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LegalMay 02, 2022

Legal Leaders Exchange: Learning from Microsoft’s success

In episode 8 of Wolters Kluwer's ELM Solutions’ Legal Leaders Exchange podcast, entitled Managing exponential growth in legal operations: The Microsoft case, we are fortunate to hear directly from two of Microsoft’s leaders on how they achieve legal ops success in a large and growing organization. Tom Orrison, Microsoft’s director of legal operations, and Jason Barnwell, Microsoft’s general manager for digital transformation, joined ELM Solutions’ Nathan Cemenska for a discussion that many legal operations professionals are likely to find enlightening.

Tom and Jason talked about many aspects of Microsoft’s legal ops approach, sharing insights on how the company uses data and technology to manage their matters and legal spend in a fast-paced environment. The conversation included topics about both internal and external spend, as well as bigger-picture concerns about the balance between employee empowerment and improving processes.

A few of the highlights of the discussion include:

  • Legal and technology team collaboration – While Tom is focused on the legal function and Jason’s purview is technology, they both maintain a clear emphasis on the company’s overall philosophy and business goals, which helps them work together well. Tom explains, “My job is to keep my feet squarely on the ground in durable and sustainable solutions and also my head in the clouds with Jason, looking to what's next and trying to connect.”
  • Staying efficient while scaling up – Thanks to business growth and regulatory changes, the volume and complexity of Microsoft’s legal landscape has increased. Because, in the interest of flexibility, Microsoft often encourages employees to devise their own solutions to problems, the growing team found many instances of disparate processes for common situations. This creates inconsistency and inefficiency that Tom and Jason talk about addressing.
  • Centralizing expertise – An informal network of expertise had developed among the legal department team, with staff members learning over time that one person is an expert in one aspect of the department’s mission, and someone else is an expert in another. As new people have joined the team, it has been difficult for them to know who to seek out for more information on various subjects, and legal ops leadership recognized they needed a new approach.
  • The importance of standardization – In order for a legal department to communicate effectively with outside counsel about matters and to confirm that it is paying fair rates, in-house and outside counsel need a common language. A standard taxonomy for matter-related work is therefore helpful, on both an internal and industry-wide level. Tom and Jason share their thoughts on how the legal market, as well as individual legal departments, can make progress in this area.

For more on legal ops in a growth-oriented enterprise environment, check out Managing exponential growth in legal operations: The Microsoft case on our website or in your favorite podcast app. If you are a podcast app user, be sure to follow our Legal Leaders Exchange show on your favorite app (Apple Podcast, Spotify, Google Podcast, Amazon /, iHeart Radio), to make sure that you don’t miss any of our informative episodes. 

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