Simplicity and innovation: creating a legal contracts app—an interview with Ingrid Cope

Simplicity and innovation: creating a legal contracts app—an interview with Ingrid Cope

Not all legal document management problems require complex solutions, but they do need the buy-in of the business. Sophie Gould talks to Ingrid Cope, Senior Legal Advisor at Pernod Ricard UK and The Lawyer’s 2016 In-House Lawyer of the Year, about how developing a simple yet innovative contracts app benefited the whole business and highlighted the importance of cross-functional collaboration.

Tell us a bit about your background and career to date…

I have been an in-house lawyer for about ten years. My background is in fast-moving consumer goods. In my first in-house role I was responsible for competition law and litigation across Europe and also for a number of significant UK businesses. Prior to that I was in private practice as a contentious competition lawyer. I have been fortunate enough to work across a range of different roles: private practice, regulatory, and now in-house.

I had always planned to go into private practice initially. You get very good training and high quality work. I really enjoyed my time working at law firms, but there does come a point when you have to decide what your career path is going to be. I became a competition lawyer because I am very interested in the world of business and markets, so going in-house was a natural transition for me.

Now, less of my time is spent on legal drafting, and more is spent assisting to devise strategy and provide commercial advice. For example, when the business is developing its strategy to increase sales, I help to mitigate the legal risk around that in an effective way.

What is the role of your team?

I manage a small team that looks after the Pernod Ricard UK and Pernod Ricard Travel Retail EMEA businesses. I have one lawyer who helps me primarily on privacy, marketing, digital and e-commerce. I also have a team member who looks after the duty-free channel, which includes cruise ships, army bases and diplomatic missions.

Our UK customers are divided between the on-trade and the off-trade. The off-trade is where consumers purchase alcohol for consumption ‘off’ the premises, and includes the major grocery retailers but also, for example, wholesalers who sell to the impulse channel. In the on-trade, where consumers purchase alcohol for consumption ‘on’ the premises, there are large managed retail and pub chains, but also the smaller pubs and clubs, luxury hotels and restaurants and prestige nightclubs. It is a very distinct and fragmented channel.

You identified a challenge with contract management—what made you decide to develop an app?

The on-trade in the UK generates a high volume of sales for us, but as I said, by its nature it tends to be fragmented. A lot of the contracts with pubs and restaurants are each relatively low value, but together they add up to a significant proportion of the business. The exposure that our brands, which include Absolut Vodka, Jamesons, Malibu and Perrier-Jouet, achieve in the on-trade segment is extremely important to us in terms of brand visibility and consumer sampling.

Documenting that type of high-volume contract can be difficult from a legal resource perspective. The sales teams who work in that sector are not office-based and so it is more difficult for them to quickly access in-house legal services.

We enter into about 700 of these contracts a year, and it is therefore challenging to have oversight of all of these documents. The way it was being managed historically meant it was also challenging to maintain visibility of the support that we were committing to for those customers. We also have to deal with a legacy in the on-trade of an informal culture based on handshakes and personal relationships.

Pernod Ricard UK frequently uses apps as a solution for communicating internally. Even so, this is a very innovative method for developing contracts.

How does the app work?

The design of the app follows the fields of the contract. The entire process is done as a tapping, scrolling, intuitive user experience. When the account manager has finished, the draft contract is automatically forwarded for approval from any required approver, depending on the level of approval required. Once approved, the app generates a PDF of the contract that the customer can then sign electronically.

The app automatically creates its own contract database so it provides a centralised storage system. The database can be sorted it in any way you want, and provides visibility of any bottlenecks in terms of approvals. The database can quickly provide reports with metrics, for example for spending and revenue. If the team analyses that data, they can see what return the business is getting on investment.

How has the app benefited the legal team and the business?

The app gives us a real advantage because it means that instead of our commercial team spending their time with customers sending paperwork around, they can spend more time selling our products. It allows for an efficient use of legal resource, and, for first time, central visibility of our contracted financial commitments. It also means that people are not using out-of-date templates that create risk. We also have a rich source of data for the on-trade sector that gives us an insight into our return on investment.

Having a siloed approach to technology is not utilising it in an optimum way for the business—ideally these types of projects have to be cross-functional. This project was created as a collaboration between the legal, IT, and commercial team. It also has to benefit all of us. Hopefully it has also improved our customers’ experience by making the contracting process much more efficient.

Do you have any tips on how to get buy-in from the business for a project like this?

In-house lawyers need to consider how much cross-functional support they can get for any proposed project. Depending on the resource that required, you may need support at quite a senior level. There is no way I would have got the app across the line by myself as a stand-alone legal project. The commercial and IT teams had to do the bulk of the development work, but they believed in the benefits of the app and that was a huge incentive.

By speaking to people in other sectors, I have since learnt that in-house teams don’t necessarily have strong relationships with other functions of their business. From my perspective it is really important to get to know people within your business who can act as a sounding board for whether something would work and also to help you find the right technology suppliers.

I am just one stakeholder in our business, so if I can work with other stakeholders to develop something that drives the business, then the other functions will be attracted to that. Most in-house lawyers would be able to tell you that you need to understand from key stakeholders what their priorities are, and what their business strategy is, so that you can align what you are doing with what is important to them. The app is a good example of this alignment, which is why it is a success.

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About the author:

Sophie is Head of Learning & Development at F-LEX Legal - an award winning legal tech startup helping law firms and organisations manage a flexible work force and supporting lawyers to make smarter life/work choices. 

As part of her portfolio career Sophie runs various learning and development and networking forums for in-house lawyers and mentors junior lawyers.  These include Flying Solo for small and solo legal teams and Aspire for junior in-house lawyers which she runs for LexisNexis UK.  She also works with schools and organisations to promote social mobility within the legal profession, working with The Social Mobility Business Partnership and Aspiring Solicitors. 

She trained as a lawyer in the City and worked as an in-house lawyer for 10 years including as Head of Legal for Virgin Radio and Ginger Media Group.  

Outside of work she is happily married with three sons and enjoys morning walks along the beach with her two dogs.