Summize in Conversation with Jonathan Keen

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Jonathan Keen is the Director of Legal at Figma, a leading collaborative web application for interface design.
May 14, 2024
Last updated:
May 14, 2024

In today's episode we are chatting with Jonathan Keen, Director of Legal at Figma. Having started his career in a law firm before making the move in-house for several US-based tech companies, Jonathan was the first non-US legal professional in several organisations. From there, he has helped enable companies’ rapid growth into Europe and beyond, growing a team around him.


We will be discussing growing in-house legal teams within fast-growth tech companies, the challenges that come with it and how working with a CLM solution has helped automate lower-value tasks to make room to focus on more strategic work.

Tom

Hello and welcome back to the Surmise Legal Disruptors podcast. I'm Tom Dunlop, the CEO and founder of Summize. And today I'm delighted to be joined by Jonathan Keen, who's the Director of Legal Figma. So having started his career in prior practise before making the move in house for several US based tech companies, Jonathan was the first non-us legal professional in several organisations and helped enable companies rapid growth into Europe and beyond, growing that team around him. So, in this episode we're going to discuss the growing in-house legal teams within fast growth tech companies, the challenges that come with that and also automation and how and why you'd work with the CLM solution and particularly automating the lower value tasks. So Jonathan, welcome to the podcast.

Jonathan

Thank you, Tom. Really pleased to be here.

Tom

So obviously I just gave a very high-level introduction which was maybe slightly inaccurate. But I will allow you to kind of elaborate a little bit more. How did you get to where you are today? Just a bit more, bit more flavour about your background.

Jonathan

Yeah, sure. So, it was very accurate. But I'll give you a bit more colour. So, I followed I guess a pretty traditional way into law, did history as an undergrad because I fancy two years at law school to postpone the journey into work. And then yeah, I trained in in the city and kind of worked in M&A and restructuring. Restructuring was a big thing when I qualified back in 20 late 2011. So, I spent a lot of my time doing that, working on fun projects like Lehman Brothers etc. But yeah, in the private practise world was a great learning environment. But I knew pretty early on that it wasn't the long term career route that I wanted to follow. But fortunately some of the clients I've worked with had portfolios with lots of exciting tech companies in and I managed to get my first gig working for a very small software company in the UK And. And it went from there.

Tom

Absolutely, yeah. And you're you're currently at Figma, which probably like many other businesses, we use Figma in our development team and it's obviously a huge brand and a very public exit to Adobe as well. So, I guess the last 2-3 years, I imagine they've been a little bit of a blur, but try and describe a little bit more about how Figma expanded, how the team's expanded, kind of what's been happening around you for the past kind of few years.

Jonathan

Yeah, it is. It's great that you know and like the product and that's probably the first time in my career that I've been at the company where where the name is so well known and the brand has got such amount of love out there. So I previously I'd worked for kind of deeper tech companies where the the very successful and very big user base, but kind of know what I've heard of you. So that's been quite unique in itself, like having to like speaking with people and having them know the brand and kind of reading about it in the media etcetera. So that's a first for me. So yeah, like I said, I joined about 2 1/2 years ago now as their first non-us council and based in the London office and it's been a whirlwind to be honest. It's, yeah. When you talk about hyper growth, it's there are pressures and speeds of development that would normally take other companies five to six years which you're doing in six months. And so that brings with its own challenges, but it means you need to be ultra efficient in your processes as well and you have to brutally triage any work that comes across your desk and legal as well. So, we have kind of like this hazing period of six months, your first six months in seat outside the US and everyone had to do it in every different function. So marketing, sales, sales, OPS, the HR people team, you are on your own and you are running the entire function outside the US for six months on your own. And it's a great test because if you can get through that, then you can survive anything and then you can almost prove yourself. You get the budget to start expanding your team. And that's what's happened here at Figma. So, I went from being solo for the first six to nine months here to now being a team of four international lawyers kind of underneath covering APAC and EMEA. So pretty big, big time zones.

