The Year of the Contract

Stephanie Kroon shares how she has helped reshape the legal department at Mitchell

Mitchell International has something unique in its legal department: a feature called “Contract Express.” The innovation came from General Counsel Stephanie Kroon, who wanted to prioritize contracts in 2016, a time period she has aptly dubbed the “Year of the Contract.”

Kroon—who also serves as senior vice president and secretary—recently spoke with Modern Counsel about Contract Express and how it has reshaped the legal department at Mitchell, an international developer of technology solutions for the property, casualty, and auto repair industries.

Can you expand on what “Year of the Contract” means?
I launched several initiatives in 2016 to simplify and improve our contracting processes. These initiatives included replacing our existing legal request software tool and simplifying the entry process by launching Contract Express. [It’s] a faster way of contracting [that uses] templates and guidelines, transforming the standard contracting process [of] using lawyers to a contract specialist model. These initiatives built on the momentum of several contracting improvements that we rolled out in the prior year, including DocuSign and several self-service contracts.

How did Mitchell’s contract process work—or not work—before?
When I joined Mitchell in January 2014, senior-level lawyers handled all types of contracts, ranging from low-level to high-level. A key part of accelerating contract throughput and gaining scale is matching the type of legal work with the right level of legal resource. This required reorganizing and right-sizing the lawyer roles by number and experience level, and adding contract specialist roles. In 2016, I initially hired one contract specialist to manage the contracting process for many standard sales and vendor contracts, and expanded that to two contract specialists by year-end. Think of the contract specialist as the “shepherd” of the contracting process, who then escalates only select items to a lawyer. Our contract specialists work closely with sales and other stakeholders to train them and identify which contracts belong in this work stream.

Walk us through the creation of Contract Express.
The creation of Contract Express was borne out of my plan to increase the use of templates and guidelines to gain speed by standardization, and to leverage more of a self-service model for certain kinds of contracts. Contract Express also goes hand in hand with moving to a contract specialist model for processing standard contracts, because all Contract Express contracts are handled by our contract specialists. More than twenty templates are now part of Contract Express, and a page on our legal intranet site houses these templates and guidelines. The turnaround time for a Contract Express contract is three days or less. I’m thrilled to report that within six months from launch, more than 40 percent of all of Mitchell’s contracts are now going through Contract Express.

How has the new process helped Mitchell International overall?
Overall, these contracting improvements have helped Mitchell and our customers by increasing contract throughput, setting a contracting foundation to leverage as we continue to grow, and increasing job satisfaction among legal team members.

“The creation of Contract Express was borne out of my plan to increase the use of templates and guidelines to gain speed by standardization, and to leverage more of a self-service model for certain kinds of contracts.”

What does the department look like now?
For the past two years, more than half of my legal team has been located in offices outside of San Diego. Mitchell now has three main business units, and I’ve structured the legal department with a senior lawyer supporting each business unit in a role referred to as a legal business partner. Instead of a more limited role of a lawyer who “does contracts,” the legal business partner is part of the expanded senior leadership team of the business unit and adds strategic value as a trusted member of the business team.

How did you use this opportunity to increase efficiency in the department?
I increased efficiency in the legal department by matching the type of legal work with the right level of legal resource, ranging from paralegals to contract specialists to lawyers with various backgrounds and levels of experience. Gaining efficiency is definitely an evolution. It doesn’t happen overnight, and it’s exciting to take stock of achievements and milestones along the way to motivate more efficiencies and business improvements.

What was your role in easing the transition?
To provide a high-quality legal function, communicate the vision of Mitchell and my vision and values for the legal department, provide growth opportunities, and inspire my team to excel in what they do for Mitchell, our customers, and themselves.

What is left to do?
On the near-term horizon, it is integrating newly acquired businesses and continuing to come together as a legal team. I have no doubt that 2017 will be an exciting year.