Joanne Windh is the Senior Paralegal at Microsoft in Toronto. We sat down with her to talk about how one of the largest tech companies invests in its legal department and what it says about the future of in-house legal services.
Q: Tell us what your role is at Microsoft?
Joanne Windh: I’m a senior paralegal, and I’ve been at Microsoft for just over two years. My background is primarily in marketing and advertising law. At Microsoft, I support the marketing organization including operations and sales, manage the Canadian litigation and do some contract review. Supporting the marketing side of the business is a big chunk of my work. And that would entail reviewing things like partner programs, agreements, contests, and any type of consumer-facing advertising that they’re looking at doing.
Q: What are the daily challenges you face at Microsoft?
JW: One thing that we get a lot of is repetitive questions – whether on general topics or inquiries about guidance on a process. Answering each client individually with similar responses can be time consuming and slow down productivity. Although we do a lot of training on a regular basis – like for new hires, our annual trainings or on compliance day – the company is huge and people often move into new roles where their needs or areas of focus may change. Having access to online resources that can answer basic questions or provide how-to guidance has been a cornerstone of our legal department globally. As a result, Microsoft has created an internal website available to its clients that hosts a vast array of topics and resources. We have a lean team – there are currently three lawyers and me that support the day-to-day business in Canada – so it is critical that we work as efficiently as possible. Our clients can find online such things as template documents, social media guidelines, presentations, relevant legal cases and guidance on trademark use to name a few. And it is not limited to just marketing and advertising. Being a multi-national company, our clients can also find information on contracts and licensing, product development, business code of conduct and even
Q: And it is content for Canada?
JW: The framework is developed in the U.S. Each subsidiary or region is responsible for localizing their own content. One of my areas of focus is to ensure that relevant Canadian content is displayed, current and easy to find.
Q: What else is Microsoft doing to change your in-house delivery of legal services? How is it unique?es process fit in?
JW: Microsoft used its own AI technology to create a bot that will actually search our online resources. Clients can either type in their question or they can select from six pre-determined categories. So, for example, if you’re looking for something on NDAs, they can type in “when do I need an NDA?” then the bot – ours is called Zela – will display a brief summary on the topic and it will include all the links that will direct them to the different places on our internal website where they can find information on NDA’s. Alternatively, a client can select the pre-determined category of “NDA” and continue to click through the options to narrow their search until the answer pops up. This process allows Legal staff to let go of the more routine, basic questions and focus on higher-level projects. I’ve worked at a few other multi-national companies and I haven’t seen anything like this before.
Q: What is different about the way they invest in their legal teams?
JW: Well, for me, coming to Microsoft was like coming to a whole new world. I appreciate that Microsoft has a dedicated budget for legal resources and that we can use that to simplify processes and create efficiencies. Employee development is also supported which helps to ensure that we are able to provide the latest developments to our clients. We often hear of cutbacks and down-sizing and I have always wondered if companies have truly examined the cost-benefit analysis of the short term pain of the investment and the long term gain of increased productivity and efficiency when they look at cutting legal budgets.
Q: What does this tell you about the direction of the in-house legal industry?
JW: As I see it, there are a lot of opportunities to standardize processes and create user-friendly tools that the client can access on their own. And I would not say that these resources will replace head count. You still need somebody to manage the tools. Whoever takes on that responsibility needs to have the expertise in those areas to ensure that the information they’re preparing is accurate, up-to-date and relevant to the client. It’s really more about using time efficiently, having the ability to seamlessly support the clients and creating more time for the members of the Legal team to focus on projects that may be more impactful and critical to the business.