Crafting a Legal Department for Efficiency
NetApp may be overshadowed by splashier tech companies in the public eye these days, but its mission lies at the center of the high-tech universe: data storage. With companies like Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, and Google all pushing their cloud computing products to both businesses and consumers, where to put all that data and keep it secure is paramount. Supporting the company’s mission is Matt Fawcett, general counsel and corporate secretary. Since coming to NetApp in 2010, Fawcett has brought technology and metrics to streamline the company’s 50-person legal operations. In fact, Fawcett was one of the pioneers in enshrining legal department operations as a crucial component of the legal function. Inhousecommunityus.com spoke to Fawcett about the department, how he hires lawyers, and the challenges he faces every day.
Q: How is the department organized? Geographically, or practice groups?
A: Like many global legal teams, we have a functional and a geographic component. Our large functions are Commercial, Corporate, Compliance, IP, and Operations. We also have EMEA, APAC, and Americas leadership on the team.
Q: What is your department’s budget?
A: We benchmark our spending and budget against peer companies, and generally run at a cost that is favorable to those benchmarks.
Q: How many outside law firms do you use? Do you have a panel? Has that number changed much?
A: We work with several dozen firms around the world, however 80 percent of our spending probably sits with 20 percent of that group. We do not maintain a formal panel, but with new matters we often look to retain firms that are already accustomed to working with NetApp.
Q: Do you use alternative fees, or flat rates, or any other departures from hourly billing?
A: We do all of those, though we prefer alternative and flat fees, not just for cost control but predictability on quarterly spending. Like most companies, we set budgets a year in advance, by quarter, and that does not align well with how firms prefer to bill.
Q: Back to the department, how do you hire? Out of school, firms, other companies? Why?
A: Most of our hiring is of relatively senior lawyers who have both law firm and in-house experience, but not always. We have hired people directly from law firms, usually when the “fit” and culture appears highly aligned. We have also hired right out of law school, but again that is an extraordinary circumstance when there’s an extra ordinary candidate.
Q: Do you think in-house lawyers have or need different skill sets from those in private practice?
A: Absolutely yes.
Q: What are you looking for in a colleague?
A: We spend a lot of time trying to articulate the profile of someone who will be successful at NetApp, and in the Legal team, which requires a high degree of alignment on three key vectors: experience, aptitude, and fit. We have identified key criteria, including:
- Continuous innovation;
- Business savvy;
- Talent warriors;
- Adaptability, agility & resilience
And we have identified attributes of candidates we believe would be able to deliver these:
- Naturally curious;
- Simplifiers and speed creators;
- Silo busters and bridge builders;
- Global and polycentric
Q: What keeps you up at night—or what are the biggest challenges facing you and people like you these days?
A: Too much! I think the biggest challenge right now is serving two key roles in the company, both guiding the business (as an enabler) while guarding the company (as a risk manager) in a world where digital transformation is creating large and fast moving changes in business models, selling motions, and customer expectations. All of this is happening against a geo-political backdrop that is more uncertain and a regulatory scheme that introduces more and more complexity. I often write about these topics, and many of these short articles can be found here.