2019 Northwestern Law MSL Entrepreneurship Trip — Cisco

By Hao Gao & Shalin Shah

Day 4 – Thursday, March 28: Cisco

The MSL EnTP team visited Cisco Meraki, a subsidiary of Cisco that is focused on creating simple and effective cloud managed IT. In a big conference room, Mark Chandler and Steve Harmon greeted the MSL EnTP team with two cute pups in tow. Mark is Cisco’s Chief Legal Officer and Chief Compliance Officer. He has worked at Cisco for 24 years and served as the General Counsel for 19 of them. Steve is the Deputy General Counsel of Cisco. He runs the legal operations function and emphasizes the efficient management of the legal department. He spent the past 14 years focusing on translating legal operation concepts into other industries.

We were impressed when we learned that Mark was familiar with each one of our names and backgrounds – a testament to his strong management skills. It came as no surprise once he told us that he regularly engages with small groups of members of the legal team. Each year he aims to have conversations with almost all members of the legal team on multiple occasions and he makes an effort to learn about things going on in their lives personally as well as professionally.

Cisco, founded in 1984 by two computer scientist from Stanford University, is now the global leader in internet networking. Targeting enterprises, information service providers, and small and medium business as its main customer segments, Cisco provides products and services that cover a wide range of business needs in networking, wireless and mobility, security, collaboration, data center, analytics, software, video, and the internet of things. The company is widely recognized as having one of the most sophisticated legal operations functions and Mark and Steve are responsible for building and enhancing it.

To start off the meeting, Mark and Steve shared their backgrounds and experiences and how they came to Cisco, which segued into the discussion of their expertise and insights within the internal legal department. Currently, there are more than 200 lawyers in the Cisco legal department. From Mark and Steve’s perspective, a good legal department must drive results, not just steward processes. Diverting from the stereotype of lawyers telling employees only what they cannot do, Cisco’s legal team helps employees navigate policies to create the best business outcomes.

When talking about the essence of in-house legal services, Mark explained the transformation of in-house attorneys’ goals. Attorneys often told employees the rules they needed to follow. Gradually, attorneys have recognized that people need them to serve as partners who can translate law and policy. In-house counsels must change the legal services delivery model and be forward-thinking. A strong in-house legal department identifies the value that the company’s customers care about and helps deliver that value to customers. As Mark mentioned, the sole reason their department exists is to support Cisco’s efforts to design, build, and sell our products.

Mark and Steve further talked about the evolution of legal services throughout their careers. The first wave of evolution took place in the digitization process. An example is the adoption of e-signatures. Cisco’s lawyers first considered its customers’ needs. From the customers’ perspective, e-signatures were an efficient, robust, enforceable, and productive technology. With this understanding, Cisco’s legal department was willing to incorporate the e-signature process in their business worldwide. This decision to step forward with technology translated to immense savings for the company and its customers.

The second wave of evolution is the arrival of AI as a way to enhance both legal and business processes. Although the practice of law is difficult to fully automate because it is nuanced, as AI technologies become incredibly more precise and less formula-based, they have become a useful tool for Cisco’s legal team. Mark pointed out that the biggest challenge for new technologies, like machine learning, is overcoming rational skepticism.

During the conversation, we were particularly impressed by the legal team’s innovative mindset and their willingness to share their advanced thinking with other companies. As a co-founder of the Corporate Legal Operations Consortium (CLOC), Steve has promoted an industry-wide collaboration among in-house legal operations professionals. The philosophy of CLOC is that in a rapidly changing environment, competitors should share best practices.

The MSL EnTP team thoroughly enjoyed the conversation with Mark and Steve and left with a deeper understanding of how a legal department fits into the growth of a future-driven company. The MSL EnTP team looks forward to seeing further innovation in the in-house legal department at Cisco.

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