Just like every other team in your business your legal team is spread thin. If you are like most other SaaS companies and contracting workload ebbs and flows depending on pushes by the sales team for end of month, end of quarter or end of year you’ll know that it can be hard to make sure your startup legal team keeps up. So how do you make sure that you have your best legal resources on the deals that are important to you? Here are three tips on how it get this choke point in your sales pipeline working smoothly and manage your legal resources.
Staff your team appropriately
Seems simple, doesn’t it? Well nothing is as simple as it seems and staffing a legal team appropriately can be difficult. It’s hard to get a grasp on the level of work that will be needed in your contracting. It will depend heavily on the complexity of your contracts and the types of customers that you are dealing with. If your customers are large enterprise businesses that will have a lot of red lines and comments on essential contract clauses, this is going to put a lot of time pressure on your legal during crush time. One great way to get around this issue in your early days as a startup is to negotiate with an external legal provider to have hourly lawyers who will provide you with one to two days a week in slower months and extend this to three to four days a week towards the end of a quarter. These types of agreements are common and help you keep up with contracting demands without over staffing.
Once you grow to the point that you have an internal legal resource and this person is being fully utilized you can then start to supplement this resource with external lawyers hours as you ramp up. Keeping in mind that you should be very selective of the lawyers that you are bringing on for the external work and that you spend time to get these people to understand your product and company.
Put a legal quarter back in place to manage your legal resources
One of the early mistakes that a startup can make with their legal team is not having someone in place to quarter back the legal requests coming in. If your sales team are working directly with your legal team you will most definitely have inefficiencies and issues arising. The core reason for this is that startup companies compensate their account executives on their deals closed, they are incentivised to have their contract prioritized and pushed to the top of the legal work pile. What’s worse here is that they are highly trained at convincing people to do what they want. This will have your legal team either jumping from project to project because they are being pulled in a hundred directions, or your legal team will draw a line in the sand and simply create a first in first serve system. This seems practical from a management of legal workload point of view but when it’s the end of the month and you have strategic deals and high value deals that you are trying to close sometimes commercial decisions need to be made as to where the team should be putting their energy. Legal teams are often not well placed to do this.
Set a service level agreement with your team
As much as you’d like to have your legal team fly though work and get redlines back the same day this generally isn’t practical. One of the issues with how you manage your legal resources is that it’s difficult to understand and have an overview of how much work is involved to turn around a contract. This will often mean that your sales team has very little understanding of when they will get something back from the blackhole of the legal team which will create frustration in the sales process. A lot of this frustration can be alleviated by having an internal service level agreement for contracting work. By making this clear it can put clear timelines on the rest of the procurement process and clear up the constant response of ‘it’s with legal’. Of course this SLA will fluctuate from time to time, especially at the end of the quarter when there is a backlog of deals but it definitely makes the management of relationships between the sales team and the legal team easier. Ultimately this will improve you B2B contract management a lot.