Tom

Nice. And just talking about that expansion because I think this is a lot of companies that we work with and we'll probably listen to this podcast maybe in that kind of tech world where they're essentially moving as a business, you've almost got to foresee what's going to happen in the next 6/12/24 months. Did you have any particular, not necessarily metrics that allowed you to go to the business and proactively say I need a lawyer now in advance of, you know, six months time or was it the business that came to you and said, OK, here's some budget, you can go and get another head. How did you drive that conversation around expanding that team?

Jonathan

I think I realised that within week one that I needed another head, so it was persistence and they're backing it up with metrics and it's interesting. So there's no, there's no magic formula for legal budget building or metrics. And you can look at kind of revenue revenue ratios or kind of commercial lawyers to sales people ratios as well. We looked at a bit of both of those and we looked at the deal cycle as well. I think that's an important one because deal cycles outside the US tend to be a little longer just because regulatory concerns in Europe with GDPR and data protection are such a huge issue for a lot of customers in a way that the US previously wasn't, But they're also catching up with CCPA. So looking at deal cycles, looking at how many turns the documents we were doing and seeing how many man hours were being put into those into closing those deals. So, yeah, those are the kind of kind of metrics we looked at, but it was fairly clear given this the pace of growth of the business that we would need another commercial lawyer in pretty quickly.  

Tom

Yeah, I it's usually a thing that happens. The first, the first comment when you move in house to a new role is we need more people straight away.

Jonathan

I think revenue is like oxygen when you're kind of at the scale up stage as well. So it's like where can you add the most value and most impact as quickly as possible and that is closing new business in a way that appropriately manages legal risk in this compliance with local laws. So that's where I think it's best to focus your energies in the first six months in seas and then you can start building up more resources and focus on other elements.

Tom

And on that because it's an interesting point you raised there about the more regulatory piece. One thing that I found sort of working for U.S. business before is that they perhaps didn't have that not necessarily knowledge as in they're aware of GDPR. But in terms of how that affects the deal cycle in terms of what that how important it is for certain customers in in EMEA for example. Did you find that you had to educate the business a little more about not only why the deal cycles are longer but the importance of that specific part of the deal cycle over they already very aware of it and up of speed.  

Jonathan

Yeah we we've got some very knowledgeable noise lawyers in the in the US who were definitely aware of it. But I think just emphasising to the go to market business as well, kind of from a sales perspective, you need to build in more time to your forecasting because these deals are going to take longer. On the legal and compliance side, that was where the education came in. And the way I explained it is that we're basically doing 2 negotiations in one. We're doing the like the MSSA, whatever we want to call it, the main commercial contract we have with the customer. But then you're negotiating the DPA and any ancillary docs that they might have, if they're in finance or regulated sector as well. So sometimes you're negotiating two or three different documents for one deal, whereas in the US that's more likely to be one, maybe 2 occasionally. So it's like it's a greater volume and with that volume comes kind of greater time to get those into an acceptable place for both parties. So yeah, it was more education on the practicalities like we have these higher data protection regulations and laws. What does that mean in terms of a business impact?

Tom

No, definitely interesting. And I guess coming back to say again we will touch on quite a lot of this, this kind of US and international or meal link culturally. How did you find, I mean you just got a quote before about the kind of six month hazing period. Where you essentially left on your own. How did you manage that? And when you started to bring people into your team, was there a very clear Figma culture that you adopted or that you almost create your own micro culturing legal that when you started to expand the team, how did how did that kind of play out?

Jonathan

Yes, it's a it's a great question and Figma has got the best workplace culture of any company I've ever worked and I think how, how, how is that reflected in legal. I'm very lucky that the, the General Counsel here, a guy called Brendan Mulligan, who I work very closely with, took a kind of an approach of hire good people and get out of the way, which is kind of a tech focused approach because simply you don't have the time and resource to be micromanaging people in your team, particularly in legal. And that's something that I've tried to follow through with my team as well. But what I really loved is this idea of building communities. So that's what like that's like our fine foundational company value here at Sigma because we're a community, we're a community growth LED company. So we didn't have a sales team for the first few years of our existence. We simply had a product which the design community loved and almost did our own marketing for us because of the, yeah, the positivity around around the product. So it's kind of a product LED community LED business rather than a purely sales lead business. And I think that element of community is, is definitely something that we see internally as well between the different teams. And I've never seen such kind of open collaboration between legal and marketing and sales and the people teams that as I do here it's like the whatever the opposite of a silo is that is Figma.  

