Consultant Spotlight - Sarah Treacy

About Sarah Treacy

Sarah Treacy obtained a first-class honours in the LLB in Irish Law from Dublin Business School. She later completed the Barrister-at-Law degree at the King’s Inns and entered practice as a barrister in 2015. All her legal studies were completed part-time, while during the day she worked in a range of legal and executive roles both in private practice and in-house.

Sarah practiced at the bar for several years in diverse including EU & competition law, commercial litigation, intellectual property, immigration law, administrative law and employment law. In 2018 she moved in-house to focus entirely on contentious employment matters. She subsequently moved to an Irish retailer as Head of Legal.

She joined Johnson Hana in July 2022 and has been involved with a number of projects for clients in the SaaS, professional services and logistics spaces. 

What drew you to working with Johnson Hana?

I qualified as a barrister in 2015. It was my second career, after having spent the previous decade or so as an actor. So it was a big change!

After qualifying I worked at the bar for about two and half years, but never really loved the culture and lack of stability or structure. So the next move for me was in-house, with a business and HR consultancy firm. There I was exclusively doing employment litigation for about a year and a half, and this was followed by a move to an Irish retail chain, which I joined as Director of Legal. That was a much more broad role that involved setting up a department dealing with a range of contracts, leases, and litigation.

It was at this point that I became aware of Johnson Hana. And I have to say, it’s been ideal.

I have a toddler, so the flexibility to manage my own hours around the various summer camps, drop-offs, and collections is great. I structure my day to extend the mornings and work later in the evenings, so that I can build in gaps in my day as needed.

Also, on the career side, it’s given me fantastic exposure to a range of different clients, as well as different types of work, across different sectors. Which is all incredible experience.

How have you found the experience of working for clients as a Johnson Hana Consultant?

The set-up varies widely across different clients. With some you’ll be imbedded into a close-knit legal team, with others you’ll work more as an external consultant. It really all depends on the company, the structure, and what’s needed for the work at hand. And there is real value to both ways of working, but I have to say that I really feel supported by Johnson Hana, regardless of the structure and set-up.

There are regular check-in calls, and any time there have been any issues, or queries, or leave requests required, Johnson Hana has been really responsive and made sure everything goes smoothly, for me and the for the client.

As you had qualified and practiced as a barrister, did the move in-house and to more generalist roles require a change of approach?

As in-house counsel it’s been much more blended, with solicitors on my team, but we’ve really done everything. So this involved drafting and barristerial-type work, as well as more general back-office work, but also the strategic and set-up work, so it really has been a bit of everything.

Considering how varied your background has been, studying for a physics degree, before working in the dramatic arts, have either of these influenced how you approach legal work?

That’s an interesting question, and I’d say they definitely have. In fact, I’d say that I find the law to be quite mathematical. As in, the rules are, if a and b are the case then c must follow. So that’s generally how I approach the work, I want to work out what are the a and the b, or what rules have to be followed in order to get the outcome, or what does this set of facts mean, legally?

So that’s certainly influenced me, both in terms of approaching the law and also in terms of how a department should be structured, or how a department should be managed. I like to put things in clear categories.

Interestingly, lots of people think that there would be lots of cross-over between barristerial work and acting, because you’re on your feet and you’re making your case, but I’ve found them completely different. As an actor, you’re given lines, you learn your bit, but then you’re free in terms of how you express it and you know in advance exactly what’s going to happen. As a barrister, it’s the other way around, you learn your bit – what your client wants to say and what the law says – but you don’t know what’s going to change along the way, or what’s going to happen on the day, there is a specific way to present your ‘bit’, and the goal is obviously to persuade, rather than entertain (which is a much broader remit that persuasion).

I understand that you’re currently working across a couple of different CLM (contract lifecycle management) implementation projects, how are they going?

For Udemy, I’m the “in-client” project manager, whereas Keith [Blizzard, Legal Solutions Director at Johnson Hana] is the overall project manager from Johnson Hana.

