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How to improve collaboration between legal and tech teams

By: Brian Powers, CEO of PactSafe

Tech teams (development, engineering, IT) are often the trailblazers for innovative technologies and products. They also have a wide knowledge of the company's industry and are in the best position to develop a product that will answer market needs. However, getting the products to market comes with many legal challenges that are often ignored in an attempt to move faster.

For instance, in the race to develop new products and be "first to market," many product teams hatch plans that aren't compliant with GDPR and come January 2020, the California Consumer Protection Act (CCPA). When sprinting to launch these minimum viable products, legal can be unaware of these oversights until after they've launched or even moved on to the next project. And while they may sometimes be slow to act, legal is knowledgeable of compliant solutions that if implemented earlier, can save significant time and money.

Often, the collaboration between tech teams and legal begins and ends with updates to the Terms of Service. As legal updates the language of and provisions within the company's Terms, dev/IT is responsible for plugging it into the website, mobile app, or e-commerce store. However, the time legal spends bugging dev/IT to push updates digitally could be spent collaborating on a workflow that is best for both teams and the company.

5 ways to improve collaboration between legal and tech teams

Engineering and product teams face many challenges, such as ensuring that their products are unique enough from their competitors to avoid trademark issues and intellectual property concerns, as well as product liability, partnerships, and joint ventures. This is where a collaboration between legal and development can serve the company long-term.

Here are 5 ways legal and tech can improve collaboration:

Technology adoption

While legal teams aren't as likely to adopt new technology as other corporate teams, they do still have technology needs. Rather than figuring it out alone, legal teams can lean a little more on tech teams in evaluating and implementing solutions. Tech teams know what to look for and what technology integrates best with their own system. As a result, tech and legal should collaborate on a process structure for evaluating, considering, and implementing new technology tools. Deciding on a workflow for this process will give tech insight into legal processes, and help legal become more sophisticated buyers of technology.

Third-party collaborations

When working with other third-party solutions, development teams often need to ensure that their own intellectual property and confidential information are secure and that they would have protections in the event that the other partner uses the information for its own benefit. Legal and development can work together to draft terms of a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) in a way that serves the interests of the company at large.

Designated tech lawyers

Because legal and development aren't likely to have a lot of overlap, it is important to intentionally build in collaboration into their processes. Designating a go-to person on the legal team who is "in" on the wave of the company's cutting-edge innovations and can play a key role in helping the development team navigate the regulatory waters and see legal as an ally, rather than the enemy.

For example, legal can advise on potential third-party collaborations, unforeseen employment needs, intellectual property rights, and forming supplier relationships. These types of attorneys are known as "tech lawyers" and can be invaluable for the corporation. The tech lawyer will have a firm understanding of intellectual property and other issues, and can even advise executive management when the company's offerings expand to markets overseas, which may call for a possible reorganization of the company's structure and subsidiary establishment.

Request a seat at the "table"

In addition to the possibility of delegating a "tech lawyer" to the development team, legal teams can ask to be kept in the loop on various activities such as group emails and key meetings where new ideas are discussed. It's better for legal to share input on an idea in its early stages, rather than when the entire plan has been outlined.

Online Agreements

As online agreements gain popularity and become even more ubiquitous, it is important that both legal and development collaborate on the execution of clickwrap agreements. Legal's knowledge of the fundamentals of contract law and dedication to risk management must inform development's design of user experience. This way, agreements remain enforceable without negatively impacting UX.

Better collaboration means greater innovation for both tech and legal

One department is known for upholding the rules, and the other is known for finding ways around the rules for the sake of innovation. At first glance, these two roles seem at odds. However, combining their powers means developing great products with less legal risk. While the development team may see the legal team as a roadblock to innovation, legal exists to protect their good work so they can continue doing what they do best - innovating.

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About the Author

Brian Powers 

Brian Powers is the founder and CEO of PactSafe and a licensed attorney. As the CEO, Brian leads the strategic vision of the company's high-velocity contract acceptance platform.  Prior to founding PactSafe, Brian's law practice focused primarily on representing the transactional needs of tech companies. Brian is a frequent speaker, instructor and author on topics ranging from clickthrough contract acceptance to privacy-related consent management.

Published Friday, November 08, 2019 10:00 AM by David Marshall
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