About the author

Mary O'Carroll

President of CLOC

Director, Legal Operations at Google LLC

THE ROAD AHEAD

By Mary O'Carroll

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Finding perspective in a strange time

I am a planner. Like many people in legal operations, I am constantly thinking about what comes next and how to get there. The last few months, of course, have been a real blow to all of us planners. Sometimes life takes your carefully laid out plans, rips them up, and tosses the pieces in the air.

Almost overnight, our lives changed. My days used to kick off with a mad rush to get the kids to school and fight traffic to get to the office. I used to see my kids for a half hour each morning, then maybe an hour or two in the evening. In between, I was rushing from meeting to meeting, barely taking a break to get everything done by the end of the workday. It was a good life, but it felt chaotic and rushed, and I found myself wishing for more time with my family.

The hard turn my family took into a shelter-in-place, home schooling lifestyle was a shock for sure. It also came with some important gifts, the first of which is gratitude.

Unlike so many, my husband and I can keep working remotely. The pressures we face are nothing compared to what some families confront. This is not to say we don’t feel frustrated or anxious sometimes, but we realize how fortunate we are to be safe and whole at a time when so many are not. The problems we have – homeschooling three healthy, feisty young children while juggling our work commitments – are good problems.

Another important gift: the time we have been able to spend with our loved ones. My favorite part of each day was watching my five year-old doing her P.E. class. She goes at it with impressive intensity, concentrating hard during the yoga segment and huffing and puffing through jumping jacks and burpees. After months spent in the house together, I look at her, my other girls, and my husband in a new way. We are all learning so much about each other. 

This desire to connect, and appreciation for others, extends beyond the people in my house. I have thought more about, and reconnected with, old friends around the world more in the last few months. Instead of being so caught up in the whirlwind of my busy days, I have found myself making time to reach out and catch up.

A big change in life context can sometimes bring about a big shift in perspective. We have the physical space and time, and mental distance, to see our world with more clarity. We can see the things in front of us better and value them properly. This is the silver lining of this moment, I believe.

The power of purpose

We spend so much time preoccupied with the “what” and the “how” it can be easy to lose track of the “why.” When you strip away all the noise of our busy lives and crowded minds, what rises to the top?

What matters most? This simple question has been a huge focus for us at CLOC over the last few months.

It is a good time for reflection. Our little group, that I used to call a “book club,” has grown into a world-class organization. Once just a small gathering of contrarians trying to define a new space called “legal operations,” we are now active in leading companies across the globe. Representing major industries over many geographies, our members are pushing and testing the limits of what is possible. As a result, legal operations has moved from a fringe idea, to a back-burner initiative, to a strategic mandate for most companies.

So just what are we doing? Why are we here? When my fellow board members and I recently stepped back to ask ourselves this, the answer was simple: we are a global community focused on redefining the business of law.

We are taking one of the oldest, most tradition-bound industries, into the future. We are all different, carrying our own perspectives and needs, but all connected by the power of one bedrock principle: There must be a better way.

I am talking about changing systems and processes of an entire industry. And that can sound dry and academic to some, but those systems and processes are driven by people. So what we are really talking about is actually vital and deeply human. This is about reinventing one of the oldest industries in profound ways that affect many, many people.

This is a huge task, and one that will only be possible with the contributions of every part of the ecosystem. It will take a long time, and it will only happen with the help of many entities pulling together, but it is already underway.

A new direction

Getting clear on our vision and on what really matters has helped us think about where to take CLOC. Before it is anything else, CLOC is a community, a movement of like-minded people. As that community grew larger, more diverse, and more international, we realized that we needed to evolve.

We were at a crossroads. We had come a long way, but still had a long way still to go. To launch into our next stage, we realized, would require investing in our organization. There were so many things we wanted to do that demanded more resources and infrastructure. We realized that we needed to build a professional team equal to the energy and passion of our community.

That is why I was so excited to bring in our new Executive Director, Betsi Roach. In just a few months under her leadership, and with the support of the strong team she is putting in place, CLOC has already added scale and capabilities. We are working to improve the way we serve and reach members in deep ways. I am so excited for the future.

In some ways, the pandemic has forced us to accelerate our evolution in positive ways. As an organization founded in the U.S., we have long worked to extend our value and reach internationally. Cancelling our in-person events has meant that we had to develop new ways to reach and serve global audiences. I am counting down the days until our Global Institute, a fully virtual conference scheduled for November 10th (Pacific Time). This is going to be a great opportunity for the community to come together in a new way. We are hard at work on the content and the curriculum, taking the results of the feedback we received from over 400 of you. I think people will really enjoy it.

We can do better

There is a phrase that I have been hearing a lot lately: “It’s time to get back to normal.” I understand why people say that, and the desire for a return to the familiar and comfortable. When it comes to the legal industry, however, I could not disagree more strongly. The very LAST thing we need is to go back to “normal.”

We can, and must, do so much better. I look around our industry and, for all the progress we have made, I see so many places we can improve. I see huge opportunities to make our industry more effective, efficient, and equitable. From the way we make decisions, to how we identify and hire talent, to how we create value chains, we are barely scratching the surface.

Our organization has always been a catalyst accelerating change, but current events have added fuel to the fire. After many years pushing a stubborn, static industry to transform, we have a historic opportunity to create real change. The COVID shutdown, the economic shock, and the rise of racial and social justice movements are all putting pressure on the legal industry to transform.

We have the chance to help shape that new direction for the betterment of all. We have the chance to create the future rather than react to it. Let’s seize that chance together.