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David Curtain

David Curtain is an esteemed lawyer and legal operations expert with a rich 22-year career, marked by a significant tenure as a Senior Associate at DLA Piper before moving in-house. As a seasoned Head of Legal, he has adeptly navigated some of the largest companies in the world through complex legal challenges, specializing in transforming legal teams to improve their efficiency and satisfaction. David founded Front Foot Law to enhance 'non-legal' operations, emphasizing collaboration, work enjoyment, and work-life balance. A respected voice in the legal community, he regularly shares his expertise on legal operations and innovative practices at industry events and law schools, dedicating his career to empowering legal teams to overcome operational hurdles for more effective performance.

Can you tell us about your experience working as a senior in-house lawyer and how it influenced your perspective on legal operations?

Across 13 years in various in-house roles, I experienced all the usual challenges that impact legal teams, such as poor processes, misalignment between Legal and clients and stressed-out team members.

Moving into more senior roles gave me a clearer view of just how widespread these issues are and the problems they create, including poor customer outcomes and regulatory compliance issues. These issues also make a lot of lawyers unhappy in their work.

After more than a decade of watching Legal teams face the same problems, I decided to focus on helping Legal teams solve these problems.

How did you transition from working in traditional legal roles to dedicating your career to helping in-house legal teams manage non-legal operational problems?

While working in-house, I began searching for people and information to help me learn new skills. I followed experts on LinkedIn, attended meetups, watched webinars, and became involved in the Australian branch of CLOC. This was the first time in my career I’d experienced GCs talking openly with each other about the common problems they faced. That was a turning point in my career.

I started to connect with people active in the legal ops and tech space. I studied technology, UX and a Lean Six Sigma qualification. After two years of building my expertise and networks, I set up Front Foot Law.

How did technology and UX tie into your work as a lawyer?

I learned how to work with technology and manage legal service delivery as a process that can be continuously improved. I also learned how to identify the most important needs and challenges impacting legal teams and clients. These skills have been essential to implement practical solutions that deliver tangible and sustainable improvements to both legal teams and clients. They also help avoid common pitfalls that can arise when people make changes without sufficiently focusing on these issues.

As an active mentor, what qualities do you believe are essential for a successful in-house legal professional, and how do you encourage those qualities in your mentees?

Communication and analytical skills are critical. As you become more senior, the issues become tougher. You need to be able to navigate uncertainty and work collaboratively with your team and clients to identify and formulate workable solutions to the most pressing issues.

As a senior lawyer, you don’t need to find every solution, but you do need to have a firm grasp of your organization’s core goals and operations and find efficient ways to address the most important needs.

It’s essential to be someone who’s comfortable with solutions that are ‘less than perfect’ because of the pace of most businesses. You must be pragmatic, good at prioritizing and adaptable to ever-changing circumstances.

I also believe it’s essential to continuously upskill and monitor new ways of working in areas such as leadership and managing people.

Could you walk us through the development of Front Foot Academy and how it addresses the challenges faced by in-house legal teams?

There’s a lot of information about legal operations on places like LinkedIn, but most of it lacks the detail or structure that allows people to apply these principles to their own work.

Many of the few courses available are very expensive, require extensive time away from the office and are more academic than practical.

That’s why I created Front Foot Academy. It’s an on-demand course that targets the specific needs of in-house legal professionals. It runs through 10 key areas identified as priorities by GCs and provides step-by-step frameworks that can be applied easily to daily work.

The course is also supported by an online community, live Q&A sessions and optional group or one-on-one coaching sessions.

Outside of your professional career, what are some of your hobbies and interests, and how do they influence your approach to work and life balance?

I love snowboarding. Living in Australia, I envy your access in the US to amazing snowfields! I’m constantly listening to music – we have just started including playlists in our new Foot Notes newsletter, along with invitations to events and tips. I’m a keen runner, which helps me keep up with my three boys and keep life (somewhat) balanced overall.


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