Donna Sewell, CEO of LegalEdge: How the Right Legal Advice Can Positively Impact Sales Cycles & Drive Revenue Growth

Navigating the complexities of modern regulations is no easy feat, especially when your business is growing at a rapid and exponential rate, as many tech companies have come to do over the past 15 years. Donna Sewell, Founder and CEO of LegalEdge, saw a different way forward. We learned more about her vision in this exclusive…

Even a cursory glance at the headlines in a given week will likely show you just how prominent tech companies have become – and how the regulatory environment keeps changing to keep up with them. Navigating such a labyrinthine web of regulations and legalese would be difficult for any in-house legal team, but when it comes to fast-growth tech companies, the problem is compounded. These teams simply don’t have the capacity to keep up with demand internally.

Donna Sewell (CEO, LegalEdge) identified early on that budget constraints and over-resourcing was holding back budding unicorns from achieving their full potential. So she founded LegalEdge, a provider of flexible in-house legal services for tech and media companies, to meet this untapped demand.

Meet Donna Sewell
CEO, LegalEdge

Donna is LegalEdge’s CEO, on a mission to bring flexible in-house legal services to all tech and media fast growth businesses. She leads a brilliant team of in-house lawyers, who help their clients prioritise what’s important, reduce risk and proactively manage legal strategy, processes and budget.

Donna-Sewell-CEO-LegalEdge What inspired you to start LegalEdge?

Donna Sewell: Experiencing a gap in the market and seeing the need for this service. When I was head of legal at Palm Europe in the early 2000s, I needed a good, flexible in-house resource but it just wasn’t available. Budgets were tight, the legal team was over-stretched, and I couldn’t add to headcount. At that time, it was a huge challenge to find any workable solution. Law firms offered secondees who weren’t the right resource (square peg, round hole springs to mind) as they had no in-house experience, weren’t commercial in their approach and didn’t understand the challenges faced by a busy, overworked legal team. Contract lawyers were also not a viable solution, particularly as they added to headcount, there was little flexibility and finding good quality contract lawyers was difficult.

When Palm closed its European offices, I took the opportunity to create a business that addressed the need in the market. It was important to be different but to offer businesses a service they needed and wanted (even if they hadn’t yet realized it yet!) and to give senior in-house lawyers a better way to work. So, our backstory is typical of entrepreneurial businesses – we identified a gap in the market and with very real first-hand experience of the problem, we set out to solve it.

Timing, as always, is everything, as the need for something innovative in our space was further fuelled by the financial crisis in 2008-2009, where legal teams and budgets in many companies were cut, but the volume of work did not reduce – if anything, it increased. We found the flexible model likes ours was very attractive in that tough economic environment.

Initially we set out to provide good quality flexible support to busy legal teams, but we also soon saw how important that service was to fast-growth businesses with no in-house legal resource. These businesses were relying on traditional law firms, which was expensive and the wrong resource. We set out to educate and show fast-growth companies how to manage legal in a different way. We now work with many fast-growth businesses to help them set up their legal function and manage and do their day-to-day legal work.

What advantages does your current model offer over traditional legal services?

For the businesses we work with – fast-growth companies, primarily in tech and media – it’s the right resource. What these businesses need is a good, hands on, proactive lawyer that works closely with them and can be flexed up or down depending on business requirements. They need someone who understands their business and how they operate, can do a cost/benefit analysis, and help them to focus on what’s important at their stage of growth. The support we provide is often around positively impacting the sales cycle and driving revenue growth by getting customer deals signed up quickly and more efficiently. We help with simplifying contract templates and processes, training sales teams to understand their contracts and how to negotiate them. We’ll also help them to keep costs under control – setting and allocating their legal budget and ensuring they stick to it. This is a very different service to traditional law firms, who provide specialist legal advice.

Now working with fast-growth tech businesses also means we’re close to some amazing innovative thinking and technology – and that keeps us on our toes and gives us access to look at ways of improving our services.

Donna Sewell  CEO, LegalEdge

What drew you to working with tech companies specifically?

Before setting up LegalEdge, I worked in tech businesses. I’ve always loved working with these businesses as they are fast-paced and dynamic. I enjoy the entrepreneurial spirit, creative-thinking and the continual search for innovation found in tech companies. I also really like learning about new technologies.

When I set up LegalEdge, tech businesses were the natural place to start discussions about a new legal service. If any industry would embrace a new legal model, the tech industry would. And it proved to be true.

Now working with fast-growth tech businesses also means we’re close to some amazing innovative thinking and technology – and that keeps us on our toes and gives us access to look at ways of improving our services.

4. How do you think the early adoption of a flexible work model set LegalEdge up to deal with the disruption that Covid caused?

We’ve been working remotely and flexibly since we started LegalEdge 13+ years ago.

We continued to work with our client companies seamlessly through the various lockdowns. And as we focus in the tech sector, many of the businesses we work with were even busier during the pandemic, which meant adding more lawyers to our team at a time when many businesses suffered.

One thing we recognised in lockdown was that we needed to increase our communication internally with our team. We wanted to make sure that they knew we were there for them and that no one felt isolated. We increased our regular individual catch-up calls, added more knowledge sharing sessions over Zoom, and even hosted virtual social events, like cocktail making. We’ve continued in this way and have started back with face-to-face team meetings. It might be a cliché, but communication is key.

It’s also really important to make sure everyone in the team feels comfortable to become part of the conversation, so we encourage different members to actively participate in or lead our sessions. We also encourage people to have a mentor or ‘buddy’ so that they have a non-line manager they can talk to or bounce ideas off.

We’re proud of the community we’ve created that helps our lawyers thrive. We also have a great network of partners that we work with, that share the same vision and values as us and are committed to helping fast-growth businesses use the right resources to grow.

What do you know now that you wish you’d known 13 years ago when you started LegalEdge?

Don’t try to do it all yourself. It’s ok to ask for help. It’s not easy to build and run a business and you won’t be good at all aspects, so don’t be afraid to get help or to hire people better than you.

Build a community around you – crowd source knowledge from like-minded business people, share learnings, experiences, contacts. Expand your network and stay connected. Be open minded and take opportunities – try new things and learn from them. You never know where business or opportunities will come from

What’s one piece of advice you’d give other senior professionals looking to start their own venture?

Try it, believe in yourself and don’t be afraid to fail. Push your own boundaries. From failure and new experiences, you learn. Do something you believe in and/or love and you may just surprise yourself! The experience you gain in building your own venture will be invaluable to you both professionally and personally.

Learn More About LegalEdge

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LegalEdge is a practical, affordable legal solution for growing companies. They work very differently to law firms, whose approach can be too complex, expensive and/or impractical. They set up a cost-effective and efficient legal function (people, processes, tech) working as part of your operations team. With an experienced lawyer as your single point of contact they analyse risk and prioritise what’s important and help decide what you need (and don’t need) to worry about.