Tom

And I think one thing that's interesting with AI guess a more software, tech business is one thing I found is you have a very broad range of personalities in the same business. So you mentioned it there where you've got often quite big sales team, I think in tech sales in particular certain personality and then you've got obviously the design team, you've got a dev team that's a very different personality from a legal perspective. When you're coming in there and you're trying to, you know you're building your own, I guess micro culture almost like community culture within legal. And with these other teams, did you change how legal interacts with depending on the team you were interacting with or how did you, how did you interact with Dev for example or bother more technical folk compared to sales? And was there any kind of nuances in how legal approached your relationship with them?

Jonathan

Yeah it's interesting. I think you do you do consciously and unconsciously in those different contexts and say something I did with the sales team for example, is that I really wanted them to feel enabled and empowered to almost become mini lawyers. And the way you can do that is by building like pre-approved gifs into the contract negotiations. I wanted to bring them along on the journey and to understand why we negotiate these terms, understand some of the risk involved so that they don't see Legal as a blocker or just another process in the journey to getting it signed. We want to be seen as a vehicle to like a closing machine basically to help sales hit their number. So by empowering them with pre-approved gifs that they can offer up on their own without coming back to me or my team. I think that yeah there comes responsibility with that as well. So that kind of self-serve culture is something I thought was really important. Also, I wanted to recognise sales reps who interacted well and efficiently and shown best practise with legal to be brought in quarterly awards for some of the reps if we closed a particularly difficult deal or they'd been particularly the work particularly well with us on a certain topic or dealt with a more difficult situation particularly well. And we give those out alongside our cultural awards, and they've become a bit of a thing here, Figma as well. So kind of incentivizing in sales to enjoy that interaction with Legal and not see it as just a formality they've got to go through.

Tom

I love that. I feel like that's a that's a great a great way of really playing. So probably what they really care about and what is interesting point about the enablement of sales alarms to negotiate. I think it's one thing I found that actually if you think about what their biggest skill set is as a salesperson, they're probably better negotiators than legal. So actually, the irony is if you do empower them and actually give them, but you're measuring them and making sure they're not just going to that position straight away, they can actually be better negotiators and better outcomes ultimately for the business ironically,

Jonathan

Yeah, 100% that's the like. So there are so many talents and skills that the sales reps have and it's just unlocking those because in the non-traditional just people think selling, pushing, pushing the sale through. But yeah, some of the best negotiators have been some of our, some of our reps and just giving them the knowledge and enabling them to use that to help me is such a big win. But you kind of have to overcome this loyaliness and kind of old fashioned approach to like knowledge sharing and like, well, I'm the lawyer, therefore only I can negotiate on these points. Like, provided it's within like a window of acceptable outcomes, then I think we should be doing this with as many different teams across the business as possible, because there's no magic there. As long as you're a good communicator and you can breakdown what this means to the business and when it's appropriate to give and not then and give guardrails then yeah like you said they can often do the job better than better than we can ourselves.

Tom

And a bit of a like a question of tangent to that which is I think you mentioned it there about it eases the world for yourself and the I guess the stressing yourself. Just a personal one I guess for you you've been through a journey of the last 2 1/2 years growing the team and being in a fast growth combat Figma. What a lot of people in legal talk about just burnouts and talk about I guess falling out of love with being a lawyer and how do you how do you just personally I'm curious avoid that kind of burnout. How did you, I guess, manage this last 2 1/2 years with the kind of growth, journey and and sale and not yourself, come to a point where you're a crumbling mess on the floor? Or maybe you are. I don't know.

