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Microsoft’s assistant GC reveals big legal ops wins

The assistant general counsel - legal business, operations and strategy at Microsoft Corporation shared how having a legal operations function has paid off in spades.

user iconEmma Musgrave 05 March 2019 Corporate Counsel
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In a distributed newsletter by CLOC last month, under the section CLOC Member Spotlights, Jason Barnwell, assistant general counsel - legal business, operations and strategy at Microsoft Corporation, shared the reasons why he became a legal ops professional back in February 2017 – and the biggest changes he’s seen to the function.

“I became a legal operations professional at Microsoft because I saw a holistically compelling opportunity to do interesting work that matters with people I like and respect. I liked the team – our people are excellent and fun. They’re creative, curious, cantankerous, committed, and caring. I also liked the subject matter. I was an engineer who became an attorney, and I like to build law, teams, culture, systems, and machines. Legal operations lets me do all of these things,” he wrote.

“The creativity and operational excellence that our work enables is necessary for our organizations to keep up with the demands of the businesses and clients we serve. My role offers me the opportunity to contribute meaningfully to our organization, our profession, and our society.


“Also, I had no idea how to do the work or the role. The challenge was guaranteed to teach me new things. It still does… constantly…and not always gently. But I am not bored.”

In terms of how legal operations has evolved, Mr Barnwell said it’s now becoming a business function expected to be seen in “legal organisations with modern capabilities”.

“Evolved senior legal leaders understand that throwing more legal professionals at our legal challenges without the right operational infrastructure does not work. It is the wrong way to scale because it introduces waste and churn,” he said.

“We are seeing the discipline get more professional and more advanced as operations professionals come from other disciplines and bring their skills with them. I am a constant beneficiary of the excellence I see flowing into and developing within our space.

“The thing that amazes me is how willing people are to share what they know. I hope that ethos does not change as our space continues to evolve.”

Moving forward, Mr Barnwell said a key challenge for legal ops heads will be to continuously prove their worth, despite businesses being inundated with the latest and greatest tech.

“Our work is threatened by shiny objects. Many legal operations professional will be asked to bring their departments artificial intelligence and other emerging technologies. And those asks often do not come with enough patience for or curiosity about the supporting culture, skills, processes, and technological infrastructure we must create to make these outcomes real. This is a trap and an opportunity,” he said.

“When the asks come, we should activate a dialog that helps us understand our organizations’ strategic objectives and co-develop the journey in a way that explains why the hard, boring stuff is necessary and valuable. Much of the attention grabbing success we will see in the coming years will be built upon the foundations people are laying now.

“The challenge is securing long term investments and staying disciplined in how we deploy those resources.”

Interested in the issues shaping the in-house legal landscape? Don’t miss your chance to hear from local and global in-house legal powerhouses at the 2019 Corporate Counsel Summit!

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