Matt Thanabalan joined Ironclad after working as an associate at Cooley LLP. At Ironclad, he combines his technical, legal, and client service expertise to his work as a Legal Engineer. In this capacity, he implements contract workflows at places ranging from the Fortune 50 to Ironclad itself.
I sat down with Matt to chat about his role at Ironclad. In this interview, Matt tells us:
- How Ironclad uses its own software to manage contracts, and how that has improved the product over time;
- How implementing Ironclad externally differs from configuring Ironclad internally; and
- How he sees Ironclad’s Legal Engineer role evolving over time.
Hi Matt! Your role at Ironclad is super unique. Not only do you work on Product, but you’re also a customer-facing Legal Engineer. And if that wasn’t enough, you’re also Ironclad’s Legal Engineer. What does a typical day look like for you?
Broadly speaking, my work is split into two halves. I spend about half of my time implementing Ironclad externally. That means talking to customers, partnering with them to figure out what their needs are, and ultimately rolling out our software.
I spend the other half working with our internal teams--Support, Product, and Sales--and making sure that we’re getting the most from our own software. That involves everything from advocating for new features to offering feedback to our Design team to analyzing our internal efficiency metrics.
What’s the biggest difference between working with Ironclad clients and Ironclad internal teams?
I’d say it’s the working process. When I work with clients, I’m focused on understanding their business needs and trying to apply best practices that Ironclad has learned from previous engagements. A lot of Ironclad customers might initially ask for one thing, but end up needing another, so I always start by asking our customers what they want to accomplish. That orients the discussion in a way that’s productive. As a Legal Engineer, my job is to bring both a legal perspective and a technical perspective, so I’m working closely with lawyers, paralegals, and legal ops teams at every customer.
When I’m working on Ironclad’s software internally, our implementation has already been set up, so I’m focusing on feature improvements and data analysis rather than starting from scratch. I’m also working with teams rather than individuals. One simple way to think of Ironclad is as a Lego set with a bunch of modular components. When you first start out, you have to build each individual module, but once they’ve been built, you can spend more time thinking about the best way those modules can be combined and put to use.
When I'm working with Ironclad's internal teams, I view my job as to help connect different parts of the company. That could mean helping our Product team understand the needs of our Sales team or working with our Design and Support teams to help our customers make the most of our software. That work tends to be more proactive and focused on the long-term.
How has Ironclad’s experience using its own software influenced the product roadmap?
It’s important to us to use our own product--not just because it’s the best contract management solution out there, but because it forces us to look for ways to make it better. It gives us a chance to anticipate and understand customer needs rather than waiting for them to bring new issues to our attention.
For example, when we built Ironclad’s own order form and customer fulfillment workflows, we realized that we needed to expand our existing Salesforce integrations. The thing is, after we did that, all our customers could benefit from the same integrations, if they needed them.
It also helps us generate and analyze business metrics. One of my current projects is figuring out how we can use Ironclad data to make our implementation process more efficient. For example, how many days pass between contract signing and Ironclad implementation, on average?
The sooner our teams are on-site, the sooner we can begin delivering value. That’s not just true for Ironclad; it’s true for all businesses. Once we figure out the best way to interpret that information, we can make it a standard part of our reporting package at all our customers. We could put a bunch of random metrics in a dashboard and roll that out to clients, but without first testing those metrics internally, it would be hard to know if they added any value.
Finally, using Ironclad internally has shown us where our software really shines--sometimes in ways we hadn’t even anticipated. When our company needed to show our investors all our contracts as part of the due diligence process, we were able to pull them all with a few clicks. Not only did it make the process painless, it really impressed our investors. They’re used to the information gathering process taking a lot longer.
How do you see the Legal Engineer role evolving moving forward?
I’ve always thought that one of the most important parts of the Legal Engineer role is being both a thought leader and a trainer. It’s about showing the customer best practices in legal ops and technology as well as empowering them to learn and benefit from the software on their own.
The real test of my work is how well an organization is able to use Ironclad when I’m not on-site, or when they’re thinking through a new workflow. A lot of our customers today have a designated Ironclad expert--this is the person who knows the most about the software and who people might go to for documentation.
Up until now, though, this Ironclad expert has never made a new workflow. The reason is that changes to the Ironclad system have required the help of a Legal Engineer. We just rolled out Blueprint and are adding other features that enable our customers to expand and extend Ironclad’s capabilities with little or no Legal Engineer help.
Once that’s the norm, the Legal Engineer function won’t just be about communicating legal ops best practices from other companies, it will be about helping customers build their own contracting infrastructure from the ground up--infrastructure that generates useful metrics, automates common tasks, and makes it easier to collaborate across the company.