When I was brought on board with Udemy, it had solid contracting and CLM processes in place, and the project scope was to improve, scale and optimize efficiencies. The Johnson Hana team was working out: what are our goals; how do we want to achieve them; how much do we want to spend? And we were then working backwards to put in place the tech, the people, and the processes, for that to happen most efficiently.

The second project is for a large IT services consulting firm, and that project is just at the starting phase. So that has involved reviewing all their contracts to work out where the risks are and where they have favourable terms and where they have unfavourable terms. So it’s quite an administrative project in the early phase. Although I enjoy that too. I enjoy getting into the detail, and I think the pay-off at the end will give the client some much-needed clarity.

Is there any difference in the objectives between these two projects? Or any difference in how you see them being managed?

Yes, they’re both coming from very different places. For Udemy, they have a reasonably mature process in place, that just needs tweaking, tidying, and tuning, to make it more efficient overall.

With the IT consulting firm, the project is starting from a much earlier phase, to put shape and structure around a range of services that have expanded very quickly, and need to be wrangled into order.

That project involves aligning the different contracts (clients, partners, suppliers, etc) to the different business lines. So there is significant effort in understanding what is contained in each of those contracts at present and then building the processes largely from scratch, in order to move away from silos and towards a more cohesive, comprehensive contract lifecycle management process for the business overall.

In conjunction with this large-scale project, there are smaller, departmental CLM projects ongoing to bring about greater efficiencies, and help the legal and commercial sides of the business work together more effectively.

In comparison, how would you describe the CLM project with Udemy?

With Udemy it’s far more a process of fine-tuning. As I work across their BAU [business-as-usual] contracting work as well, I can see that they already run a pretty tight ship. But there are always improvements to be made, and that’s what their CLM project is about.

There the objectives are focused on efficiency increases and time reductions. Effectively they want to be able to turn contracts around quicker without compromising on quality or risk.

For example, one of the ways this is being achieved is to identify the most common hurdles and objections, and add to an escalation playbook so the steps to resolution can be cycled through far quicker.

On that topic, I understand there is also a significant playbook creation element to your role with both clients at the moment. Are there also differences here?

Yes, very much so. Well, for both clients I also lead contract negotiations, so I’m referring to (and building) the playbook as we going along with both. However, again, there are vast differences across the two clients.

For Udemy, they already have an extensive playbook which makes negotiations much more straightforward. It details exactly what the company wants, exactly where their boundaries are, and there are clearly defined paths for approvals and escalations. So there, again, the work was to improve on what was already in place, both in terms of language, changes in risk perception, changes in regulation or case law, and so on.

So with Udemy I was collecting all this information I was going along and feeding it back to Keith [at Johnson Hana] who is building and amending the playbook in conjunction with the client.

So, how did this differ with the other client?

With the IT consulting firm, the process is very different, as they are aiming to transform the way they structure their legal process and negotiations. So, again, you’re building something from scratch really.

What it means is that, at present, the negotiation of contracts is comparatively far more time consuming. But you’re getting the opportunity to build something from scratch, and that requires far more input from a range of different business stakeholders within the client. To identify where the boundaries are, and ensure that everybody is comfortable with them.

The other difference is the type and scale of the contracts between the two clients. Udemy does high volume SaaS (software-as-a-service) contracts, typically around five-pages, very straightforward.

The other client, the contracts are much longer and more comprehensive (typically in the range of 20-100 pages) and SOWs are attached, which adds complexity — a lot of their clients are also heavily regulated, so there’s not much wriggle room to negotiate terms. So it’s just overall a lot more complex. And because of how the company has evolved over the past years and has grown, there’s extra work in establishing reporting lines, and paths for approval. The net result of all of these though, is that at the end of the project the impact will be massive, and they will see huge efficiencies.

How have you found cross-functional collaboration, has this also varied between the two clients, likewise how have you found the experience of being an “external” Johnson Hana consultant?

