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Career Advancement Advice From an International Legal Ops Leader

How Laurie David-Henric Creates Opportunities for Success

by Petra Pasternak

Everyone complains about inefficiency, but Laurie David-Henric does something about it. As a lawyer and legal ops leader whose experience spans two continents, she has built teams – and her career – around operational excellence. When she sees inefficiency, she says she can’t walk away. Instead she has pitched, and executed, transformative solutions in various industries.

For a multinational company in Paris, where David-Henric started as a lawyer, her innovative approach to problem solving led her to become the organization’s global head of business process optimization – a role she created from scratch in Toronto, Canada. 

Laurie David-Henric

“I didn’t ask for more money. I did not ask for more resources,” she said during a recent interview with Everlaw. “I just asked for the chance to prove myself.” Her goal: to run legal like a business.

Achieving that goal often requires an ability to craft solutions on a lean budget. But most importantly it requires an environment that is ready to embrace positive change, David-Henric said.

She spoke with us about growing her career, her approach to preemptive change management, and her plans to build a cross-border legal ops community in Europe and beyond.

You need to love organizing, optimizing, and finding ways to do things in a more efficient fashion. If you go to my house, the way that it's organized, I'm a control freak! I do that for me because I enjoy it. When you enjoy doing something at a personal level, doing it at a professional level is not a big leap. Being a natural at those kinds of things, for me, is very important.

Another skill that is extremely important is to have a global mindset – to have an ability to zoom out and in almost all the time, because what you do here is going to impact the bigger picture there. And when I say bigger picture, I mean the department that you are in charge of on behalf of your GC, and also the company itself because you need to build those bridges – with HR, with finance, with procurement, and many others as well. You need to not get lost in the details and be able to understand how your work impacts that bigger picture.

What has helped you progress in your career?

I would say that I always pushed myself. First, because whether it's true or not, I as a female sometimes feel that I may not tick all of the boxes. So I would not apply for that job because I miss one or two boxes. Well, you should always apply to something that you feel you can add value to. 

And second, probably even more important, when I identified an opportunity for me from a career path perspective and for my employer, I would typically go for it. The reason I moved from Paris, France, to Toronto, Canada, is because for many years, I told my employer at the time that I felt I could add more value, and I wanted to have a more international role than I had at the time.

And when an opportunity showed up, they thought of me because they knew the quality of my work, and I'd been very transparent about my aspirations. 

 “You should always apply to something that you feel you can add value to.”

In my career in North America, I had another whole series of hats. Each time it's because I've identified an opportunity to create something new, to go one step further. I pitched the ideas. Sometimes they were not followed, but sometimes it did work.

And that's how I created the legal project management global function within one of my previous companies, as well as the global business process optimization function at another. Those things would not have happened if I hadn’t gone for it.

One of the biggest is we really came from being seen as an admin support role to a strategic advisor. That’s a big shift and now that we are on that path, we're going to continue. The role itself has changed, but mostly because how we are seen has changed and therefore, this perception enabled us to demonstrate the whole strategy behind what we do.

As for the future of the function, since 2022 when I started my most recent role as legal COO, I do see it raise at the C-suite level. Why? Because while what we do primarily serves the law department, it goes beyond to connect it to the greater strategy of the company and to that end, creates cross-functional alignment.

What is behind this shift in your opinion? 

Typically, to be good at legal ops, you don't have to be a lawyer. I am, which helps to be seen as equal by lawyers when you are not one, but it's not necessary. The value that we add and how much we help lawyers do their job in an optimized way, in a faster way, in an easier way, that gives us credibility. Different but equal. 

“We really came from being seen as an admin support role to a strategic advisor.”

Because we bring this big-picture mindset, we see what's happening outside of the limits of the law department, and across the silos. When we advise or when we make a recommendation, whether it's about a technology or an operating model, we know it’s because it does not only make sense for the law department, but it also aligns with the rest of the company. That is an operational visibility that nobody else within the law department has. 

How can more junior professionals make sure they’re advancing in their careers? 

I would make sure that I can work with people with the right mindsets. Because what we do as legal ops is driving change, leading innovation, leading transformation. Those are big things. And not everybody's ready for it. The legal ops function cannot be successful if it's within an environment that is resistant to all of that. 