Jonathan

Yeah, not yet, although there have been points. Yeah, I've got place. I think genuinely loving your job and that sounds very corny, but coming from private practice where I also work really hard right for big U.S. Law firms with huge billable hour targets. Well I was probably a lot more stressed in that environment than I am doing working for for tech because the recognition you get on a daily basis for your work is a different level. So you feel hugely valued for the work you're contributing to the business which is which is huge. So, like this Slack culture, we have a praise culture channels and slack. So just giving people virtual high fives in front of the rest of the business, it's great for for culture and it's great for morale and you really feel that whatever you do has an impact the business. So that that's one element of why I actually don't mind putting in this kind of this extra effort because it's not your average 9:00 to 5:00, it's you. Like I said that the pace of growth is, is phenomenal and that brings with itself like challenges and there are compromises that you have to make. But knowing that that is valued and appreciated is huge. No two weeks, I won't say two days because two days can be similar, but no two weeks are the same. You never know what you're going to be dealing with. And now that I've had APAC added to my scope that's bringing a whole raft of new challenges and I get massively energised by interacting with new members of the team in those regions, learning about local cultures, learning about local go to market strategy, what we might need to do something differently in India to the rest of Southeast South Asia and looking at like indirect sales models for example. So that's usually interesting and it means I'm constantly using different parts of my brain and constantly learning myself. So, it although it is very hectic at times particularly in the quarter and it can feel like there's a million things going on. I am one of those people who likes, like, that diversity of work and kind of makes it feel like you're not doing the same thing. And when something is new and fresh, doesn't feel quite as challenging as doing the same thing over and over again in terms of what I do personally, trying to resurrect my rugby career recently and trying to get out and play, play as much golf as I can and spend a little time obviously doing childcare. I have an 8 and a 5 year old and they take up a lot of my spare time. So, they are high needs but high reward activities. So yeah,

Tom

I know that feeling. I've got an 8 year old, a 4 year old, and then I've just added a third who's 4 weeks old to the mix, which is a fun, fun addition to the chaos.  

Jonathan

You’re in surprisingly good nick for someone who's got a 4 week year old. So, how’s the sleeping going.

Tom

Thank you. Yes, it's probably the camera rather than how I feel inside. So if we touch on I guess since the tech automation and a side time in there. So, what was the, I guess in a company like Figma in some ways you're encouraged for automation. But was there a particular catalyst internally or in your mindset that made you want to procure technology? Was it instantly CLM or what was the kind of challenge or problem blocker that you immediately realised and thought I have to get some kind of automation on technology into the business?

Jonathan

I think of any emerging technology company, simply because if you, if you're growing and you want to be growing, then you're going to have contracts coming in from day one. And it's better to start things off by having a proper CLM in place rather than kind of using Dropbox or whatever kind of workarounds that people usually do when you're in early stage growth because it's a bigger job migrating everything over into CLM later on. And it is getting one in place and start in terms of like justifying the value for that. I think yeah, deal cycles again, how quickly can we get stuff in and closed, how quickly can we automate our contract and order processes so that we are getting our terms in front of customers in a clear and scalable way and then by looking at the metadata as well. So having a decent CLM that gives you data on turn around times on which clauses are most kind of heavily negotiated, that's critical for building out the playbook for me on the on the legal side because then we can look at whether we're taking the right positions on those causes or are we sitting outside the market norms and could we do something about that. So, yeah, absolute priority. And I think that's increasingly the case across most in-house teams now.

Tom

Yeah, I think that's fair particularly on the we've found from the US side of it is certainly pretty much everyone has this and that's a product, it's become AI guess an expectation that you will have tech in legal I think patching up more in in EMEA. One thing you touched on there which looking to elaborate on a little bit further was the sort of goals and objectives you're looking to achieve. I guess it's different depending on the company. But were you and I guess you've already alluded to it to an extent, but when you were kind of looking at what you wanted to achieve with the CLM, there's obviously just we need this because we're growing exponentially. Was it more looking forward and saying if we're going to handle this growth, we need something now because we we won't be able to in the future or is it we want to be more efficient than we are now. So we're currently doing it with a three day turn around for example, we want to make that 2 days, where was your primary sort of goal or objectives. Was it do it here and now or getting ahead of the growth?

