Helen is COO at LegalEdge and runs the business together with CEO Donna. Helen and Donna set up LegalEdge to provide SMEs with a commercially focused and cost-effective legal solution that would help businesses scale faster and more effectively. Helen, continues to be frustrated by legal service providers who are too expensive, impractical and risk averse for fast growth SMEs. She hates ‘over-lawyering’ and always makes sure solutions are pragmatic, straightforward and commercial. She advocates an ‘inside-out’ approach where lawyers get to know companies’ goals and become part of the Ops team to manage legal risk, compliance and the budget.
Our story is typical; a gap in the market, a desire to solve a problem, and good timing!
The problem we identified in 2009 was a lack of good practical legal support and legal budget management for fast-growth companies. This gap was fuelled by the financial crisis of reduced headcount and budgets, as well as increasingly out of touch, expensive and specialist law firms. With Donna, my business partner, we knew we could do better, fill a gap, and at the same time improve the working lives of the very many lawyers who continue to leave the profession due to lack of work/life balance, becoming disillusioned with the job, etc. So we set up LegalEdge.
Initially, we wanted to support over busy in-house legal teams, because that’s where we’d been, so we knew there was a real and immediate need. We soon established, however, that there was also a huge need within fast-growth companies with no in-house legal team and increasingly complex needs. From getting contracts closed out quickly, to sorting out data/ privacy compliance, to managing intellectual property assets, to dealing with staff issues. These things were (and still are) often left to an over-busy COO/CFO. Resulting in it being a fire-fighting exercise, reactive and over-budget. Often outsourcing to an expensive specialist lawyer when it’s too late, when what’s really needed is a good in-house lawyer to work proactively as part of the ops team. We still find that many companies don’t know there are alternative legal services providers.
Carving our space in the market, alongside other early ‘new law’ adopters, such as Obelisk and Lawyers on Demand (who focus on working with larger companies with existing in-house legal teams), we continue to challenge a traditional, change-averse profession using flexible working and innovation. Ensuring legal services work more effectively for scaling companies, providing them with a better solution whilst also providing our staff with a better way of working. Nearly 15 years in, we’re doing better than ever with more and more opportunities to work with amazing companies and people.
Many fast-growth companies either under-do it with cheap templates/platforms that aren’t fit for purpose until it’s too late. Or try to use the big law firm that did their last fundraise, which is the wrong resource as they’re too specialist, expensive and impractical for BAU. Using a specialist lawyer from a big law firm for BAU is like hiring a senior audit partner from KMPG as your first CFO.
We focus on matching our client’s stage of growth. We hire exceptional in-house lawyers with the right experience (sector and size of the company) that know how to set up a good legal function. And we have developed and provided them with great tools, templates, training, tech etc. so they can set up the legal function quickly and efficiently and then proactively manage workflow and budget as part of our clients’ ops team. Prioritising what’s important with a cost/benefit analysis to reduce risk and manage the work and the budget effectively is key. And when the time comes to hire a permanent legal head we do a seamless handover then support and mentor that person and the function as it grows.
Firstly it’s about our team and their specific skill set – they’ve all had significant experience of working as in-house lawyers in fast growth companies so know what our clients need (and don’t need) to worry about. This is a big USP. Our team are not, and we are very different to, law firm lawyers.
Our focus is on setting up the legal function for companies as they scale and face more scrutiny, whether regulatory, through due diligence, or otherwise. This is a very different service to that provided by law firms, who should be used where it’s really needed: specialist/high risk/high value work such as high value litigation and complex projects like big M&A deals, etc. The way we work is very different. And we want clients to use the right resources to support their objectives. A lot of our work is speeding up deal closure to get revenue in faster by simplifying overly long/complex contracting processes and templates. We don’t ‘over-lawyer’ and we don’t prolong negotiations.
Getting legal operations right is often overlooked but is so important. It’s about aligning your legal function with the business, and to a certain extent running it like a business, focusing on priorities, efficiencies and budget management to add value. It’s also about the tools we provide. The templates, processes, training, tech etc both for our team and our clients. We will often use tech to help manage contract creation/lifecycle, manage the cap table, share option schemes, etc., either repurposing existing client tech, and/or introducing new simple platforms. Being embedded in our clients’ world also means we’re close to innovative thinking and tech. We actively cross refer across our clients and community to encourage new collaborations and innovation.
Our sole aim is to continue to simplify ‘legal’ for companies and to integrate it into operations efficiently. Developing lean and scalable documentation and processes to manage work and risk, get deals done quicker and improve revenue recognition, making documentation and compliance easier to understand and more accessible. As part of this client-centric approach, we’ve been combining design thinking, data analysis and tech into our work, and will continue to do this.
We will also continue to expand in the UK and internationally. We work closely with partners in the US, where in-house legal is usually an early and senior hire, and in Europe, where legal tends to be brought in-house at a later stage. Our aim is to continue to grow our presence internationally sharing our experience, knowledge and the benefits of setting up a first in-house legal function in scaling businesses.
I’m part of a great COO network COO Stories, which is incredibly useful and supportive, and this is often debated. There are loads of qualities I could list but here are a few:
Well, I guess being dismissed whilst on maternity leave was challenging. It’s taken me a while to talk about it, but it’s an important story to share as it happens to so many.
We really need to do better to ensure that companies and staff understand their legal (and moral) rights and responsibilities whilst encouraging companies to support staff better on their return to work so they can continue building successful careers and adding value. Not being quietly side-lined or worse, being told to move on with a pay-off and an NDA.
On the plus side, however, it did help me reassess my career and what I wanted out of life, and without this catalyst I very much doubt I’d be where I am now. I’ve absolutely loved building LegalEdge with Donna. It’s been a challenge of course, but a good one. We started our careers in big law firms and knew we didn’t want to replicate that model, and we haven’t deviated from that. As a female-led business, we have succeeded in creating a model that works really well for our clients and team, who all work flexibly and from wherever they want. Interestingly the pandemic actually helped cement our model, which we’ve been advocates of since we started. We’re delighted to see so many other businesses working in this way now too.
Probably how we dealt with the pandemic. Although we’ve always operated on a flexible and WFH basis, we recognised early on that we needed to up our game, both with the team and externally, with clients and our community. For our team, in particular, we were very conscious that some felt isolated, some were struggling with young children, home schooling, and/or facing other struggles, so staying in regular contact was, and continues to be a priority. Ensuring that we are true to our ethos supporting the team to work as and when they want/need and that we had processes in place to help when things changed. A testament to this is that we significantly grew the business and our team during that time.
I’m a big reader, podcast listener, etc so this isn’t an easy question. But a couple of things I recommend often are Bad Blood by John Carreyrou (about Theranos), Silicon Valley (HBO TV show) and the film The Social Network. So many easy to consume lessons for founders and investors… I also want to read The Great Post Office Scandal by Nick Wallis, which was one of the most significant miscarriages of justice in UK legal history.
For relaxation recently I’ve absolutely loved Hamnet, Circe, A Gentleman in Moscow, and I’m currently reading The Overstory. For podcasts I’ve loved Parenting Hell and Off Menu – making me laugh out loud through the pandemic. Also Fortunately with Fi and Jane. And anything from Louis Theroux. Then there’s Below Deck for absolute rubbish binge watching 😉