Tales of LegalTech Adoption: Alex Butterworth, McDonald's

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Alex Butterworth

In a series of monthly interviews, LawGeex speaks to top In-House Counsel adopting legal technology to enhance productivity. Here, we speak to Alex Butterworth, Senior Legal Counsel at McDonald’s Australia 

How is your in-house legal team organized? 

Our General Counsel is in charge of two sections – Property and Corporate. We have a team of 15 including 12 lawyers.

Being a global data driven company means there is no hiding place for complacency in the legal department

What are the biggest challenges you face?

The biggest challenge is managing workload, getting the volume of work done up to the standard that is expected in McDonalds. There is constant pressure on budgets on all teams. The more effective you are in producing good quality work for less, the better you are seen as a manager on a team, the more you are seen as an executive within the company, and the more likely you are to be promoted.

 The way you become the most successful restaurant business in the world is by innovating, by being at the cutting edge of everything.

Which legal technology or software do you use day to day?

We use iManage (the system refers to itself as FileSite or WorkSite), which is integrated with Microsoft Outlook. It is cloud based and at its core a document management system. We store all of our documents there and all the documents are accessible to all members of the team, like any folder type system. The fact that its integrated with Outlook makes it a lot easier to work in a single space. You just open up Outlook and all your files are in one spot. This has all of our precedents, all of our final signed documents, and emails in one place. It prompts you to file your emails whenever you hit send, it can detect which file you are talking about and prompt you where you think it should go. It is pretty straightforward so as people come on and off a project all of the conversations, all of the back and forth over email is all recorded.

Was there any resistance to using cloud-based software in legal?

Not at all. There are a number of ways of looking at it. If it is cloud-based, we have a supplier who provides that as a service are responsible for their security. If we have it on our servers — as great as our IT team is — they are responsible for so many other crucial things, such as making sure that cash registers work in our restaurants. If something does go wrong and it is on-premise, it is all on us. Here, if something does go wrong there is a shared responsibility with us, and our supplier.

Everyone at McDonalds including Alex (left) regularly spend a day at the restaurants to understand the business challenges.

We are given a budget and you have got to make it work. If you try to do things in the old way or the slower way, and go to the CEO and say you need more money (because you don’t have a large enough team or resources) you are not going to get very far.

How did you go about the process of thinking about efficiency in legal and technology in-house?

It has always been part of McDonald’s DNA. That is how you become the most successful restaurant business in the world, by innovating, by being at the cutting edge of everything. If you are not doing that in your restaurants, your marketing or legal team, you are not going to be the best restaurant business in the world.

How did you get legal innovation and tech adoption to the same level as the rest of the business?

I think a legal team at McDonald’s that did not innovate, would not survive and would quickly find itself outsourced. We are given a budget and you have got to make it work. If you try to do things in the old way or the slower way, and go to the CEO and say you need more money (because you don’t have a large enough team or resources) you are not going to get very far.

A good thing for a global company is that a global level you are able to compare markets, so Australia has a similar number of restaurants to the UK, Germany and France. Therefore, you are able to say ‘well, if Australia has got this many restaurants and UK has these many restaurants they should have proportionately sized corporate teams’. One market will always be more innovative than the other—with 30 markets to compare, if one market is innovating and other is not, you can detect it pretty quickly.

What is the process for making decisions on a new software or technology?

If you are spending money on a relatively small bit of software that is going to add value to your team, you would probably manage that within your own budget. If it is something bigger, affecting the wider business, it will involve IT involvement, and heads of all the departments in the leadership team and would have to receive approval in this way.

What results have you seen?

One Good example is DocuSign. People previously talked about spending an hour a day on average walking around the office collecting signatures. People in the legal team ended up being stuck with that work. With DocuSign and electronic signing, we no longer are spending huge amounts of money on mailing large packages of documents to franchisees for our restaurants. It is now uploaded and they get an automatic email and can sign there and then. This has reduced signing from days to three hours.

Is it harder for lawyers to change and use new technology?

Yes, probably, though I don’t think it should be. It is partly because of the system. There are people who are in litigation will find it difficult because there is this huge and old-fashioned court system they have to deal with. That’s a practical thing that will prevent some people from innovating as much as they might like.

I know one of the problems our property team face is that there is legislation saying that certain documents must be signed in pen, or under a company seal so they are not able to use platforms like DocuSign even if they would like to. But where there’s a will there’s a way.

What advice would you give to other legal counsel looking at new tech?

My first bit of advice would be to embrace technology as a friend. But then my second piece of advice would be that not all technologies are created equal and be discerning. You can spend a lot of money on a piece of technology that is rubbish. Or you can spend a reasonable amount on a piece of technology that is amazing and will change the way you work. That is a tough thing to pick between. Be discriminating and discerning and find the one that actually does the job because there are plenty that provide a solution in need of a problem. Whereas there are certain technologies that may not have the nicest most wonderful user interface but get the job done. So, there is definitely a bit of a balancing act.

Did the use of more automation or technology lead to a reduction in staff?

No, and I do not think that is going to happen. The more that we have automated the more we have realized things more efficiently in-house. In fact, that means we have employed more people. It is not great if you are a law firm partner making profit off companies like ours, but it can flip the other way for businesses that are able to produce good work and produce outcomes at a flat rate or that is commoditized.

Is it a better or worse time to be an in-house counsel?

It is only getting better. Today, you actually get to do commercial work, not just doing legal work. The less time you spend on rudimentary legal work the more time you have for commercial, strategic matters. People in businesses are recognizing that people who become lawyers are switched on and can apply their thinking and hard work to a whole range of business problems, not just legal problems.

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