UPFRONT & PERSONAL: A Discussion with Mary O’Carroll, Head of Legal Operations at Google

Topics: Client Relations, Corporate Legal, Efficiency, Q&A Interviews, Talent Development, Upfront & Personal, Women’s Leadership Interviews & White Papers


Today we continue our new feature on the Legal Executive Institute blog, “Upfront & Personal.” 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.

Mary O’Carroll, Head of Legal Operations at Google, spoke recently with Rose Ors, the CEO and Founder of ClientSmart, about the significance of now, the importance of the CLOC movement and how she’d spend the perfect day.

Rose Ors: What life event has defined you?

Mary O’Carroll: I was born in San Francisco, and, when I was five, we moved to Hong Kong where my parents had lived before. We spent summers in the Bay Area and moved back permanently when I was nine. The experience of living in Hong Kong was profound. I still look at Hong Kong as my home. San Francisco is also my home. I have two cultures. It’s a privilege to have two places that when you get off a plane you feel, “Ah, I’m home.” I wish I could offer such a duality to my children. It’s a very rich experience.

Rose Ors: How has this duality influenced your view of the world?

Mary O’Carroll: I think it has made me more open-minded. Just knowing that there is no one way of living or feeling or thinking. There is no single viewpoint or single experience. Everyone experiences something very basic in different ways. I appreciate and respect this diversity. This is one of the gifts my parents gave me that I will forever cherish.

Rose Ors: What has been the most significant time in your career?

Mary O’Carroll: I feel like it’s right now. Working in legal while the entire industry is changing is a phenomenally rare opportunity to help shape the future. Legal operations work is playing an integral role in changing the delivery of legal services. I am passionate about the legal operations work I do at Google. I’m excited to come to work because it’s work that really matters to the legal department and to the company. As part of the leadership team at CLOC [the Corporate Legal Operations Consortium], I work tirelessly with my colleagues to establish the role of legal operations as an integral part of legal departments. It’s work that matters to the legal industry.

In both my roles at Google and at CLOC, I feel I’m part of something that is redefining the way legal services are delivered and valued. It’s rebuilding an entire industry. It’s a movement that every day is gaining momentum. My role in this movement is one that is all consuming. I’m all in.

Rose Ors: Why is CLOC such an important movement?

Mary O’Carroll: CLOC is a movement whose time is now. The emergence of CLOC has spawned a new career path for people with impressive backgrounds who are excited about making a difference. It’s a role that not too long ago did not exist. I was talking to some people yesterday who work in legal technology and they asked me, “Why do you think there is so much buzz about legal technology and legal operations lately?”

I said to them, “There is no other place where you can say that the work you’re doing is actually going to change the direction of an industry.” That’s a pretty big statement, and it’s true.

Upfront & Personal

Mary O’Carroll, Head of Legal Operations at Google

Not too long ago I had to convince people to join our legal operations team at Google. I would tell them, “Just trust me, I know that when you do a Google search you can’t find anything on what this is, and you don’t know anyone else in the world who does this, but it’s really exciting, it’s really fun.” People would just stare at me and be like, “Well how soon can I transfer out to another part of the company?” Fast forward to today where if I put out a job description I am flooded with emails.

Someone I worked with in the past, who now is also in legal operations, made an interesting comment. He said, “It’s better to invent a job than to find a job.” He said that what we are doing at CLOC is allowing him and hundreds of others to create a role for themselves that’s exciting. That was extremely gratifying for me to hear.

Rose Ors: How did you find this opportunity at Google?

Mary O’Carroll: It found me. I got a call from Google saying, “We understand you do legal operations at Orrick [Herrington & Sutcliffe], can you do that here?” I wasn’t interested at first because I didn’t realize what a great opportunity it was. But they kept asking. I eventually came in and started meeting with people. Once I met the people, I was hooked. The people here are dynamic and brilliant and fun. They are also innovative. What attracted me to both Orrick and Google was this culture of innovation. You don’t find it everywhere.

Rose Ors: What career advice would you give your 20-year-old self today?

Mary O’Carroll: Focus on your strengths. Find something that plays to those strengths. I think that we spend a lot of time focusing on how to get better at stuff that we find challenging. While it’s important to work on your areas of improvement, when you’re good at something you should do work that aligns with that. What you do has to give you energy. You will do your most important and best work when what you do plays to your strengths.

Rose Ors: What’s a perfect day look like?

Mary O’Carroll: Being surrounded by friends and family and lots of food and wine. I have three incredible little girls who bring me so much happiness. I’m also an extreme extrovert. I love being surrounded by people from different backgrounds and different parts of my life. I love connecting them to one another. It’s very energizing and it’s also terrific fun.

Rose Ors: In another life, what would be a career you would find exciting to pursue?

Mary O’Carroll: It’s a tie between a home fixer-upper and an event planner. While they seem completely different, they have a lot of similarities. Both are project-centric and have a definite start and a definite finish — and then it’s off to the next project. Both require a team coming together and working really hard on a common goal, and then celebrating the results of that joint effort. It’s great feeling, that energy. I crave it.

I’m fortunate that it’s an energy I get from what I do at Google and at CLOC. Both roles are very initiative- and project-oriented. I’m very fortunate to do what I do.

Rose Ors: What advice would you give a newly appointed head of legal operations?

Mary O’Carroll: Hire people that are smarter than you, always. It’s what I do at Google. It’s an approach that leads to excellence.

The interview has been edited and condensed by Rose Ors.