Christie's U.S. General Counsel Brings Efficiency Through Technology

Monday, January 3, 2011 - 01:00

Editor: Can you tell our readers about your practice and your responsibilities at Christie's?

Gray: Christie's is an international auction house, and I am the General Counsel in the United States. In that capacity, one of my primary responsibilities is to manage legal support for Christie's art business, both its auction business and its private sale business.

Editor: Can you describe your prior software system and how the ContractExpress system can improve the efficiency of your legal department?

Gray: Previously, we used standardized templates, which included a number of options from which the attorney reviewing the contract could choose. The lawyer would delete selected options that didn't apply. Having a group of lawyers basically just deleting language was fairly inefficient. So, one of our goals was to eliminate that manual process and to introduce more efficiency using technology.

At present our focus is on two main types of contracts. The first is our seller's agreement, which is used when people are providing us with property to sell at auction. The second is our private sales agreement, which is used when people are providing us with property, and we try to locate an individual buyer. At present, we are implementing the ContractExpress system so that we can become more efficient when generating contracts for both private sales and auctions.

Editor: How long has it taken you to implement the new system?

Gray: It has not taken us very long to implement the software into our legal group. Thus far, the vast majority of the time has been spent developing the master agreement. We had a lot of different options to include, so we had to work really hard on the master agreement to get the options right. Once that was developed, it was actually quite easy to get it up on the system. Now the next step for us is to get the system more fully integrated into our existing systems at Christie's so that we can make ContractExpress available to the business, as opposed to only being used by legal.

Editor: What has been the response of the staff to the new technology?

Gray: It was fairly easy to learn, and everyone in legal is using it. I'm pleased to report that the feedback has been good. Now, it is much, much easier to get contracts out, especially multijurisdictional contracts. Of course, as we use it, we find tweaks that we need to make to the master to optimize its effectiveness. The next step is for the business side to use it.

Editor: Have you been able to calculate how much time has been saved by using ContractExpress?

Gray: We have not done any official studies, but the lawyers seem to think that the ContractExpress system has saved them quite a bit of time. Actually, I can speak from personal experience about the time savings. I recently had a multijurisdictional contract to write. Previously, that would have taken me a lot of time because I would have had to have created it from scratch. Each of our templates is for a different region, so I would have had to cull pieces from each of these templates to produce the necessary document. Working with ContractExpress and our master contract, I was able to generate multiple drafts very quickly. I probably saved myself a day of work. Being an international business, we are also able to be more efficient when we need different contracts for different nations. Now the request for a contract can come to us here in New York, and we can efficiently generate a contract for our office in Hong Kong and vice versa.

Editor: How do you ensure that something doesn't slip under the radar?

Gray: Because only legal is using the system right now, we know what is in the contracts. Obviously, making sure that only authorized changes are made to the contracts is a concern to address before the business staff begins to use the system. The business staff will only receive a pdf, and there is not much change that can be made to a locked pdf. In addition, we are designing workflows so that any non-standard language is sent to the appropriate legal approver. So, the protection is built in to ensure that nothing slips under the radar.

Editor: Can you describe how the existing workflow for the business side will be affected?

Gray: Currently, the business staff is able to generate their own contracts using our proprietary system. Those are standard templates, which are older versions of our contracts. In the event a client needs a more customized contract, the business staff is required to come to legal. Once we update all the current business contracts, we want the business side to use ContractExpress both for the standard contracts that they normally would have generated using our proprietary system and for customized contracts. So instead of having to go to the legal department to adjust a number in a contract, they could do that on their own by using ContractExpress. We want to give the business side as much ability to create contracts as possible so they don't have to wait for legal. This is a business that needs to be very responsive to its customers, and the ContractExpress system should make a difference.

Editor: Will you modify the master agreement on a regular basis or on an as needed basis?

Gray: We are modifying it more regularly now because we are getting everything up and running. I am reviewing the questionnaire, which is an integral part of the system. Eventually we will not need to give this process the same amount of attention, but right now we want to ensure that we get the process off and running as efficiently as possible.

Editor: How about the business staff? Are they looking forward to it?

Gray: The business staff is definitely aware of ContractExpress, and a number of people are asking when it is coming out. We have asked some advanced business users to test the system. They thought it was a very good concept, but we want to focus on how to integrate it into our other systems. It is important to have a seamless process. We don't want the business side to use one system and then somehow have to get the information from that one system to another separate system. The more times you have dual or triple entries, the more times there are opportunities for mistakes. Once the whole process is integrated, we will roll it out. I know that the business staff will be very excited about not having to wait for legal to make basic changes to contracts.

Editor: I understand that ContractExpress for SharePoint is a much more robust system than DealBuilder, the prior version. What kinds of improvements have you found particularly useful?

Gray: At my prior company, we created a hugely customized version of DealBuilder, so I am not really comparing apples to apples. Having said that, I do see some nice advances, especially in the workflow area. For example, there are times when a document needs to go to a group of people, and there are others times when it just needs to go to one person. Previously, the system only permitted certain documents to go to an entire group. Allowing people to have the option to send it to an entire group or to just one person is a very nice improvement.

Editor: You mentioned significant time savings. Is the value of the time saved equal to or greater than the cost of the software?

Gray: Yes. In addition to the time savings, there is a valuable qualitative factor. I work for a business that moves very quickly. In other companies, if you have reached a deal with a corporate client, they are not going to change their minds or take another route if it has been approved by all the relevant committees. When you are working in a business whose clients are individuals, it is very different. We need to be very focused on how to get things done efficiently in order to make the individual happy. It is key to have tools that help you get your projects done very quickly. If you are working in a business that has clients selling across multijurisdictions, we now can draft the necessary contracts very efficiently. The ability to do that is well worth the cost.

Editor: Is there anything that you would like to add as a closing comment?

Gray: This is the second time that I have used Business Integrity's contract management software, and it is a great system. It is good for lawyers to embrace technology. A lot of lawyers are still using pen and paper, and they don't feel comfortable with new technology. However, as businesses and law firms start adopting these systems, they actually will find out how much more efficient the process can be.

Please email the interviewee at kgray@christies.com with questions about this interview.