New Zealand Law Society - The Innovators: Mary O'Carroll, Director, Legal Operations, Technology and Strategy at Google

The Innovators: Mary O'Carroll, Director, Legal Operations, Technology and Strategy at Google

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Mary O'Carroll
Mary O'Carroll

LawFest organiser Andrew King continues a series of interviews with key legal professionals with their innovation and technology stories.

Tell us about yourself?

For starters, I’m not a lawyer. My background is in finance and management consulting, but I’ve been doing legal operations for over 16 years. I started that journey working for Orrick’s COO focusing on firmwide profitability. After that, I was asked to join Google as their first legal operations hire. Today, Google’s legal operations team has grown to over 50 team members who are responsible for overseeing key aspects of financial performance management, outside counsel management, systems/tools, and internal operations. In addition to my role at Google, I am the current President of CLOC (Corporate Legal Operations Consortium), a global organisation whose mission is to help legal operations professionals and other core corporate legal industry players optimise legal service delivery models.

What does legal innovation mean to you?

To me, being innovative just means taking something that currently exists and trying to do it a little differently.

What role does technology play in innovation?

While technology is a fantastic enabler of innovation, it is not a requirement. There are plenty of ways to innovate and make a massive impact without any technology. That said, in today’s day and age, technology does create so many opportunities for us to unlock value through automation, improved accuracy, increased efficiencies, data, etc. We’ve already seen technology enable law firms and legal departments to gain insights into productivity and value. This transparency has driven increased demand for big changes across the legal landscape.

What pressures are organisations facing in the delivery of legal services?

We’re all facing more pressure to be responsible stewards for our companies and to ensure we are maximising the value of all our resources whether that is money, people, vendors, tools, etc. As the demand for legal services continues to grow and the complexity of the legal and regulatory environment we operate in increases, we’re being forced to think more creatively about how to meet these needs.

What developments do you see in how legal services are delivered?

In recent years, we’ve seen increased disaggregation of legal services, the emergence of alternative service providers, an explosion in legal technology, and new career paths for lawyers and legal professionals. Corporations are demanding a change in the way legal services are delivered and it can be seen in the way we are purchasing.

What opportunities has legal innovation brought to you?

I’ve been fortunate to have built my legal career at places like Orrick and Google – organisations that embrace legal innovation and challenge the status quo. As someone who did not come from a legal background, I always approached this industry as an outsider and continually asked “why?”. Through this, I’ve found myself in a wonderful situation where I get to work alongside the smartest people I know, collectively tackling some of the industry’s greatest problems.

What are some of your tips to start innovating or developing an innovative mindset?

Look for problem statements, ask why, launch and iterate, believe in continuous improvement, measure everything, and remember that fast is always better than slow.

Why is it important for legal professionals to continue to learn about legal innovation and leveraging technology?

Because the legal profession and the way services are delivered in the future are going to look vastly different than they do today. We’re living in a unique time where we have the opportunity to shape the future and not just wait to see what happens. I, for one, find that extraordinarily energising.

San Francisco-based Mary O’Carroll will be the keynote speaker at LawFest 2020, which will be held at the Cordis Auckland on 18 March 2020.

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