How to break the legal silo and collaborate better with dev/IT (beyond the Terms of Service)

Nov 7, 2019, 9:09:00 AM

Dev/IT and legal may seem at odds, but are in a great position to achieve cross-functional alignment beyond the Terms of Service.

Legal and Dev Blog

Development/IT teams are often the trailblazers for innovative technologies and products. They also have a wide knowledge of the company’s industry and are in the best position to develop a product that will answer market needs.

However, getting the products to market comes with many challenges. For instance, in the race to develop new products and be “first to market,” many product teams hatch plans that aren’t compliant with privacy laws or GDPR. When sprinting to launch these minimum viable products, counsel often isn’t aware of these oversights until after they’ve launched or even moved on to the next project. Further, legal may know of a solution that could have been implemented much earlier in the process, saving time and money.

Often, the collaboration between Dev/IT and legal begins and ends with updates to the Terms of Service. As legal updates the language of and provisions within the company's Terms, dev/IT is responsible for plugging it in to the website, mobile app, or e-commerce store. However, the time legal spends bugging dev/IT to push updates digitally could be spent collaborating on a workflow that is best for both teams and the company. 

5 ways to improve collaboration between legal and dev/IT

Engineering and product teams face many challenges, such as ensuring that their products are unique enough from their competitors to avoid trademark issues and intellectual property concerns, as well as product liability, partnerships, and joint ventures. This is where a collaboration between legal and development can serve the company long-term.

Here are 5 ways legal and dev/IT can improve collaboration:

Designated tech lawyers

Because legal and development aren’t likely to have a lot of overlap, it is important to intentionally build in collaboration into their processes. Designating a go-to person on the legal team who is “in” on the wave of the company’s cutting-edge innovations and can play a key role in helping the development team navigate the regulatory waters and see legal as an ally, rather than the enemy.

For example, legal can advise on potential third-party collaborations, unforeseen employment needs, intellectual property rights, and forming supplier relationships. These types of attorneys are known as “tech lawyers” and can be invaluable for the corporation.

The tech lawyer will have a firm understanding of intellectual property and other issues, and can even advise executive management when the company’s offerings expand to markets overseas, which may call for a possible reorganization of the company’s structure and subsidiary establishment.

Request a seat at the “table”

In addition to the possibility of delegating a “tech lawyer” to the development team, corporate counsel can ask to be kept in the loop on various activities such as group emails and key meetings where new ideas are discussed. It’s better for legal to share input on an idea in its early stages, rather than when the entire plan has been outlined.

Third-party collaborations

When working with other third party solutions, development teams often need to ensure that their own intellectual property and confidential information are secure and that they would have protections in the event that the other partner uses the information for its own benefit. Legal and development can work together to draft terms of a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) in a way that serves the interests of the company at large.

Online Agreements

As online agreements gain popularity and become even more ubiquitous, it is important that both legal and development collaborate on the execution of clickwrap agreements. Legal’s knowledge of the fundamentals of contract law and dedication to risk management must inform development’s design of user experience. This way, agreements remain enforceable without negatively impacting UX. 

Technology adoption

While legal teams aren’t as likely to adopt new technology as other corporate teams, they do still have technology needs.  In some cases, purchasing new technology may require input from or implementation by tech teams. When adopting new technology or implementing process improvements, legal should seek the input of IT early in the process to give them ample notice of what’s coming their way.  IT is best equipped to know which technologies work well with others and how resource heaving implementation might be.

More collaboration means more innovation for both dev/IT and legal 

One department is known for upholding the rules, and the other is known for finding ways around the rules for the sake of innovation. At first glance, these two roles seem at odds. However, combining their powers means developing great products with less legal risk. While the development team may see the legal team as a roadblock to innovation, legal exists to protect their good work so they can continue doing what they do best - innovating. 

To learn more about how to build cross-functional teams within your business, download our guide!

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Related posts on cross-functional alignment:

Legal ops: How to achieve effective cross-functional alignment 

5 ways to improve collaboration between legal and sales

How legal and finance can collaborate to reduce risk

6 tips for achieving cross-functional alignment between legal and HR

Sarah Dubel

Written by Sarah Dubel

Sarah is a writer and editor that specializes in business communications and legal issues. She enjoys learning about how technology continues to streamline business processes and the long-term impacts driven by these improvements.