In practice: how Shell maximizes the value of its legal operations function
Donny Ching is the visionary leader of Shell’s global legal department, which has a total of 1,000 professionals in 45 countries. Under Ching, Shell’s legal department moved from a responsive, labor-intensive, lawyer-centric model that simply offered legal advice to a proactive, data-driven, technology-driven model. and multidisciplinary offering a range of valuable business solutions. .
The transformation was fueled by Ching and her ability to enable her legal operations team to fully maximize the value she brings to the legal department and, by extension, the business as a whole. In our last interview, Ching discusses his approach, providing examples that demonstrate the benefits of expanding the role of legal operations.
Rose Gold: What was your objective in starting a legal operations cell and how is it organized?
Donny Ching: We launched our legal operations function in 2018 to reduce costs, increase efficiency and consolidate services. Today our team of project managers, pricing specialists, data analysts, technologists and digital design specialists work in two of Shell’s offshore service centers in Malaysia and Poland. The service centers are also home to our team of legal advisers, made up of junior lawyers and paralegals, who currently focus on standardized, low-risk work. Our Chief Legal Officer, Barry Tyndall, leads the team, reports to me and is part of my legal leadership team.
Rose Gold: I imagine having a group with such diverse skills and mindsets helps spur innovation.
Donny Ching: We strive to create a culture where bold and creative thinking is encouraged and nurtured. One way to develop a culture of innovation is to bring together talented people with diverse backgrounds and skills to rethink the work to be done and by what means. I challenge my team to be “outside the box” thinkers.
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In my experience, this requires having a box that includes more than lawyers. I constantly assess the new skills and disciplines that we need to innovate and continuously improve.
Rose Gold: How far have you gone off the beaten track?
Donny Ching: One of our most interesting experiences is what we call visual contracts. We explore how to add visual elements – sketches, graphics, images – in contracts where technical concepts or other complex concepts are difficult to understand using only words. We have found that adding visual elements results in shorter, clearer chords.
The results of this experience have made us think about how we can make all our contracts understandable for the parties who will perform them. Many contracts are written in legal jargon with long “what if” clauses that most agreement signatories have difficulty understanding; they only sign because each party trusts their lawyers. We want to go back to the original objective of a contract: a meeting of minds.
Rose Gold: Why is the legal advisory team part of the legal operations function?
Donny Ching: Having the advisory team within legal operations allows us to begin consolidating in our service centers work that does not require a lawyer to be in a specific onshore jurisdiction. Consolidating this work will help us “get it right” and work more efficiently. We started by asking our service center lawyers to take on some low risk standardized jobs and are now developing their skills and knowledge to handle more complex jobs.
Rose Gold: What is an example of work that has been transferred to service centers?
Donny Ching: We had hundreds of lawyers, some very experienced, who wrote thousands of non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) a year. Today, we are migrating to an easy-to-use technological tool that will allow most of our NDAs to be quickly generated by our co-workers. If an NDA is more complicated or unique, the technical tool allows the client to send the NDA to the legal advisory team who draft the NDA or send it to a lawyer with the necessary expertise in the matter.
Rose Gold: So, consolidating NDAs also helped you automate them.
Donny Ching: Exactly. Achieving the digital transformation we want will require standardizing as much work as possible. Centralization of work facilitates standardization. It also helps us to simplify the process and make it more efficient because you don’t really want to digitize your inefficiencies.
Donny Ching, Head of Global Legal, Shell
Rose Gold: What changes have legal operations made to the way you use data?
Donny Ching: We have increased the efficiency with which we use data and improved the metrics we use to measure performance.
We used to house data on all of our patents – in the thousands in total – in reams of spreadsheets that took days to review. Extracting information was extremely time consuming. Today, our patents are accessible through an easy-to-use visual dashboard with powerful search capabilities. But the dashboard does more than quickly access data – it allows us to query the data. For example, the tool now allows us to rank different patents in terms of importance and value, all related to the underlying agreements so that we can drill down to an individual license agreement to see what the license revenue is, when it expires, etc.
Among the metrics we use to measure the performance of law firms is the value we realize in what we call “appropriate fee arrangements”. We assess whether we have achieved the expected cost savings and monitor the added value we have received in the form of training, secondments or free hotlines.
Rose Gold: Visual contracts, self-service NDAs, and patent data at your fingertips all point to an intentional assessment of the work to be done and by what does mean . What’s next, Donny?
Donny Ching: Then the launch of a single service platform – a 24/7 digital gateway called LegalConnect – where everything except bespoke and strategic work will be connected, assigned and managed. . Having such a central clearinghouse would allow us to become more strategic and proactive. We could quantify the volume and type of work and know which companies and which countries mobilize the most work. Knowing all of this would help us identify potential exposures faster and develop ways to manage them.
Such comprehensive data would also help us manage the legal department. We could better allocate resources between companies and countries and better assess the levels of experience we need among our lawyers.
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