In the recent issue of Forum magazine, Eric Laughlin, managing director, Corporate Segment & Legal Managed Services at Thomson Reuters, spoke with Mark Chandler, senior vice president, general counsel and secretary of Cisco Systems, about how to stay innovative in a tech-centric environment like Silicon Valley and how to promote a culture of efficiency and creativity in your legal department.
Cisco has been a recognized leader in legal innovation, staking early claims on the use of Alternative Fee Arrangements (AFAs) and e-billing before much of the industry, and has even acted as consultant to its large customers about how to better use technology in their practices.
Eric Laughlin: You’re in an industry that’s really defined by technology and innovation. In that industry, what do Cisco and the Cisco legal department have to do to really stand out?
Mark Chandler: We’ve tried to drive efficiency and effectiveness in the legal department in a way that reflected the ethos of the company. And that is, what we’re building gives people the chance to make the world a better place and improve their own effectiveness and profitability in the business world. And by using these tools or processes ourselves, we’re able to model that for others and build a better company for Cisco and a better opportunity for our customers as well. That’s how I view the legal function and the types of investments that we’ve made.
Laughlin: Are innovation and effectiveness some of the ways in which the legal department is evaluated by the company?
Chandler: In terms of how I’m judged, it’s a more results-oriented than input-oriented metric. There is a client satisfaction metric, of course, both done through direct surveys and also through anecdotal evidence. We try to get information in various ways to figure it out.
By using these tools or processes ourselves, we’re able to model that for others and build a better company for Cisco and a better opportunity for our customers as well.
But because the resources are very constrained and we continually try to reduce the operating expenses of the company and the percentage of revenue devoted to legal, there’s constant pressure to come up with more ways to automate. For myself, my peers in the leadership team certainly have a sense of what’s working and what’s not working in legal. That feedback is very much part of my review that is solicited by the CEO when he’s asking others what their perception is of the department. I live and die, in that sense, by how our team is performing. I’ve been lucky to hire people smarter than I am, and I’m tremendously dependent on them and they are the beginning and the end point of the success of our department.
Laughlin: You talk a lot about your people. How do you expand the knowledge of your team? What’s your people strategy?
Chandler: I have a fairly rigid scheme that I use that divides our work into core and context and into mission-critical and non-mission-critical.
The core/mission-critical work is the transactions that drive our business and differentiate us from our competitors. For that work, I hire people who are experienced lawyers and contract negotiators and who know our industry, but also have a suppleness of approach that shows they’re willing to use the tools to drive efficiency, and that they’re not jealous of having other people or other tools help them with their work. That’s a very subjective judgment you have to make in interviewing and hiring people.
For areas that are mission-critical to the company but are not core – meaning they’re not part of our competitive differentiation, such as compliance work or big-ticket litigation – I have very small teams internally who have deep expertise in that area and then I rely on outside counsel to do work to support that.
For the things that are not mission-critical, on the core side – the things that relate to how we design, build and sell our products but are repetitive in nature – distributor renewals, nondisclosure agreements, individual patent applications and the like – I rely on technology and on outside counsel to do it.
And when it’s not core and it’s not mission-critical, I outsource completely.
To read the full interview, you can go to Forum magazine online, or download the free App!