netapp’s gc shares his secrets for success

light bulbs sketched on chalkboard Many small ideas make a big oneMatthew Fawcett, Senior Vice President, General Counsel, and Secretary for NetApp, a $6 billion Fortune 500 storage and data management company, spoke recently to David Galbenski, author and Executive Vice President of Strategic Initiatives of Lumen Legal, as part of the Legal Visionaries webinar series.

NetApp’s culture is a key component of its success, says Fawcett. NetApp competes on ingenuity and innovation and uses partnerships to get to market more creatively. It is currently ranked as the third best multinational company to work for in the world, and it recently won the 2013 ACC (Association of Corporate Counsel) Value Challenge Award.

What is value and how do you measure it?

Fawcett says he wants his team (which consists of 90 law professionals in 25 offices in 14 countries—50 percent of whom are lawyers and 50 percent of whom are paraprofessionals) to be as close to the client as possible. “We want them to be a fully integrated member of the team who can suggest services, tools, and solutions that help their clients accelerate their business,” he says.

Value can be defined, he says, but that definition may range from business velocity to work efficiency to dollar savings. “It’s not a single ratio but a combination of things.” In order to define and determine whether they’re delivering value at NetApp, Fawcett gathers information from the internal legal team, solicits customer feedback to discover where there are gaps between expectations and delivery, and measures the team against other legal departments around the country.

Qualitative criteria for measuring value include innovation, risk management, and feedback, he says, and quantitative criteria might consist of business velocity, budgeting, budget accuracy, spend, and aggregate spend. He also recommends that CLOs look to a variety of ratios, such as cost and headcount, and compare them to industry benchmarks.

On the webinar, participants were asked if they could define value; 98 percent answered that they could. Fawcett says that he was surprised by that answer: “I was expecting it to come out 50/50. What it seems to mean is that the audience spends a lot of time thinking about value rather than dwelling only on cost or time. I think that’s really encouraging and am interested in learning how wide a variety of definitions there are, whether their thinking is qualitative or quantitative.”

Legal Operations delivers innovation

Experimentation is crucial to success, he says. For example, Fawcett created a new group inside of the department, Legal Operations, to deliver innovation and focus on business aspects. He observes that more and more companies are creating Legal Operations departments of their own.

At NetApp, the initial goal for the Legal Operations group was to get “global consistency and efficiency in place for our entire team,” Fawcett says. As they’ve moved toward achieving that goal, “Our emphasis has migrated to emphasize technology, innovation, and the creation of a legal ecosystem.” One reason for the success of the Legal Operations group is their “willingness to make mistakes as we try new things. We brought the engineering motto, ‘fail fast,’ into our ethic.” As a result, he and Chief of Staff/Director of Legal Operations Connie Brenton “tried a lot of things to innovate in a spirit of bringing velocity to our business.”

Fawcett says, “The Operations team has set forward a multiyear technology roadmap and infrastructure.” They also have initiated non-traditional partnerships with a managed services provider and a data analytics company, which lets Legal work in new ways.

A proponent of using data analytics to increase legal spend value, Fawcett says, “Data is empowering, removes emotions, and allows us to objectify the conversation with law firms,” which means that “[t]he discussion can be collaborative versus a negotiation. Sometimes the data works in favor of the firm via benchmarking.”

Another polling question on the webinar asked whether participants were using data analytics, and Fawcett says he found it surprising that 18 percent answered that they had “no plans to implement” its use. “I have to believe that within three years, everyone is going to be using it in some shape or form.”

Technology to streamline and systematize

Technology is one important way in which NetApp’s Legal department has fostered communication and streamlined knowledge sharing. When Fawcett first joined NetApp, there were “four non-integrated intranets,” which he says was “not a practical way to serve our customers.” They built a new system from scratch and “also launched a mobile app to aid communications across our entire global legal team.” This project was initiated by the Legal Operations department. “[Brenton] brought in a tech-savvy intern group for the summer and set them loose on the intranet with instructions to rebuild it with the customer in mind and to build technology and tools that would make business grow faster.”

Fawcett also spoke about his instant NDA (Non-Disclosure Agreement) project, which returned more than 500 days of productivity in the first year. “Our legal department spent hours and hours negotiating NDAs,” he said. “Each took about five days. Our solution reduced it to one day.” They created a pre-signed bilateral document that could be accessed via smart phone and sent over email. That document has been used by more than 1,500 people inside NetApp.

He says he can see a future of replicating this process with other “high volume, repetitive agreements.” NetApp has already introduced electronic agreements to handle some commercial relationships, and Fawcett says that they will likely leverage the same idea “on the inside as well.”

Want to learn more from this legal visionary? You can download the Powerpoint presentation or watch the webinar for free.  In addition, newsletter readers can download a free Kindle copy of our new Legal Visionaries book from on February 7 or 8, 2014.  There’s a special chapter about Matthew Fawcett and his work at NetApp as well as profiles of 26 other legal visionaries.