Jonathan

I think a bit of both to be honest, but definitely forward, forward-looking as well. And we are a really data-driven business. If you want to go and get something changed or you want to introduce something new here at Figma, you'd be better come supported with a lot of data because we that's how we make our product development decisions. It's how we make our go to market decisions from a sales and marketing perspective as well. So, I didn't see why legal should be any different, but legal metrics are harder to traditionally have been quite hard to track and to kind of package up and the CLM allows you to do that. You can go to our CFO for example and say look how many contracts we're processing. This is a turnaround time. These are how many attorneys I've got in my team and this is the ratio of Dpas to SSAS. This is the type of contract they're working on. This is the time they're spending on vendor agreements. If you see like these vendors are particularly troublesome because or time consuming because we're spending 17 rounds of negotiation. So it just opens up a whole new world of data that you can then if you have the time look through and kind of build efficiencies off the back of that but also demonstrate your value to the rest of the business.

Tom

And interested in analogy that you've talked about with the CFO relationship. Did you how important is it for you know anyone in legal, I guess certainly from a GC level head of Legal to talk numbers to talk finance to talk forecasts and growth because it's something that I think is sometimes missed with legal when they talk about what they're doing very sort of focused on legal work and not necessarily relating that to maybe the wider business. Did you find that certainly the business like Figma which I imagine is very you know programmatic in how it's growing and in terms of the growth rate and how it's going to be expanded over new regions like how important is it for legal to really understand that business model and the go to market you know metrics things like that to justify things like CLM and spend.  

Jonathan

Yeah, it's, it's essential and I think the most practical example of that is the interactions we have on forecasting calls. So, I will join towards the end of the quarter. I will join kind of the weekly forecast calls for the senior sales leadership and occasionally our senior finance leadership as well and having an insight into what we call our commits and where we're tracking towards that. But that's an important consideration for us as well in our legal negotiations because we're not living in, yeah in a 0-sum game here. Like there's stuff that it's not like we say no to a deal and then there's no consequences. So, I guess what I'm trying to say is like risk is not binary. There's risk by not doing things. There's risk by not closing deals as well as by accepting kind of terms that may be on your optimal positions but are accessible within the risk parameters at the time. So, everything you can't understand the wider context of the business without having a really strong relationship with the finance leadership and with the sales leadership. Everything builds on another layer within the business. Say the commit builds into our financial forecast for the following year like we got ROI metrics off the back of that as well. And then all our planning for the next year will be based on kind of all of that stuff. So, if you want to have a seat at the table that's it's a prerequisite that you've got these relationships and that you can understand the language that is being spoken.

Tom

Yeah, I think I completely echo that. I think it's a massively missed bit of training experience you know exposure for GCS heads of legal that's kind of a a bit of a hidden bit if you can crack it that's how you get to see the table. I think that's it’s a really valuable point to take away.  

Jonathan

They are, they are ultimately. And if you, uh, yeah, you got to balance taking that now and as long as you've got some kind of get out or you're not tying yourself in for a longer term, you've got to constantly balance that short term versus long term needs of the business. And in technology, we're working in normally quite a short term in terms of revenue targets. Everyone is so quarterly driven, and those courses are so important in terms of kind of broadcasting your performance to the wider market that yeah you can sometimes get trapped into thinking it's OK we can fix that like we can push it back into next year, but there is no kind of tomorrow. In a lot of these scenarios.  

Tom

I guess from looking forward, you're clearly the forefront of well one of the leading technology businesses in terms of yourself and how you've established legal teams. Obviously very forward thinking and probably ahead of you know a lot of the different legal teams out there. If you were to look forward over the next few years and we'll try not to say Gen AI and this, this, this answer, what do you think legal teams should be, you know, thinking about how, how should they be thinking about how the legal team works, functions, you know, focus areas, how they interrupt the business. Is there any particular insights that you can share about looking forward over the next few years?

