Interviews » CLOC’s Jenn McCarron Talks Legal Ops Innovation, Growth Mindset

CLOC’s Jenn McCarron Talks Legal Ops Innovation, Growth Mindset

May 3, 2024

Interview with Jenn McCarron from CLOC - growth mindset

Jenn McCarron, President of CLOC (Corporate Legal Operations Consortium), is an innovative legal and tech leader who builds teams that revolutionize major organizations and the industry at large. She hosts the “CLOC Talk” podcast, which examines both the technical and philosophical elements of legal transformation. Most recently, McCarron served as the Director of Legal Operations and Technology at Netflix. Prior to that, she held roles at Spotify and Cisco.

This is the first part of a two-part interview in which Jenn McCarron talks legal ops innovation and career development ahead of the CLOC Global Institute running May 6-9, 2024 in Las Vegas. You can read the second installment about the future of CLOC and the legal ops field here.

Let’s start by talking about your career. You’ve had an amazing run so far as a leader in legal ops innovation. You’ve worked at Spotify, Cisco, Netflix, other companies. Tell us a little bit about how you transitioned from the world of program management into legal ops.

Jenn McCarron: How I transitioned from program management to legal ops? That transition took place while I was a tech program manager at Cisco. I went in via the acquisition of this billion-dollar startup I was at called Tandberg. I was doing a startup level legal ops. It was me, three attorneys and a patents team in Norway, very small.

And legal ops at a startup in 2010, 2011 was: “Can you just catch whatever falls off my desk?” It wasn’t even a term yet. It was paralegal contracts manager, contracts compliance manager, some tech things. I had project management, program management, paralegal stuff going on in a job.

After the acquisition, I became a tech program manager at Cisco. I understudied advanced legal ops for five plus years, putting new tools in, ripping old ones out, change managing everything in between, and I came out a legal ops person.

So beneath my feet, the ground changed, the career arched up a little higher, CLOC formed and became more formal and organization and started coming out into the world and accepting memberships. That all happened while I was at Cisco.

In the beginning we didn’t even know what to call ourselves. We were cycling around job titles a lot in 2012, 2013, ’14. And then by ’17, it started to land because of groups like CLOC and others really putting more and more of this on the map.

It’s such a fast, evolving, growing field. What advice would you give to someone who’s interested in breaking into legal ops and what skills and mindsets do you really think are crucial for success?

Jenn McCarron: I think in terms of mindset, a growth mindset would be really helpful here because this is a newer niche industry. You have to always be entertaining or seeking what you don’t know. You have to have a good relationship with that and know that there’s always going to be this gap. You have to push yourself forward.

That means reading and learning and seeking mentorship in the kinds of projects you do, et cetera. There’s no guidebook on all of this work. We’re still going through a lot of the firsts as technology keeps rapidly changing beneath us, and a growth mindset will keep you comfortable in the uncomfortable, but this work should be uncomfortable.

If you’re someone who likes fixed work, this field is hard because we have so much change managing to do with our stakeholders and inspiring them. Telling them why they should do X, why they should adopt a technology or outsource a service.

In a recent blog post, I doubled down on the importance of technology skills in this field. I think that those are the skills that are going to separate and differentiate every one of us. Applying technology inside all the workflows of a department and changing how the work and the data moves can change how a business runs or the business of law is.

If you have 20% of your time in the year to fill up on something, go for tech, IT infrastructure, any kind of development or software development, lifecycle or product management. All of those skills are what we need to put in technology. Tech is going to be the main disruptor in innovating force.

As the former director of legal operations and technology at Netflix, you played a real crucial role in streamlining legal processes. What specific challenges did you encounter in a dynamic company like Netflix and how do you balance innovation with compliance needs?

Jenn McCarron: Both Netflix and Spotify were greenfield roles for me, meaning I walked in and there were few solutions in place- if any. No one was really tending to those gardens. Maybe they just came online or maybe finance was running the e-billing solution as a favor for legal. The biggest and greatest challenge, and why I went to Spotify and to Netflix, was to start with a green field and leave with a city running. I built a city in both places.

To go from zero to one, you have to break ground with people and their behaviors and their set ways. I think the biggest challenge is earning that trust with people and sustaining that over a large group of people for a long time and then delivering against it.

Sometimes delivery becomes a challenge in environments like Netflix. Netflix doesn’t love rules, structure or hierarchy or approvals. It’s a startup environment. It’s entrepreneurial. It’s meant to make you autonomous. I feel like I’ve come out sharper and they’re very innovative environments, a place like Netflix.

That’s a real skill set, being able to work with people, meet each person where they are in that journey.

Jenn McCarron: I look back on my education. I wondered, “Why did I go to social work school? What was that? Should I have gotten A, B, or C as an advanced degree instead of a master’s in social work?” And somewhere a few years into Spotify and then capped off at the Netflix role, I was like, “Oh, oh, ROI on that degree.”

It’s not that I would recommend people go and get that degree, but you’re not going to learn empathy in MBA school. And I don’t believe anything you learn in MBA school. Will it help in legal ops roles and setting and technology? Yes, but you can also learn all of that on the job too.

How do you encourage innovation with your team, and what role do you think creativity plays in solving legal challenges?

Jenn McCarron: This is the topic I stay up late thinking about because I believe we all are creative. That’s the human being difference. That’s why we’re different than dogs and other animals. And somewhere along the way, a lot of us lose sight or lose touch with that as a muscle and just don’t nurture it in a very simple basic way. I mean, reading fiction is nurturing creativity. It teaches your brain how to empathize and go into other people’s stories, imaginations, places, lives. And I believe that innovation is what we’re doing in legal.

If I could boil CLOC’s vision and mission down, it’s we’re innovating how legal people work. We’re innovating the business of law and the practice of law. And innovating means making an improvement on something or re-imagining a problem’s solution.

It’s a mindset to cultivate and it’s a way of thinking to cultivate. You can get it through on the job experience of that kind of program or project management in these legal settings, but I do believe it’s on all of us to make sure our minds get nurtured to solve in the unknown, to be okay with a blank canvas.

On that the same topic of creativity, you have a long list of accomplishments in the legal and business realm, but you’re also an accomplished and prolific musician. Does your musical creativity also help you with your legal ops work?

Jenn McCarron: 100%. Since I was eight years old, I would just sit down and make up songs, little stories. Those are little one to three-minute stories and I never stopped doing it. I’m always writing music. It gives me a place to learn something outside of work. I don’t know if I’d call that a hobby. Some would call music a hobby. But when you’re a musician, it feels like a haunting. It’s in you, you hear stuff in your head, and you have to get it out. It’s an exercise of clearing out your head.

And it’s project management, it’s starting things, it’s crappy first drafts, it’s iterating, it’s showing it to others for feedback. You audition your stuff against other ears and you see what they light up over. It’s arcing something with a verse and a chorus, a beginning, middle, and end. This is what we’re doing in these roles.

You can read fiction and get yourself there. It could be knitting or needlework- just something that just consumes you, so you forget for a few hours all the details, that minutia in our workday.

You think you need more hours in your project management software on the weekend. You don’t. You probably need the rest and the break and to go do something interesting with your brain. And I found the more I come back from those. The faster I can get to good ideas in all areas of my creative life, including in these wonderful corporate jobs I get to be creative in.

 

Read part two of the interview here.

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