Small Legal Team Lessons: Kate Sherburn at Who Gives A Crap

Kate Sherburn, Legal Counsel at Who Gives A Crap shares her insights and provides some tips on overcoming challenges in a small Legal Department.

Smaller legal teams face a trio of challenges that affect their service delivery (and stress levels), according to a recent Xakia poll.

Indeed, in-house lawyers from small legal teams ranked three main pain points during a recent Xakia webinar:

  1. Reactionary demands – in other words, too much time spent fighting fires to get strategic;
  2. Lack of legal technology tools to increase productivity; and
  3. Lack of legal resources internally.

It’s a three-headed monster that sounded familiar to Kate Sherburn, Legal Counsel at Who Gives A Crap, an online retailer of environmentally friendly toilet paper, tissues and paper towels. Ms. Sherburn, who started as the first and only lawyer at Who Gives A Crap, now leads a department of three. She shared a number of insights and lessons learned during the webinar; a replay is available here.

Small legal teams can achieve mega productivity webinar

1. Educate your business clients

When she joined Who Gives A Crap, Ms. Sherburn found that many of her business clients had never worked with a Legal Department before, or they had negative experiences with business lawyers. Not only did she want to build a positive brand for the Legal Department, she wanted to set it up for success with the business contacts by helping them understand when to reach out, what information would be needed, and so forth.

She created a “Legal 101,” a presentation that rolled out to everyone on Zoom, sharing best practices for working with the Who Gives A Crap lawyers.

“It helped humanize the legal team,” she said. “We’re here to help you.”

Legal 101 is now incorporated into orientation at Who Gives A Crap, presented every few months to new hires.

The result: an informed clientele who know when to call Legal, when to troubleshoot themselves, and what information Legal needs. (All of which save precious time.)

small legal team priorities in the next 12 months - cut down on low value work statistic

2. Track your work

As the first lawyer at a new and quickly growing company, Ms. Sherburn said the Legal Department lacked any formal matter management infrastructure, but she quickly saw that cataloging the legal work would help prevent double-work by showing where and how a question had been answered previously, and hedge against missed deadlines or dropped balls.

“I was getting peppered with questions on Slack, in person, in documents,” she said. “So I kept this very complex Google Sheet: This question was asked here, and this is where I answered it, so I could keep track of it….I could keep track of everything. I could see what work had come in so I could prioritize it.

“Having it where it was not all in my head was incredibly useful.”

As the Legal Department grew beyond one person, it outgrew one spreadsheet; Who Gives A Crap now tracks work with Xakia's legal matter management software.

The result: a “single source of truth” that not only helps shed light on who’s doing what, but serves as a knowledge management hub for previous questions, templates, precedents and boilerplate language. This stops the Legal Department from reinventing the proverbial wheel — and it also positions the team to scale as the company grows.

small legal team webinar statistic - 50% will implement legal technology to improve productivity

3. Use data to inform resourcing

Ms. Sherburn noted that while the company got five times larger, its Legal Department did not; it was critical to make the most of the resources available.

For Who Gives A Crap, that meant analyzing the current workload before making its third lawyer hire.

Ms. Sherburn and her second lawyer are generalists; she jokes that she practices “desk law,” or “Anything that comes across my desk is what I do.” But when it was time to make another hire, she looked at the legal analytics to see how the company’s work was trending, and what specific skill set it needed most.

The data made it clear: The company didn’t need another generalist, it needed a specialist – a privacy and compliance specialist.

“One thing that we track is the type of matter. It was becoming really clear that with privacy and compliance work, there was an increased number of matters, but we were only touching the surface of them,” she said. “We were only dealing with things in a reactionary way…so they kept getting added to the list, which would then get pushed to the bottom. The data was showing us that we actually needed someone who could focus on these and who did not have other distractions.”

The result: A new specialist with the right set of skills for the workload, which not only ensures ROI for the Legal Department resources, but also better positions the team to meet their standard for service.

“If we kept adding generalists, we would just continue the way we were going,” Ms. Sherburn said. “We sort of felt like we were playing catch-up a little bit, and that is not how we like to work. We like to be ahead of the curve. Best practice is where we want to be at all times, and when you are struggling to keep up with what is going on, you are never going to reach that point.”

Watch the webinar on demand to learn how your small legal team can achieve mega productivity

Watch our full webinar on demand now to learn the challenges facing small legal teams and tips to help you operate more efficiently.

Small legal teams can achieve mega productivity webinar

Improve Legal Department productivity with matter management software

If you would like to find out how matter management software can help reduce the stress and increase productivity and visibility within your Legal Department, speak to the team at Xakia today for a demo or sign up for a free 14-day pilot.

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