Today we continue our monthly feature, “Upfront & Personal”, on the Legal Executive Institute blog. The column, created by Rose Ors, brings “the person behind the title” to the forefront in interviews with some of the most influential members of the legal community.
Connie Brenton, Chairman of the Board of the Corporate Legal Operations Consortium (CLOC) and Senior Director of Legal Operations at NetApp, Inc., spoke recently with Ms. Ors, the CEO and Founder of ClientSmart, about defining life moments, strong working relationships, and why CLOC is so popular.
Rose Ors: What is a childhood memory that brings you joy?
Connie Brenton: My father and mother — both fearless — loved to take my sisters and me on trips to out-of-the-way places. They wanted us to experience different cultures and develop a big-picture view of the world. One of these spots was Zihuatanejo, at the time a sleepy fishing village in Mexico. I was 10 years old and, decades later, still recall the exhilaration I felt when our tiny airplane landed on that dirt runway. The trip was not only a spectacular adventure, but one that made the most profound impression. I return to Zihuatanejo often; it’s my happy place.
Rose Ors: What life moments have defined you?
Connie Brenton: There are three life moments that have defined me. Becoming a mother, my father’s passing, and CLOC.
The moment I became a mother everything changed for me. I had been elated when I learned I was pregnant, but nothing prepared me for the bond I felt when each of my sons was born. Each time was a miracle.
Rose Ors: And your father?
Connie Brenton: My father was a pretty spectacular human being, and he was spectacular to me as a father and a friend. There was just always a sincere interest from him about what I was doing or feeling. And our interests were so similar — he could get inside my head, and I could get inside his head.
He died in 1999 and the loss for me feels like yesterday. He was skiing in Vail when he had a heart attack and died on the mountain. I was at home hosting a birthday party for one of my sons and didn’t have the opportunity to say goodbye. His death taught me about grief and the process of healing. I learned that I could experience unbearable pain and get through it. The lessons I learned during this time have made me a far more grounded and grateful person. It has made me more connected to my family and more spiritual.
Rose Ors: Your father would have been over the moon over CLOC’s success.
Connie Brenton: My father would be thrilled because he would know that CLOC has everything I love — people, business, collaboration, disruption, team-building. He would know that every aspect of creating CLOC — from building our LinkedIn profile to organizing our conference in Las Vegas last year — 2,500 attendees! — is an act of love for me. He would know what a gift it is for me to be part of this change movement.
Rose Ors: Why has CLOC resonated for so many, so quickly?
Connie Brenton: Every person who accepts a role in legal operations takes on the mantel of change. It’s a difficult journey. It is often a lonely one, too. CLOC provides a unified direction and voice to those in legal operations. CLOC is a community that champions change, acknowledges the courage it takes to make change happen, and supports its members as people and professionals. When we’re all together it’s comforting and validating.
We feel comfortable asking for help, sharing our challenges, discussing our failures, and celebrating our wins. CLOC provides the place where we have the opportunity to take a breath, recharge, and then go back out and keep changing the world together.
Rose Ors: What is a significant moment in your career?
Connie Brenton: Hands down, it’s meeting and working with Matt Fawcett [NetApp General Counsel]. When we met, we clicked, and we continue to click even though we think about things differently. Matt’s a big thinker. Many more times than I can count, I’ve walked into his office, and said, “What do you think about X?” And his response won’t even be close to what I had contemplated. His approach always shines a light on an entirely new path. A path that is not simply one I think, “Oh, that would be a little bit better.” Invariably, it’s dramatically better.
CLOC is a community that champions change, acknowledges the courage it takes to make change happen, and supports its members as people and professionals. When we’re all together it’s comforting and validating.
Rose Ors: That’s a good segue to my next question. What do you find most personally rewarding about your work?
Connie Brenton: It’s based on the relationship I have with Matt. Matt trusts and empowers me. When you’re trusted and empowered, you can accomplish the impossible. You can make mistakes, learn from those mistakes, get back up, and keep moving forward. Also, when you are trusted and empowered, you feel confident enough to share your mistakes with others, so that everybody can learn from them together. It creates an atmosphere where you can try new ways of doing things. I’m a disruptor and Matt gives me the permission and support to re-think right.
Rose Ors: I find that when I am at CLOC, when I speak to you, when I speak to other members of the leadership team, there’s a creative process that’s happening. Am I right about that?
Connie Brenton: You’re right. It’s one of the reasons CLOC is growing so rapidly. CLOC is about harnessing the creative process to bring about much needed change. The more you create and see the positive results, the more confident you are in your ability to make a difference.
At CLOC we get encouragement and energy from one another. The legal ops role requires new thinking, and new thinking spurs creativity — the kind of creativity that requires connection with others to work. It’s not a role where you sit in your cube or in your office and do heads-down work. This works because we’re talking to one another, and we’re connecting, and innovating — creating together. The more you create and see the positive results, the more confident you are in your ability to make a difference.
Rose Ors: Now to the “what if” question. What person, living or dead, would you be thrilled to have over for dinner?
Connie Brenton: I’d love to have both Oprah Winfrey and Deepak Chopra over for dinner. They’re both spectacular in their own right. I admire that each of them has a very deep spiritual center from which all the rest of their work emanates. It would be fascinating to be in their presence. I would learn so much.
Rose Ors: What advice would you give a newly appointed Legal Ops leader?
Connie Brenton: Take a leadership role in the legal ops community. When you get beaten up and tired, look to the community for revitalization and support. And execute for heaven sakes. We have a reputation to uphold (chuckle).
The interview has been edited and condensed by Rose Ors.