By Mary O’Carroll, head of legal operations at Google


Many of you have asked me to post my closing remarks from the 2017 CLOC Institute that wrapped up last week. It was an incredible event and I am honored to be a part of the CLOC movement. #CLOC2017 

It is my great pleasure to say a few words to close out our time together. Where do I even begin? What can I say to do justice to what we’ve just experienced?  How about this for starters: we just completed the world’s largest legal operations event in history!

I experienced so many amazing moments over the last few days. One in particular stands out… It was the eve of the Institute and I was standing on a patio, overlooking the Bellagio fountains and the famous Las Vegas strip.  As I looked up, I saw the Bellagio marquee, one of the most well recognized and iconic billboards in the entire world. And on it was an image that read “Welcome CLOC.”  I had to stop and pinch myself.  Think about how far we have come!  This is an organization that didn’t even exist a year and a half ago!

Last year I stood in San Francisco to wrap up the 2016 Institute. And I remember being blown away by that event, by the scale of what we were able to achieve with our humble little organization. At the time, I said: “We are on the verge of something very exciting.” Today, I’m here to say: We are no longer on the verge of anything. We have arrived.  We have crossed over to the next stage. We are living the most exciting, thrilling challenge of our professional lives: the remaking of an entire industry.

At the end of last year’s Institute, someone said to me that the energy of the event felt like that of a religious movement. It’s so true.  Just yesterday I found myself in the front row of the Big Thinker’s session thinking, “Amen” and “Hallelujah!”  I feel so connected to the people here.

You have to be here to understand it… It’s not like going to an insurance conference or some other industry event where you meet people, ask them where they’re from and talk about the weather or the local sports team.  This week, I’ve heard people say “I’ve found my people,” “I’ve found my tribe,” or “I feel like this event was made for me.” It’s just different.

At my first meeting the members of this group a few years ago, I felt an immediate bond with them. And over this week, I’ve had the chance to meet many more of you, and felt that same instant connection. How many times did you hear “Omigosh, me too!” this week? Or “I’m so happy to meet you, let’s please stay connected after this!”?

I think the connections in this group are so strong, and so special, because of the long road we took to get here. For so long, we were all off own being solo warriors on these isolated journeys. Each of us paving our own way, figuring it out alone, and trying to define the future one company at a time, one problem at a time.  And now, everywhere I look, there’s someone I can go up to and say, “Hey! You totally get it too!” There is an instant connection.

This is a challenging role… Think about the event that we just completed. We had over 70 sessions… each of them distinctive, focused on a separate and important problem. No one can master all of these areas, all of these disciplines.  It’s also why this role is so hard to hire for… finding someone who is a master of all the core competencies is near impossible.  I love that the people here aren’t afraid to admit what they don’t know. None of us have all of this figured out. We can admit to each other that our departments are way behind where we should be in some areas. And just this week, we had speakers on stage admitting that they don’t have all the answers.  And it’s that vulnerability, that open honesty with each other that breaks our own walls down fast and connects us.

This job is hard, and we are met with resistance every step of the way. But we aren’t on our own anymore. Now we have each other, we have the energy and ideas of the community. And that makes all the difference.

Coming off the high of this tremendous event, many of you probably feel like you could achieve anything right now… I know I do! But the reality is that when we fly home and get back to our own departments, we all have those obstacles that we keep smacking into.  Our industry throws up a lot of unique barriers to change. It’s an industry that has been quite successful and quite profitable for decades or longer.

We often describe our roles as being the intersection of people, process and technology. It can be easy to get lost in the complexities of technology, of process. At the end of the day, it comes down to people. Getting someone to change their mind… that can be the biggest wall of them all.

Think about the ride sharing companies like Lyft and Uber. They are so often talked about as disruptive technologies… but really, the technology is fairly simple.  The process improvement is brilliant, but also not that complex.  The real breakthrough for them was probably more subtle… It was figuring out the human element. They had to find the answer to: “How do we persuade people to get into the cars of complete strangers? Without thinking that they are going to be robbed, kidnapped or murdered?!”

It turned out that that mindset, which felt so entrenched, could be changed. There’s a wall there and once you push on it, you can break through.  And once broken, there’s no turning back. You realize those walls are paper thin and no one is trying to put them back up. Once you get people to think it’s safe and convenient to get into the car of a total stranger, then you are golden…. and it becomes the new normal faster than you know it.

We have a saying on my team: Just because it’s obvious doesn’t mean it’s easy. A lot of legal operations is complex, for sure. But a lot of what we do is putting common sense put into motion. It is finding a way to do the things that might seem obvious but require massive change. Innovation doesn’t have to mean advanced technology or AI or robot lawyers. Sometimes it just means changing the lens on how something is done and bringing other people to see the world the way you do. And you have to work patiently to convince them.

