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Q&A with the EIC: How Mark Roellig Accelerated His Career with Technology

Below is the second part in a two-part Q&A series from our interview with Mark Roellig, chief technology and administrative officer of MassMutual. In the final half of the interview, ACC Docket Editor in Chief Tiffani Alexander asks Mark about how his career has evolved in tandem with technology.

Read the first part of his interview here. For more of Mark's career advice, read his essay "Lessons Learned Over My 45 Years of Working."

The evolution of a career

Mark RoelligACC: Speaking of your new opportunity at MassMutual, tell us a little about your current role as chief technology and administrative officer.
Mark: The way it came about, I was having a conversation with our CEO, Roger Crandall, about what I’ve done here and what my future is at MassMutual. I have been general counsel for a little over 11 years here, and my view is that I’ve developed several strong potential successors and have probably done all I can do in the legal space. It’s time for somebody with new perspectives to take that role and the department to the next level. Probably a week or so after that conversation, he came back to me and said, “Mark, I think I might have an opportunity for you that may challenge you a little, and add value to the business — would you be interested?” I said, “Yes.” I think change is good, and I think that being in new positions is good for both the enterprise and the individual.

ACC: How has your role as general counsel prepared you for your new position?
Mark: There are a few key things that are of value to me, having been general counsel at four companies now, and doing so for approximately 20 years: Leadership skills is number one; number two, business skills; and lastly, having the strategic skills to understand where the enterprise is going. Therefore, whatever organization I’m responsible for — whether it’s law, or the administrative or technology teams — the question is how do I ensure that we are using that organization to advance the business strategy? Those three are the key skills I’ve picked up along the way. If you asked me my core competencies now, I would not say being a technical lawyer. Today, I would say my core competency is that I know how to lead large administrative and service organizations that are aligned with — and can advance — the business.

ACC: With that in mind, what about this new position excites you the most? And on the flipside, what’s causing a little bit of angst or anxiety?
Mark: There are two sides to the same point: What excites me the most, and it’s the reason why when I talked to my CEO I was happy and excited to do this, is that I very much like to learn. I like to be in areas where, hopefully, I can be innovative, creative, bring a new perspective, and add significant value. Being in new areas and being uncomfortable causes me to learn, think, and be on my edge.

Having said that, the flipside is that I’m uncomfortable. I go home and I worry that perhaps I don’t quite know enough about what I’m doing. I’m in an area in which I don’t have great expertise, and I don’t know all the players. So there is not a slight degree of discomfort; there’s a significant degree of discomfort! I’ll be honest: I don’t sleep anywhere near as well at night as I did probably six months ago. But that’s a good thing, as the very thing that is creating the discomfort, causes the excitement and for me to operate at my best.

ACC: You spoke about leading teams. How is your new team helping you in your current role and vice versa?
Mark: It’s all about the team. I start with my direct reports, and then I meet with others in the organization. I am stretching them to tell me what to do, as compared to me telling them what to do. I need their help and support.

"One of my mantras is never skimp on technology or education." 

ACC: I think that’s a testament to your leadership skills.
Mark: I’ll be honest with you; my job is rather basic. I really only do four things:

  1. It’s all about the people on the team. I find the right people and put them in the right positions.
  2. I help create the objectives for the organization. I can do that because I am involved in the meetings with our board of directors. I sit with my CEO. I sit with my peers in the business, and then I sit with my teams and business partners that have technical expertise, and then working together, we create our strategy and objectives.
  3. I help the team get there, whether it is giving them resources or access to the appropriate people. One of my mantras is never skimp on technology or education. If you are asking your team to do a lot, you must provide them with the tools to be successful.
  4. I reward, recognize, and promote those that get it done. And on the flipside, if somebody isn’t getting it done, I try to help get them there. If they don’t get there, I have the fortitude to make the changes.
And that’s all I do — pretty simple.

ACC: It sounds like a lot to me! Is it a true assessment that you hope to help create leaders in your new role? What other impact do you hope to have?
Mark: At the end of the day, people compensate me for one thing: to add significant positive value to those who have entrusted their valuable assets in me. Our purpose here at MassMutual is to help people secure their future and protect the ones they love. Hopefully, I will be able to do that through this new role. Then to dive down a little bit deeper, you’re absolutely right: I plan to build a team that is in my view the best in Corporate America. I hope that we will be strategic and business-focused, and therefore, really be winners and leaders, and add value to the business and to our policyowners.

