In an exclusive interview, Mary Shen O’Carroll, director of legal operations, technology and strategy at Google, talks to Frankie Wang about the emerging field of legal operations, trends in legal technology and the future of in-house legal teams
China Business Law Journal: Tell us about yourself and Google’s legal operations team?
Mary Shen O’Carroll: So, I joined Google about 12 years ago, and before that I was at a law firm called Orrick, an international law firm. I have been at Google for about 12 years. Our team has grown quite significantly since then. I was the very first legal operations hire. At the time, there wasn’t very much of a job description, and over time our team has grown quite a bit.
We are over 50 professionals now, in legal operations as a function. We describe our mission to be focused on multiplying legal’s impact by driving innovation, operational excellence and focused execution. What that means practically, and what we do – I like to think of us as operating essentially under five kind of broad umbrellas of expertise.
The first one is programme management, and that’s a broad term, but it includes things like strategic planning, process improvements. We have a bunch of ex-consultants who look at the way we do things and think about, is there a better way? And then, also project management, rolling out projects or initiatives either across the department or even sometimes across the company.
The second area of expertise we call data analytics, which is essentially business intelligence, dashboards, analytics and data management. The third pillar is education and knowledge management – that includes things like all the development training material that we do for our lawyers, certification processes, on-boarding of new hires. But it also includes the knowledge management piece, so the development of help centres, ways that we can allow our clients to self-serve, documentation of policies, play books, templates, processes.
The fourth area of expertise we call tech enablement. It’s essentially systems and tools, so the way we evaluate and deliver technology solutions that help the entire department scale with the business. And then, finally, one of the most classic pieces of legal operations is outside counsel and vendor management, so that includes engagement of outside counsel as well as other vendors. Right sourcing, figuring out what the right supplier is for the type of work, and then spend management, managing the budgets, the actual money that we spend outside of the company.
CBLJ: What are the functions that your legal ops team supports?
O’Carroll: Essentially the primary customer for the legal operations team is the legal department, but because of what the lawyers are doing, what the department does, it is so interconnected with the rest of the business. We have partnerships in finance and IT, real estate, and support all the products that Google has as well. The work that we do often has a tie that goes beyond just the department, because it’s the way we interact with the departments, clients, or other parts of the company. So again, while our direct client, who we are working with and problem solving for, is the lawyers, we are always looking out for what’s best for the company.
The legal operations field is still very new, right? We’re still creating what the standard operating procedure is, and oftentimes, if you go to three different companies that have legal operations functions, they’re going to look quite different. They’re going to have different titles, whether it’s a law firm or in-house.
The organization that I am the president of, the CLOC [Corporate Legal Operations Consortium], one of the things that we try to do is create the definition, in a common language and common terminology, across the industry, of what functions are included in the umbrella of legal ops.
If you look at what we call the CLOC core 12, it’s very broad. It includes all those things that we’ve talked about. In terms of standard titles and terminology, I think it’s just going to take time before everyone figures out how to [label] all these things. And I think, even within our own legal department, we have project managers, programme managers, product managers, and it’s not always the same role. As time matures, our space and our function, I think we will get more clarity and alignment across the industry. But right now, I think it is a little bit of each company defining it on their own.