoint for the rest of the company.

Were there any lessons learned from this process? Something you’d like to share with other GCs about setting up their Microsoft 365 environment?

When you’re setting up Office 365 I think it’s important to work with some vendors in a consulting capacity who have set up Office 365 for the specific use cases you have. Otherwise, you end up with something very generic and I think the internal team needs to hear more from subject matter experts. The second part is talking with people in legal or legal operations at other companies that are working in a SharePoint Office 365 environment to see what choices they may have set up. It’s a very collaborative community and people are very happy to share with you what worked well and what didn’t work well for them. So I got a lot out of that.

Also be very willing to iterate. There were things that I put in my setup to start with that I thought I really needed and then as I worked, I realized I didn’t really need them. I probably should have listened to the advice that I didn’t need them to start with. So don’t build it based on things you might want to do or are dreaming about; build it based on things that you have actual use cases for while you’re building it.

Looking towards the future, is there anything you’re looking for from Microsoft to enhance your current Microsoft 365 environment?

I’m really excited about their integrations, including their work with ChatGPT and how they’ve integrated Copilot, an artificial intelligence assistant feature, into Microsoft 365 applications and services. In a dream scenario, I’m able to use that machine learning large language model (LLM) on my data set of signed agreements so that when drafting, I can ask it to look for a clause that does a certain thing, but does so from things that I’ve agreed to in the past, not from a random data set. I’d also like something with the business intelligence to identify deviations in my contracts or how often we have allowed a certain thing. Its ability to search for certain clauses complements the contract playbook and frees employees to focus on more creative challenges; and the business intelligence integration enables me to answer questions I probably couldn’t have answered before and make quicker decisions.

How accepting were your employees to using these collaboration tools?

With respect to legal, I was new and trying to create new organization and so I got buy-in very quickly when I explained that using collaboration in Office 365 obviates the need to send out a draft to various departments, have everyone comment separately and then legal taking hours to aggregate feedback and then follow up. By putting threaded comments and questions right in the document, we have been able to have chats and dialogues in the document, which has allowed us to move much more quickly. Also, we’re a global company with business people throughout the world and lawyers in different time zones, and it has enabled us to work asynchronously, which has really accelerated the internal review. That was also helpful in getting buy-in from within legal. In terms of the people outside the legal department, the real key was they were already starting to work in Teams and what I was doing was basically giving them a link that allowed them work on legal documents the same way were working on non-legal documents.

And you own your own data?

Yes. What’s really cool about having it in Office 365 instead of a proprietary system is the odds of us ever not having our Office 365 subscription are tiny because that’s a central place between what finance does with Excel and what we do with our other systems—we’re all over the place in there—versus a narrow system for a specific use case like legal document management. So if I were to stop working with the vendor I was working with now and decide that I want to go in a different direction, I lose access to certain tools, but everything I’ve got is still sitting there in a library in my SharePoint environment. I don’t lose access to anything. It’s still completely accessible, searchable, findable, and so from a business continuity standpoint, it gives me a lot of protection.

Are there any other points that you wanted to mention about ease of use, or any other advice you could give GCs looking to do the same thing that you’ve done?

Use your network of people as resources, learn from your past experiences, and don’t get stuck doing something a certain way. Technology is evolving so rapidly and just because you’ve been doing something for a while doesn’t mean that there’s not a better way to do it. And as you build out your team, try and hire people who have worked in different places with different experiences, and invite them to give suggestions right away to help improve what you do operationally. Take advantage of all the information that you can get from other people to improve.

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