Interview with Steph Corey, founder of CLOC

Each month, we sit down with one of our heroes from the world of legal tech. This time, it's Steph Corey, founder of CLOC and the first legal ops manager in Silicon Valley.

Steph Corey is a legal ops pioneer. Since co-founding the Corporate Legal Operations Consortium (CLOC) with a bunch of like-minded people in the early days of legal ops, she has established a reputation as one of the great legal operators. We were lucky enough to sit down with her to find out why.

Tell us about yourself. How did you get to where you are today?

It was mostly by accident! I started in finance and economics, got a MBA after undergrad, interned at Merryl Lynch, and got a job in an investment firm that I disliked very much. (It turns out investing very wealthy people’s money was a total bore and not a very humble profession.)  

Then I found out HP was hiring in this role called ‘legal ops’. They were looking for someone with a strong financial background. At the time, HP was the Silicon Valley company to work for. 

The General Counsel Jack Brigham – who was iconic – asked me, “Stephanie, you look like a very nice young person. Are you sure you’re going to be able to manage with all of these lawyers?”. I said, “Well, my father is a surgeon. They have big egos, too.” And he said, “Oh, you’ll be fine then”.

This is what got me the role at HP. I was the first legal ops manager in Silicon Valley. No one else really had that formal role.

What was it like coming into the legal profession?

I was really lucky! Nowadays, when you join a new organisation, you’re on your own. But HP wasn’t like that. They sat with me for hours to show me everything they do. The Head of IP showed me everything that HP does, the way the ink adheres to the paper, how patent docketing happens. Bill and Dave [Ed. note: HP’s founders, Bill Hewlett and David Packard] were still alive when I joined. Dave walked around the campus. He would ask, “What are you guys working on?” 

Steph Corey

Steph Corey

You co-founded CLOC. How did that come about?

CLOC was another happy accident. Connie Brenton and I set up monthly calls with 15 or so people, who later became the original founders of CLOC. We were all struggling with the same things and continue to struggle with the same things. There’s always a trend. Back then, everyone was focused on contracting. Now it’s intake.

So, we started meeting regularly. It became more formalised – a big behemoth. I left when I went to UpLevel Ops. I would like to see more grassroots things happening because that’s where the more exciting stuff happens.

What were those trends you experienced?

This may be anecdotal, but what people talk about to me follows a trend. When I get one call for automating intake, I get 2 more. 

The bigger companies were focused on e-billing and matter management systems – foundational issues. Then, everyone was really involved in discovery. Why were they spending so much on outside counsel? They raked clients over the coal about unbundling, figuring out ways to outsource or bring it in-house. Contracting has been a struggle for years. Now, it’s more about bots, automating intake, and AI. It’s working its way into the in-house practice. 

For us [at UpLevel Ops], our fastest growing client base is the smaller companies. And they’re still working out e-billing and contracting systems.  

You are one of the legal ops gurus in the world. What is legal ops and why is it important?

Richard Susskind and Mark Cohen gave a talk recently where they said legal ops used to be a luxury – the right hand of big companies who got their stuff done. But it wasn’t for everybody. Legal departments with fewer than 30-40 people didn’t have this role. 

"[Legal ops] is no longer a luxury; it's a must-have as resources shrink."

In the last 4 years, that’s totally changed. It’s no longer a luxury; it’s a must-have as resources shrink. Most calls I get are for teams with 10 and under. They have very limited resources, but they have to build an infrastructure so that the next lawyer can hit the ground running to practice law. 

Legal ops is the running of the legal department. It needs to be well run! Every business leader has metrics they need to meet. Lawyers used to get away with flying under the radar. That’s absolutely not the case anymore. GCs have goals they have to hit – “do more with less”. It’s a very demotivating way of talking about it. 

The only way to scale is by having a proper structure in place, the right people doing the right things, clean processes and automation to support that – people, processes and technology. Legal ops is about managing those resources.

And what is the role of legal tech in that?

Legal tech must ensure that the right work gets to the right people. You don’t want senior people doing junior work. That’s a waste of resources, and they’ll be disgruntled.

The way to do this is through automation. The work has to be routed or triaged appropriately as it comes in. Automate the work that doesn’t need lawyers – get bots answering questions, outsource it, or get someone else in the department to do it. 

You also want to measure how the work is coming, what it is, and who it’s going to. That information will give you the detail you need to make data-driven decisions. Instead of saying, “this feels like X”, you can say, “We know this work has increased by 40%”. If you need to speed up the delivery of services, then you want to automate contracting and the legal requests coming in. If the goal is to reduce spend, then you need tech in place to track outside counsel. Tech is what gives you the data. 

Mary O’Carroll, Head of Legal Operations at Google, Connie Brenton, Snr. Director of Legal Operations at NetApp Inc., and Steph

Mary O’Carroll, Head of Legal Operations at Google, Connie Brenton, Snr. Director of Legal Operations at NetApp Inc., and Steph

You consult for in-house teams and law firms through UpLevel Ops. What are the most common problems you see in the industry? What’s your advice?

Most mature departments pretty much have their arms around spend and external matter management, with good outside counsel management in place. Usually, they’ve handled contracting. But universally, knowledge management is an issue: what’s stored where? Everyone has such individual practices. Law firms have formal document management, they know they never want to lose sight of any work products. 

But very few law departments have embraced that. They don’t have any protocols. They store documents in Dropbox or Sharepoint, but they don’t want to tell IT because it’s a security concern, or they hate it because the drive has become a dumping ground. People don’t do a great job of capturing and sharing an asset of institutional knowledge. They lose so much information. 

This is really where automation can help. As search gets better, it will start to change this. 

Josef is a no-code platform. What value do you see for corporate legal teams using no-code platforms?

No-code is the way of the future. Lawyers aren’t coders, and ops teams generally aren’t coders, either. Before, IT teams said, “no, legal, shut the hell up – we’ve got more important things to do”. Now, IT finally understands that lawyers are very expensive and that automation needs to happen, but they still don’t have the resources; they’re focused on revenue-generating business. But they’re fine with legal tech as long as security needs are met. 

"No-code is the way of the future."

What do you think of the Australian legal tech scene?

You guys have a solution for every type of legal problem. Somebody is tackling every issue in one form or another in Australia. It’s exciting for me to get hooked into that market. 

It’s good to have solutions from different regions – the needs are international, so the solutions should be. We used European e-billing for a European client. They liked someone who had boots on the ground there. 

As a legal professional, what are you excited about? And what are you afraid of?

I’m excited about something new I’m working on. Usually, in a consulting engagement, we come in, implement a system, start a department, then we say bye and move on. But recently, we’ve started offering legal ops as a remote service, rather than doing consulting engagements. It’s kind of a new concept. 

What scares me is that with this pandemic, legal departments will fall back on what they’re comfortable with, and not invest resources in what I think is a critical function. Instead, they’ll go back to lawyers churning out legal work, and fire “non-lawyers”. It’s illogical because those “non-lawyers” are what helps you scale. I hope that GCs aren’t shortsighted. This work has to get done. And you don’t want lawyers doing ops work if they have no love for it.

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