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ADOBE's Operational Excellence Journey

Originally published in Thomson Reuters Forum Magazine

· Client Value,Client relations,Legal Operations,Data Analyics,Legal Innovation

Nearly a decade ago, Adobe’s legal department began the journey toward operational excellence. The legal department has since gone on to refine and improve its operations and has become a model for other legal departments. It has also become a leading innovator in recruiting diverse legal talent.

Lisa Konie, Adobe’s legal operations czar, has been at the helm from the start. She spoke to Forum about how it all began and how it has matured.

ROSE: How did you become a pioneer in the now burgeoning field of legal operations?

LISA KONIE: When I joined Adobe’s legal department in 2004, I practiced transactional law on the department’s outbound licensing team. I reported to Joe Ramirez, our vice president of Licensing & associate general counsel. Joe is a visionary. Before they were hot topics, Joe had a laser focus on improving operational efficiencies and improving the client experience. He identified some projects that would increase both, and tapped me to lead them. We worked very well together. He was the big-picture thinker and I, the detail-oriented thinker. Following the success of a few operational projects, he met with our general counsel – at the time Karen Cottle – and made the case that Adobe’s legal department needed an “operations role.” He also made the case that the role should be filled by me. I had no idea this was happening when he walked into my office one day and said, “So, I hope you want this because the job is yours.” That was back in 2008.

ROSE: Whom did you report to when you became the operations lead?

KONIE: I‘ve always reported to the general counsel. First to Karen Cottle, and for the last five-plus years, to Mike Dillon. Mike has been, as Karen was, incredibly supportive of the legal operations team and deems the work we do as mission-critical. He champions our work and consistently communicates to the company, and other general counsels, the connection between what our team does and the way legal departments create value. 

ROSE: Why does Mike have such confidence in the value of the legal ops team?

KONIE: Adobe® is an $8 billion company and Mike is the executive who provides our CEO with strategic, business and legal advice. That’s his focus. My team and I free him from everything that falls outside of his purview. We do the same for the other lawyers in the department. So, anything that does not involve substantive legal work falls on me and my team to handle. We are the backbone of the legal department, a department that has over 200 legal professionals working around the globe.

ROSE: In your opinion, why are an increasing number of general counsel adding on an operations component to their legal departments?

KONIE: As much as I’d like to pin it on the legal ops movement started by Corporate Legal Operations Consortium (CLOC), I think it’s the dramatically rapid pace in which business is done today. Technology is driving the pace and will continue to do so. For example, at Adobe our product cycles used to be 18 months. We’re lucky now if it is 30 days. It’s a seismic shift. The legal department needs to move at a much faster pace today and to do that, it has to be operationally excellent.

ROSE: What are some of the ways that you and your team re-engineered how work is done in the legal department?

KONIE: Here are just a couple examples of what we have done. First, non-disclosure agreements (NDAs). We examined the data from our contract management system and identified NDAs as an area that we could make far more efficient. Our review found that, we had 87 unique users across our legal department working on NDAs during the past year. They ranged from attorneys with 15 years practicing law, to our more junior legal specialists. And we asked a rhetorical question, “Do we really need a senior lawyer doing an NDA?” So, we streamlined and centralized the NDA process. We took them off everyone’s plates and redirected all NDAs to a designated center of excellence team of about 10 people in our department.

This center of excellence, Adobe’s Global Legal Services (GLS) team is one of the most innovative things we have done over the past couple years. Instead of outsourcing work, we have insourced it to this team, with a goal of right-sizing work, and creating a pool of talent for the department. This team handles Adobe’s higher volume, more repeatable transactions and project support. It is also the team that manages our interns and has the training models to hire law school graduates.

Another example is how we streamlined contracts that were drafted as part of a membership and volume purchasing program handled by our sales team. Here we found that 100% of these contracts went through legal. So, we turned the document into an online agreement and saw the number that went through Legal go down from 100% to 3%.

In all cases, we eliminated the waste of time and resources by simply looking at our data, reimagining the process and designing systems and teams that create value for the legal department and the company. Pretty cool stuff.

ROSE: How do you stay abreast of the legal technology tools that are available and constantly replaced by newer ones?

KONIE: First and foremost, I leverage the network I’ve created in connection with CLOC. This network includes my peers in other legal departments and a host of legal service providers – law firms, managed service providers, technology companies. So, if I’m looking at a technology solution, I guarantee you I’m going to my network and I’m asking them, “Who has it? What do you think? What works? What doesn’t work? I don’t want to reinvent the wheel.”

ROSE: What’s the composition of your team?

KONIE: I have two components to my team. Our operations team is composed of six professionals who handled all the classic operational components of running the department. The second component is our GLS team.

ROSE: Do you have diversity outreach programs?

KONIE: Our company has a deep commitment to building a diverse workforce. I’m proud to say that our legal department numbers consistently show our success in attracting, retaining and promoting women and minorities. I’m also really proud of what we’re doing this year with two of our preferred law firms in the US, Perkins Coie and Arnold & Porter. The two programs provide diverse first-year law students the chance to spend half the summer at the law firm and the other half in our legal department. We are committed to diversity both at Adobe and at the law firms, with whom we partner. As with our GLS program, we view these internship programs as a vehicle for hiring these candidates once they graduate law school.

ROSE: Do you use alternative fees?

KONIE: Yes. I am passionate about getting others on board. I am trying to do everything I can to encourage other legal departments and law firms to commit to using alternative fee arrangements (AFAs). It’s very disappointing when I hear law firms tell me that they offer them to clients and the clients say “no.” I was a keynote at a conference in Nashville back in October and the audience was primarily law firms. My topic was, “How to Win My Business.” I focused my presentation on the current and upcoming changes in our industry and the need for law firms to be proactive in preparing themselves for change.

Something they can do now is to place a premium on operational excellence within their law firms. Operational excellence will equip them with the process and technology to offer AFAs and other benefits that match the value they provide their clients with the values that matter to those clients.

ROSE: What were your key initiatives in 2017?

KONIE: A key initiative was developing training modules for our new GLS hires. We identified 10 core competencies and developed training modules for each competency. Each module includes videos, playbooks, handbooks and tests. Once someone completes a module they can certify themselves on the topic they’ve satisfactorily completed. It was an exciting program to develop.

Another key initiative was the selection of a preferred outside counsel panel internationally. We issued an RFP and, and after an extensive process, chose three law firms to be our preferred law firms for our international work. As we step into 2018 we’re very happy that we are driving more of our international work on a fixed-fee basis. Quarter to quarter, we have anywhere from 72% to 78% of our total spend on an AFAs. I’m hoping to get that up a bit higher. For 2018 and our international firms, we are still in the exploratory stage. Stay tuned.

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