Jonathan

Yeah. I think understanding the underlying technology, if you're in technology, it's almost as important as your legal skills because you got to understand how the product works because you don't understand the risk if you don't understand how the product works. So I think technical training for lawyers and getting tech savvy is going to be an essential. And then there's the human element. I think just making work as fun and enjoyable place to be as possible for your team and really treating management as something on its own, as a skill set, as a muscle that needs to be built and personal and management as well as the technical elements to our job. I don't think lawyers have traditionally been very good at that part of their job, but that's where we can learn from other teams on this for example, like getting team off sites, getting us all together to spend three or four days just focusing on ourselves and our personal development. Looking at kind of, there's a there's something called the Clifton Strengths Finder, which I find a fantastic tool which is like a strength mapping algorithm that will show you your strengths and you can match them up across team members to see where we've got good coverage and where we might need to pay a bit more attention. So yeah, really taking a more forward-looking approach to the welfare and the professional development of each lawyer. Because the if you're a good, if you're a good boss as an in-house or even in private practice, you kind of want to be developing your team until they're at the point where want to go away and do your job or do something else where they're stepping up. So that's what I see myself as, and I think there's been too much protectionism over people's roles and the work they take within in-house teams and private practice. And whereas we want to be sharing, we want to be teaching, we want to be enabling and you want to make someone able to do your role. Ultimately, if you're if you're doing a job right as a manager and a supervisor.

Tom

And I have to ask if you making legal fun was something you thought about making it fun, how how do you do that?

Jonathan

Yeah, so like I touched on it earlier, but the awards we give to the sales team actually called the legal Beagle Awards and they've become a bit of a thing. So, Beagle themed gifts. There's an amazing amounts of Beagle merchandise out there thanks to thanks to Amazon and other online marketplaces. Yeah, a paraphernalia of beagles themed mugs chopping boards. Actually, that's my favourite 1. So yeah, I'm creating kind of this Hall of Fame of people who Legal have enjoyed working with during their time here at Figma. So that is, yeah, that's one part of it, but that's more cross functional in terms of my team. FaceTime is so important. I think. Like, it's so easy to defer to Zoom or Teams, but there's nothing quite like having everyone in the same location for a couple of days. And it's those informal conversations you end up having. It's the dinners, it's the lunches that you really get to know people and you really get to build that team spirit. And we were lucky enough to have that last week. I just hired a lawyer in Singapore, and he was over in London for the launch of our New London office. And for the first time we had the entire international legal team in one space. And I think the value you get out of that has been enormous. And now rather than just being someone who's sitting over there in APAC, he now very much feels part of the team. And there's a closeness there that probably wouldn't come about if you'd have been on Zoom calls for two or three years. So yeah, in person definitely has a very strong in person events. In person meetings, just being in the same location, even if you're not working together the entire time, it's really important,

Tom

No, definitely really good advice. So, I guess final question, talk about the team and talks about, I guess a little more generally for you individually. I guess if your GC adopts the same mindset, you're coming for his job. So, what's next for you?

Jonathan

Yeah, at the moment I'm very, very kind of happy here at Figma, but there will be an interesting career crossroads, I'm sure at some point in the future I want to stay in in tech. I I love SAS. I love the tech community and I just love the way that kind of they look at problems and challenge the status quo, new ways of doing things that are open to new methods and reinventing legal the legal department to fit and to kind of share the same mindset that that's what I really love about my job. It's an interesting question like do a lot of the companies I work for have been US based as well. So typically, you want your C-Suite around your GC to be based with the C-Suite. So, they've got that in person access I just mentioned, but then we've got some superstar kind of technology companies coming up in in Europe as well. So yeah, I guess the answer is I don't know. I've loved building out international legal teams, but yeah, definitely wouldn't write off being kind of leading from the very top one of these days. But I think just Figma got such a such a big presence already and we're growing at such unprecedented rates. That got enough on my plate for the time being without thinking too far ahead.

Tom

Absolutely. No, it's good. It's good answer. Maybe a tech founder one day who knows about the sounds of it.  

Jonathan

Yeah, who knows, venture capital or kind of, yeah, get more involved in the in the VC scene as well because then they can plug you into the next up and coming company within their portfolio and then you get to assist a wider range of companies as well. So, who knows? I think there'll be a lot of fluidity between in house and VC worlds going forward.

Tom

Interesting. Perfect. Well, thank you so much for your time and sharing those insights. It's been a really interesting conversation. So, thank you very much.  

Jonathan

Yeah, no worries at all. Absolute pleasure.

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Summize is a Contract Lifecycle Management solution that incorporates contract workflows into the tools you and your business already use every day.
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