Have you ever had that moment when are you are trying show someone how you can do something better, faster or cheaper… And you have perfect logic, a great argument, tons of ROI… And they just telling you why it can’t work?  I’ve had way, way too many of those moments. Those are the times I look around the room and think: “Is anyone else hearing this? Am I the one who is crazy??”

Well, maybe we are the ones who are crazy… and that’s ok.  Maybe it’s good to be a little crazy, to push things a little too far, to make people a little uncomfortable.  Maybe it’s going to take a little bit of crazy to break down those walls and prove they’re just made of paper.  We are the dreamers. The rebels. The pioneers. The disrupters. The change agents.  The radicals.  

I recently met Kim Rivera, the GC of HP, for the first time when she came to talk about their new law firm diversity program and how it all came about.  I was so inspired by her way of thinking.  She said that before she knew what they were going to do, she encouraged her team to think big, to be bold, and to do something that would push the boundaries and make people uncomfortable enough that they would have to do something. I love that.  I encourage you to keep that mindset when you go about your jobs. Go all in… we’re in Vegas after all!

As an organization, as a community, we need to think big and stretch beyond our comfort zone. We need to stop asking for change and start demanding it. We are going to be the force that propels Legal forward. We are going to make our industry smarter, faster, more reliable and better.

Not everyone likes change. I personally love change.  I thrive in chaos. I act quickly… immediately… and I make decisions fast and then start taking action.  Because of that I’ve been told that I seem like I am not afraid of failure… are you kidding? Here’s a secret. I am TERRIFIED of failure. I feel that fear. But there is something I hate even more than the fear of failure, however. It is the feeling of watching passively when I know something could be done so much better. I am completely incapable of sitting back and tolerating that.

People ask me all the time why I invest so much time in these sharing initiatives, helping others with stuff that we’ve already mastered.  They say, “I don’t get it… what’s in it for you?”  It is about getting more people to do things the right way, instead of just the old way.  And the faster people adopt the new way and embrace the new standard, the faster this movement, this revolution takes place.

I look out at this room and I see a lot of people who think the same way. People who aren’t willing to accept old ways of doing things. I see folks from HP who are pushing the envelope on their outside counsel diversity initiatives. I see Connie Brenton from NetApp who is willing to take any technology that comes her way, try it out and share her findings with the rest of us.  I see Steve Harmon from Cisco and Justin Ergler from GSK who have always been leaders in alternative fee arrangements and for years have been urging the rest of us to get on board.  I see people willing and ready to rock the boat, to break glass, to get into the right kind of trouble. Get out there and keep trying and trying, testing and testing, until you find something that works.

So here is my call to action…

To the Legal Departments: Challenge yourselves to do something bold. Share what you’re doing with everyone else and help us all get there faster.  When you hear what others are doing, resist the urge to say “That could never work for us.”  Take the leap, jump in and push the boundaries.

To the Law Firms: First, to the ones who are here… Thank you.  Talking to you is like a breath of fresh air.  Go back and preach! Don’t be afraid to take risks and be the first mover. Find a client that is willing to partner with you to try something new and crazy.  Bring your clients to the table. Don’t just talk about diversity or technology or data analytics or project management or whatever it is in your silo. Bring clients into that discussion and especially the business professionals on both sides so we can do it together.

To the ASPs/LPOs/LSOs: Keep reminding us that it’s possible to get great value AND great quality.   Keep reminding us that we have alternatives.  And keep reminding others of us that there are also alternative career paths.

To the Technology Companies: You are the enablers.  You are giving us the systems and tools to make change in this industry possible.  Make it easy for us to implement.  Make it easy for us to demonstrate ROI.  Make it easy for us to get people to adopt your tools — eliminate the extra clicks and ensure your UI is clean and easy to use.  And most importantly, push the rest of us to standardize, standardize, standardize everything.

To the Law Schools: We are counting on you to train the next generation of leaders.  Adapt your curriculum.  Help ensure this next generation is constantly looking forward instead of only looking backwards.

This is a special group of people. We are all bonded together by a sense of common mission. We have accepted that first, most difficult lesson: it is better to share and learn from each other than to protect, protect, protect. We are committed to the community, to sharing. And that commitment to helping one another, to improving the entire industry, is the single biggest force pushing us forward. There is so much more to explore and understand. What we don’t know is still so much greater than what we do know. But we have already come so far.

This is the power of an idea whose time has come. This is the power of a community of people connected to a common vision. Together, we are creating the future of the legal industry. Thank you for your time, your energy, and your ideas. Thank you for being part of CLOC!