The cross-functional collaboration side is interesting, because in both businesses I just “appear” to other departments in the business as though I’m permanent there, I’m set up with an email address from each, for example. So I’m not sure whether I’d be perceived by them as external, which is helpful. Either way I’ve certainly never had any issues working cross-functionally with either client.

One of the benefits I’ve found though, of being a Johnson Hana consultant, is that because you’re not really a part of the internal hierarchy, you can be much more effective. You can be frank and get things done, without the perception that you’re a threat to anybody’s position. In other words, side-stepping any office politics leaves you free to focus on the objectives.

Going further, as a consultant you can really become a consigliere for the business leader. Both because you’re a step removed from the process and they don’t have to filter what they’re saying to you. You benefit from being at the coalface of the work, you can see how all the moving parts are fitting together, and where hold-ups might be, but you’re detached from it enough that you don’t have any loyalty to anything other than achieving the desired outcome.

So it sounds like, for both clients, the roles are varied and interesting. So do you have a typical day? If so, what does that look like?

The short answer is no, but it depends on what phase of the project we are at. I can structure my hours so that there’s a degree of routine, and I balance that between what the client needs and my own life, but the work itself is always varied and interesting.

Without trying to put words in the clients’ mouths, what would you perceive as the benefit for clients of working with Johnson Hana?

I think that, certainly in both of the clients I’m currently working for, there is significant benefit to having someone that’s outside of their internal team. Someone that doesn’t have to be managed as part of the team, and can offer unclouded insights, is a real asset.

But at the same time I, as that resource, can be completely flexible, muck-in at any time as needed across any section, or on any project. The other benefit is getting someone who is already skilled, and can get up the curve quickly and hit the ground running. That extra training time isn’t required.

So, overall, it’s (a) quick to set up; it’s (b) expert assistance, it’s (c) able to be rolled-on or off, as needed; and (d) you’re at arm’s length, which carries all the benefits I mentioned earlier.

What are the key differentiators, in your opinion, between working in private practice vs in-house vs as a consultant for Johnson Hana?

Well I would say that the key differentiator between private practice and in-house is the commercial awareness that an in-house lawyer has to have, whereas a private practice lawyer might not, necessarily.

Working as a consultant for Johnson Hana, you’re certainly minded to have that commercial awareness, as that’s always at the heart of the objectives you’re trying to achieve. Yes, you’re working to sometimes very tight regulations, but you have clearly defined business objectives to work towards.

I’d say it’s also bolstered by the Johnson Hana support. You have the help of the back-office, you have certainty around when you’ll be paid for your hours, so you have that extra confidence to simply focus on the task at hand. I’d say it’s a brilliant model! Hopefully the first of many disruptions to the legal market in Ireland!!

Looking at it as a quality-of-life issue, if you look at the legal industry as a whole, yes you’re paid well, but you’re having to work long and completely inflexible hours to earn that pay cheque. You’re working till 4am then coming back in at 6am.

In equivalent roles in other industries, take tech for example, the work is equally strenuous but your benefits packages and flexibility are considerably better. So the net result is that the legal industry isn’t as rewarding to work in, when you consider it as a whole package.

Overall, though, this is what Johnson Hana is changing, for the better.

Please note: The above is a transcript of a conversation between Sarah Treacy, Consultant, and John Champion of Johnson Hana. There have been some minor edits to improve clarity.

About Johnson Hana

Johnson Hana is Ireland’s leading alternative legal solutions provider. That means we disaggregate legal advisory and legal process work, and focus on the latter.

We offer:

Legal Process Outsourcing – whereby a specific legal process is carved out and outsourced to us

Legal Process Secondments – to augment a busy legal team or fulfil a temporary requirement for an experienced legal professional.

Historically, legal advisory and legal process work were tackled and billed in the same way. This means that all legal work has been as costly and time consuming as legal advice.

It doesn’t need to be.

We deliver legal process work through a combination of innovative legal technologies, robust project management methodologies, and expert lawyers. This approach reduces client legal spend by over 50%, while also providing totally transparent reporting and billing. This leaves our clients free to focus on the strategic, advisory work that really adds value.

Want to know more?