So, I would say first, assess your environment.

Make sure you're in the right place. You don't need everybody to be 100% supportive of what you're doing, but you do need to have key stakeholders that support who you are as a professional and what you bring to the table, and then the rest will come from that.

"You cannot lead the change by yourself. This really requires teamwork." 

Because if you have this support, you and your successes will be championed. Each teeny tiny success will be seen as a positive thing and this is how you are going to start building that trust.

Also – rely on data. Everything that you can measure, present, talk about, and use to demonstrate your value. 

You introduced a new approach to the tech portfolio at one of the corporations you worked at that led to savings and efficiencies – and to a holistic approach to transformation. Tell us about the challenge and how you went about it.

Tech budgets are usually significant, and in this example this one was certainly the largest I’ve ever overseen – dozens of millions of dollars over five years. The problem I instantly identified was that I had zero visibility over how it was spent precisely because there was no centralization of information. I couldn't know without talking to 20 or 30 different people what we were doing with that money, which technologies we were implementing or developing or upgrading, to do what and support what.

So, without reinventing the wheel, I had my team consolidate the information, and display it in a dynamic and clear way connected to a central dashboard so that I as head of operations and strategy – and also my GC and the rest of my peers – could at a glance understand the spend rationale, and dive deeper when required.

This exercise gave me a lot of indication over potential duplication, and therefore, money wasted paying twice for the same thing, or not using functionalities that we were paying for. And I was also able to really see which department was spending the most money on technology, why, and whether it was in response to regulatory obligations for the compliance function, for instance, or if it was in response to optimization and efficiency requirements.

We know change – especially transformational change – does not happen in a vacuum. How do you approach building consensus around a transformation, and the process of change management?

I manage change even when there is no change to manage. I do that by building relationships all the time, by being transparent every single occasion I have, by explaining what I do, by socializing, by educating.

I think it's a strategy mistake to manage change only when there is a change to manage. You can only do that effectively and efficiently if people trust you in the first place. 

I always make this parallel with life. You cannot go to someone you don't know and ask them to do something different going forward. You need to build this relationship first, and then you can ask for a favor. It's the same rationale in a professional context, where the favor is a long-term solution to an existing problem.

What was the biggest change management lesson you’ve learned?

Never work on assumptions that you have buy-in from one individual or one group. Always go back, double-check, triple-check even. Go through your change management plan and even if you opt for a lighter version of it, you still need to go through it, even with the people that are meant to lead the change with you.

You cannot lead the change by yourself. This really requires teamwork. 

You need sponsors, you need leaders who are supportive of your ideas, who champion your vision. And those individuals, they should be the first ones with which you confirm that you have the support.

"It's a mistake to manage change only when there is a change to manage.”

I rather think the other way around – if technology comes last in the legal ops triptych “People, Process, Technology,” it’s for a reason: the latter is an enabler of the former, and tech is an enabler of the first two.

What I mean is that the legal ops leverages technology to streamline, standardize, and optimize processes from beginning to end, in support of the people who work it. You can do that with a basic power app, or you can do that by buying external technology as well when things get more complex, like a CLM, like an ebilling solution, or like your ediscovery solution at Everlaw.

Integration is key as well, because we talk a lot about technology, but it's actually multiple technologies. And if they don't integrate, you are in a bad spot because you cannot leverage data. That's a big problem because what we do is very much data based.

As part of my relocation to Europe and my search for a new legal ops or COO role, I have significantly extended my network there, connecting with professionals in the UK, Switzerland, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Sweden, Italy, Spain. Each of these countries has a different level of legal ops maturity, and different priorities when it comes to operational excellence.

As I discuss with each of them, I see the bigger picture and as part of it, I see how much they could learn from each other. I have some ideas already on how to make that happen. Stay tuned!

Also, I work as a board member for the Global Centre for Risk and Innovation, an international NGO that is focusing on global risks and innovation. Part of what we do is engage on a regular basis with the World Bank, the IMF, and the United Nations. The NGO is working on quantum computing and AI and so many other exciting technologies.

I will have exposure to global international innovation and plan on sharing that with the rest of the legal ops community, because innovation is at the core of what we do.