Video Interview with Connie Brenton, Director of Legal Operations at NetApp Inc.

In this video interview Jo Summers, Acritas director speaks with Connie Brenton, Director of Legal Operations at NetApp Inc. to discuss data analytics, managing panels, innovation and legal departments of the future.

Connect with Jo Summers and Connie Brenton on LinkedIn

Visit NetApp’s website

Q1 [00:17] You have achieved a huge amount since founding CLOC, what was your vision for the organization when you started out?

'The initial vision was collaboration, sharing best practices, bringing together people of the same mind in a new role so that we could co-create together. One of the first things that we did was we defined the role. So, there are the 12 core competencies. You can find them on the CLOC website, but it is the most asked for piece of data that we have created so far.

And then, there are four pillars to CLOC. One is to educate. We purposefully called them the CLOC Institutes because there's no other place to be educated other than within the CLOC community. The second is to network. We found that if we knew one another we could pick up the phone and we could ask a question to one another. We ended up creating solutions that were uniquely better and more innovative.

The third is we embrace The Legal Ecosystem. This is where I think there's a huge opportunity. It is the first legal association that has actually said, we need everyone in the room. We need outside counsel, we need the technology providers, the alternative service providers, the corporate legal operations executives, we need regulators, and we now need the Big Four together, creating together.

What we had found prior was that if solutions were created in silos, they simply didn't work.

Then, the fourth pillar was reform. How can we advance this legal industry that has been relatively, well not relatively, has been slow to change and advance, and to innovate?'


Q2 [02:24] Could you tell me more about the reality of data analytics in your role at NetApp Inc. and how you use it?

'Data analytics are at the foundational core of how we make decisions. We have now been collecting data long enough that we can tell you certain things, like how much a matter should cost, what optimal diversity looks like, what a good combination of people, process, and technology is based on numbers. Not based on, “oh, it feels like it looks like it should be run like this”.

In terms of the people changes, you're looking for a mindset shift. As you roll out analytics and as you introduce it into the organization and you condition people to think in numbers just out of habit, it changes the conversation, uniquely changes the conversation. So, you have people, process, and technology. It also changes the people that are in the room. Legal operations executives have a language that's different than when a lawyer is talking to another lawyer or to a partner on substance. It is also having different conversations with different people.

Then, any time you create analytics, your processes are always being tweaked because you can tell this worked or this was a gap. Any time you're in a meeting, you have unintended consequences. Unintended consequences result in really wonderful things happening if you have enough data to understand why it went wrong and how then you can tweak.

In legal operations, we think in numbers, we converse in numbers, we expect others to speak to us in numbers and analytics because that's how we know that we're making progress. We know that we're simplifying and we know that we're creating efficiencies for the benefit of the organization and also for the benefit of the industry.'


Q3 [04:53] In your in-house capacity at NetApp you have led a quite significant transformation, can you tell us a little bit about that and any significant moments there?

'The success of a legal operations function has its foundation with the innovation, and the courage and the boldness from the general counsel.

With good support from the general counsel, you can do amazing things. We started small as you need to when you're working with change management, and we started to talk in numbers, and we started to ask people to work differently. All of a sudden, we started getting feedback from the people who had originally said, “not interested. I've been working like this for years. It works for me. I don't like new technology. Not really interested in having you poke yourself into the processes that have been working just fine for years”. To conversations that were unsolicited saying, “this has made a huge difference. I don't have to do work that I realized I hated”. It's like telling people you don't have to dust anymore. You don't have to vacuum anymore. If you tell people in the legal department that, initially they're like, “I like dusting” and “I like vacuuming”. Over time, unsolicited feedback from the lawyers in the department saying, “I really like this. This has made an impact on how I work and how I like my job”. Here’s the kicker, it took four years to get that unsolicited feedback. That was a moment in time.

Another moment in time, was NetApp went through an enterprise transformation program. We brought McKinsey into the room. McKinsey came and they did an assessment for each organization. Well, by the time, we were looking at it at an enterprise wide transformation. NetApp legal had been transforming for a half a dozen years and when they got to us, they said, “check. You're in good shape”. That was validating not only because it was an external validation, but it was validation internally.

The CEO, staff in the other organizations started to look at legal as one of the most innovative organizations in the enterprise. As a result, legal is the place that the IT organization comes to when they're looking for beta testers for new technology. Innovation has allowed us to get closer to our business, to be better providers of legal services through this innovation.

We did go through a technology innovation. We started eight years ago. When we started, we had three technologies. We now have 23 technologies.

Quite a transformation.'


Q4 [08:30] How do you build effective panel relationships or relationships with those providers and what tips or successes can you share?

