An Ode to Corporate Legal Counsels & Makers of Digital Services
Corporate Legal Counsels are way too often seen as an obstruction on new digital products, services and ventures.
But if you come prepared and spend time with legal counsels you will most often find, that ends meet — and you can launch the exact service you want to launch.
Here’s a few things to be aware of when involving legal counsels in your digital ventures. All based on hundreds of hours and meetings spent with legal counsels as corporate digital product developer, corporate innovator and venture builder.
Preparation is key.
If you are depending on contracts to build a venture: read the goddamn legal documents. Take notes. And extract exactly what is relevant for your service. Prepare all the relevant questions showing you know what you will be doing.
If you are building a venture and brand new terms, privacy and cookie policies: Be inspired by other services and write these up yourself in simple short bullet form. It is a perfect approach to have a level-headed discussion with a legal team while serving prepared work on a silver platter.
Approval by Proxy*
While doing (competitor) research for your project you should simultaneously dive into how they manage GDPR, terms and privacy.
Showing a legal counsel how other similar services manage the same complex issues will give them a much better foundation for supporting you on the legal structures in relation to your service.
Note: show only examples from decent and honest companies. Eg. companies your counselor would want to work for. A dodgy service for comparison won’t make your life easier — quite the reverse.
*A term coined by Morten Just.
Uncover and be Honest about Risks
There are always a bunch of risks related to building digital services and storing customer data. So be honest about it.
Be honest and disclose all risks related to the project, your customers’ data and the corporation.
When talking through all risks with legal counsels — risks you have flagged yourself — you and your service will most often actually come across as a service with very limited risk.
Note to self: Showing up to a legal meeting with loads of major risks and uncertainties will just be quadrupled by your councillors. Best thing would be to reconsider your approach to what service you are building.
Be the good guy!
Corporate Legal Counsels are human beings — believe it or not ;-)
They need to trust you (!) who’s behind the steering wheel.
You are the one managing risks, juggling and interacting with customers’ data and how your service is articulated in words.
Be very specific on how you manage eg. customers’ data and exactly what purposes you have — while also telling them what you specifically won’t do.
If they trust you, what you say and how you manage your digital service you will most likely be allowed much more than you originally expected.
Get Involved with Senior Legal Counsellors
Most often a legal department will send the young recently qualified council to digital projects — because “they get it”.
Putting together legal terms / policies and managing customers’ data is all about risk assessment.
Unfortunately taking risks is directly proportional with seniority. Meaning that you will meet a lot of insecurity and constraints from younger commercial lawyers.
Young lawyers will put the efforts into supporting your digital venture. But just make sure you have a less risk-averse senior by your side, when nailing documents, accepting risks and launching your service.
Show Mockups, Prototypes and Customer Journeys
(Corporate Legal Counsels are human beings, part 2).
Before even diving into legal terms and documents make sure that you have presented your digital service to the corporate Legal Counsels from a customer’s perspective.
Walk them through exactly how a customer will experience the service. From the very first Call-to-Action -> Front page -> Accept terms -> Use of Service -> The Most Risky parts.
Talking counsellors through the service — and showing wireframes, mockups and customer journeys — will help them understand what the fuss is about. Getting their head around what service you are building and how customers are being engaged. While making sure you are all on the same page.
The slightest doubt will naturally lead to counsellors being more restrictive.
Be explicit — talk about “Active Consents”
Corporate Legal Counsels and Makers of digital ventures see the world from two very different perspectives. Don’t take anything for granted! Use a prototype as a catalyst during those discussions.
Be *very* explicit on how customers are giving consent in relation to your customer data management.
I’ve learned the hard way that you should not take for granted that a “customer consent “ is synonymous with a “tick box” on profile creation.
Which lead to loads of tough discussions including involving Public Data Authorities. All ironed out when the corporate lawyers stated that “everything is possible” if an active consent has been given.
Reading endless legal documents and having meetings with corporate legal counsels might not be the most exciting part of building your digital ventures.
But the time is well spent. Come prepared and have proper discussions on customers’ use of the service and legal flexibility will increase, allowing you to build and launch much better digital services and products.