CLM explained by an expert: ex-Microsoft Lucy Bassli shares her top tips

The first rule of operationalising anything?
Write down what you want to see in an ideal world.

Contract lifecycle management. There’s the daily practice of managing contracts and there’s the recent explosion of platforms that promise to do it all for you.

It’s no secret that the market’s gone wild for CLM technology, but how do you know whether a big, robust CLM platform is the right tool for you? 

To learn how to make such hefty decisions, we spoke with CLM expert Lucy Bassli, Author of CLM Simplified and The Simple Guide to Legal Innovation, and Founder and Principal of InnoLaw Group.

Are big CLM platforms the ultimate salve? Get an expert’s view via our interview with Lucy below.

Lucy Bassli, Author and Founder and Principal of InnoLaw Group

Lucy Bassli, Author and Founder and Principal of InnoLaw Group

Hi Lucy, thank you for joining us! For those who might not know you, could you share a bit about yourself and how you became the CLM expert?

Hi! Sure, you bet.

I’m a commercial transactions lawyer by training, having worked at a Big Law firm here in the Seattle area. Eventually, I moved in-house to Microsoft where I then worked for about 13 years.

I realised I loved the how in contracting more than what’s inside the four corners. I liked thinking about templates, playbooks, processes, efficiencies, outsourcing and, of course, automation.

Eventually, I decided to leave Microsoft to set up my own niche consultancy firm where today we advise on legal operations, contracting and all aspects of CLM.

CLM is a problem that everybody has and it’s a problem that I love to solve, so it was the perfect match!

What advice would you offer to legal teams looking to improve their contracting processes?

Ok, first take a breath.

Hold off on technology and look internally at your people, processes and your policies. By policies, I mean think about your legal team’s thresholds and the philosophies that underpin their work. Ask yourself, what do you want their focus to be on when it comes to contracting? What don’t you?

Too many law departments do what they’re given, so if you start asking these sorts of questions, you’ll be taking the first steps to recovery and regaining control over your work. 

Once cleared up, you can determine who should be doing what, and what can be split between legal and the wider business. 

That said, know that you will need to create the tools that’ll empower those taking on their new tasks, but this doesn’t have to involve tech. It can be templates, playbooks and empowerment guides, and so on.

In short, do your homework!

For those who don’t already know, what is CLM? How can people be thinking about it?

Contract lifecycle management, or CLM, is the complex combination of the people, processes, systems and tools that determine a contract’s journey. CLM is often equated with technology, but it’s more what people do day in, day out, and where they do it.

It starts once a contract is born and tends to finish when the contract reaches its final resting place which should not(!) be your C-drive. Public service announcement: the cloud is safe, lawyers, it’s safe. You can put contracts there!

There’s been an explosion of technologies focused on enabling and improving contract lifecycle management recently, and there are some platforms that promise to manage it all. From negotiation to approvals, retrieving signatures, storage, then retrieval and amendments.

At InnoLaw Group, it’s our job is to tell you the truth based on our experience with the technology in the market right now and, honestly, there’s only so much engineering resource a tech company can have! 

Try as they might, it’s often not possible to build all the tech needed across the different phases of a contracting lifecycle all to an equal standard.

“CLM is the people, processes, systems and tools that determine a contract’s journey. It's what people do day in, day out, and where they do it. ”
– Lucy Bassli, Author and Founder and Principal of InnoLaw Group

How do you encourage clients to think about other types of automation alongside CLM?

Generally it involves sorting through three buckets of pain which then help us determine what needs to be addressed and in what order. They include:

  1. Document generation, i.e. whether the client has the ability to create good contract templates derived from a clause library.
  2. Storage, i.e. do they have an adequate contract repository with strong data extraction capabilities?
  3. Workflow, i.e. do they have the right processes in place to ensure contract X is guaranteed to go from A to B via C?

Clients facing workflow issues often look to large CLM platforms, but they’re not always the right fit. We say, “Why are you looking at so many complex, robust systems where their workflow functionality is so light?”

In these cases we walk them back and, to the disdain of many of my CLM tech friends, we recommend they pause and reconsider more focused options. If you need to address workflow or document generation–in other words, birthing a contract–tools like Josef can help with this because that’s what they’re specifically designed to do!

Workflow issues also tend to centre around policy, and if you don’t have that written down, you’ll be stuck and won’t be able to automate it until you do. 

That’s the first rule of operationalising anything: write down what you want to see in an ideal world and ignore any lack of confidence in business owners or users, because, at the end of the day, they are trainable and will be able to follow new guidelines once established.

Whether it’s by business unit, contract type, transaction type, or region, etc., write down your future vision because if you have nothing in mind, you can’t automate.

Lucy, thank you so much for your time.

Thanks for having me! My pleasure.

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