'Know your business. Know what you're looking for and know what you want. So, what has happened with panels is one of the reasons they might not be successful is because not enough input or pre-work has been done by the corporation before they start pushing it out. You're going to get most of your answers internally. What are you looking for? Are you looking for price? Are you looking for diverse panels? Are you looking to put the right people in the right role at the right time? Do you need a whole set of diverse resources? What exactly are you looking for when you put your panel together?

Then, when you bring your panels in, look for common language. Innovation has a language and you can identify it. Look for panels that at the end of the day are going to trust you and you're going to trust them because at the end of the day, it comes down to that, especially if you're innovating because when you're innovating, you are making mistakes. Both parties have to be willing to make mistakes and have the resilience to get up and move forward and transparent enough to communicate that we made a mistake here, so that you can then fill the gap in together. It's all about collaboration at the end of the day.'


Q5 [10:14] Thinking specifically about law firms, where can law firms continue to set up to better meet the needs of the modern legal department and how it is transforming?

They can listen to their customer, the buyer. The legal services is different now than it was 10 years ago. The legal operations community now filters all of the buy-in decisions. The community that is buying is different than it was 10 years ago. 60% of the legal operations executives are women and we buy differently and we use data. We expect efficiency and simplicity.

When the law firms come to the table and offer those things, it's such a gift because the role itself, the legal operation's role, is tough. And so, if the law firms can come in and fill any of those gaps, they're accepted with gratitude. Some of the things that are expected is we expect data. The law firms have to be collecting data now. The data that law firms originally collected was profits per partner data. They now have transformed into collecting data as it relates to simplicity and efficiency. Sharing that data is very helpful because again, unless you have all of the parties in the room, you're missing some piece to the puzzle. If you can collaborate from the very beginning, it's extremely helpful.

Some organizations have difficulty implementing technology because of the organizational structure. If we can outsource technology implementation, that's another huge opportunity for law firms. NetApp is a department of the future, and puts a legal project manager on each one of our projects. Some organizations don't have the capacity to scale and add a legal project manager to the team. That would be another opportunity for a law firm to provide a different type of resource. There's so many resources within the law firm and the outside counsel that they could be bringing to the table. It would be incredibly useful.

I have been talking recently to the CIO's and to the CMO's, and it would be useful to bring that talent set to the table when they're pitching to the client because the legal operations professionals and the CIO's and the CFO's speak to each other in a very different way. They serve a very different function than the substance conversations that happen attorney to attorney on a particular matter.


Q6 [13:29] Looking forward, how do you see the legal department of the future evolving?

'NetApp is a good example of the legal department of the future. When Matt (NetApp’s GC) started eight years ago, we had a department of 90. We have a department now of 45. We partner with an outsource provider. That allows that we have 25% of our department now are outsource FTE's, but we have another 50 or so that we can scale with. So, that we can add people into our environment when we need them, as we need them. Right sourcing, right people, right place, right time.

Technology is going to be critical to running a legal department because we are getting pressure from our internal clients to simplify the business. Legal is in a unique position because we go across the enterprise to simplify the end to end contracting process. In order to do that, we need to make some of our processes self-service. We have a high touch, we have a low touch, and we have a no touch. Those categories need to be identified and implemented wherever we see them.

The challenge we're having right now is legal technology is somewhat new. So, we have a lot more choices than we did even a couple of years ago, but we are not completely delighted with the solutions yet. That's another area of opportunity.'


Key takeaways

  • Put data analytics at the core of what you do, to ensure evidence-based decisions and so that it also changes working behaviors and what is expected from suppliers.
  • Put in the pre-work before instructing a panel to ensure its success and look for common language and mutual trust so that collaboration can take place.
  • If law firms could appoint a legal project manager to each project, it would fill a valuable resource gap that some legal departments just cannot fill.
  • Legal departments are now using outsourcing providers to staff departments, giving them much greater flexibility.
  • Technology that can allow self-service is going to be the future for legal departments to elevate pressure and ensure information is quick to hand. 



Acritas can provide further benchmarking data on other topics such as, legal spend and remuneration on its online platform for legal departments. We provide this for free as an incentive to participate in our global research in return for participating in a 25-minute Sharplegal telephone interview discussing your perspectives of the legal services market. The Analytics tool also provides access to a database of exceptional Star Lawyers, as recommended by other survey participants, across more than 50 countries worldwide. You can see why the Star is recommended and the demographics of the client making the nomination.

To participate and access Acritas Analytics, please email with your preferred time and phone number. You can also click here to use the online booking app. You must fit our qualifying criteria to gain free access which includes a minimum revenue of $50m and being a decision-maker when it comes to procurement of legal services. Paid access is available for $995 per annum.

For further information on how Acritas can help you and your organization, please contact Lizzy Duffy on or +1 646 480 5738 or Jo Summers on or +44 808 178 3020. 

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