Technology and the legal department

ACC: Per your new technology-focused position, what trends in technology should in-house counsel be aware of?
Mark: When I started out, knowledge, and especially legal knowledge, provided competitive advantages. Today, knowledge and information is at our fingertips on multiple devices at any location. It’s the application of the knowledge and it’s the judgment we use around the information that is really critical.

Another trend is that non-lawyers are doing more of the routine, non-judgment, or non-critical legal work. For example, you and I can go to site like LegalZoom and do our own will, and our in-house clients can use our resources without us. Whether it’s forms for contracts available on the Net, or how we deal with routine matters like creating a nondisclosure agreement — our clients can pick them up and customize and revise them as appropriate for their business. All of that has been done through technology. And, we’re also using more non-lawyer professionals. As a result, lawyers, to really add value, must be adept at analyzing the issues and add high-level judgment to the facts, as compared to doing the grinding research or writing of all the contracts from scratch.

"As a result, lawyers, to really add value, must be adept at analyzing the issues and add high-level judgment to the facts, as compared to doing the grinding research or writing of all the contracts from scratch."

Lastly, I’d again mention “Uberization.” We’re going to have flexibility in the law where I may need two lawyers one day, and 35 the next. Meaning, we’ll have lawyers available with different unique areas of expertise as needed in Corporate America, working remotely and on different flexible schedules — we’ll see more of a plug-and-play scenario. This should also advance diversity.

ACC: What about everyone’s favorite topic, data? What trends do you see in that area?
Mark: That leads to the next point I’d raise — transparency. Because data is available, there will be transparency in the cost and quality of various legal services. I will know the expertise and quality of a particular lawyer in a certain jurisdiction, what that lawyer should cost, and what other firms are paying for that lawyer.

Likewise, as we look at things that are somewhat routine — and again, using big data — we’ll be able to determine the cost of that without hourly billing. We do not want to buy hours — we want to buy results. For example, a firm that does 2,000 or more transactions a year, versus the perhaps two I do a year, will be able to determine the drivers of cost in a transaction, and ask me, “Mark, is that a public company you’re buying?” “Is it a $10 billion or a $10 million company?” “How big is the data room and are there going to be regulatory requirements?” They’re going to be able to tell me, based on some multiple regression equation, what that should cost, because they’re going to have the data. Over time all of us will have the data. Therefore, fixed fees will become more possible based upon rational data. This will drive efficiency and reduce cost and we will focus on the results.

"We want diversity. We demand diversity. And, you know what? We’re going to have visibility around it, buy it, and get it."

Lastly, in Corporate America in particular, we need to continue to value diversity. We want diversity. We demand diversity. And, you know what? We’re going to have visibility around it, buy it, and get it. We’re going to know whether the law firms we’re using are diverse. We’re going to know whether the attorneys from those law firms we are using are diverse, and are diverse at the right levels. Not just associates, not just rotating associates, but at the equity partner and the managing partner levels. And we’re going to make buying decisions based upon that. And when choosing an in-house position, attorneys will be able to see how that law group is structured and are women and other diverse attorneys successful. It’s a brave new transparent world for the in-house group and for the general counsel.

ACC: There can be some reluctance on the part of attorneys to embrace the technology that would allow access to the types of data you just spoke about. Tools like e-signatures, for example are more commonplace, while artificial intelligence (AI) tools are not as commonly utilized. The Docket’s March cover article discusses AI’s potential impact on in-house practice and asserts that legal departments should embrace it. Do you agree, and if so how can those who lead the charge get others onboard?
Mark: Yes. We need to deal with it. You’ve got to be receptive to ongoing change and new approaches. For example, take the Lean Six Sigma approach, which at MassMutual we call the MassMutual Way. Some people think you can’t use Six Sigma in a law department. But of course you can. It’s all about continuous improvement, regular and frequent coaching and development, standardizing and improving processes, taking out waste, being more efficient, collaborating, working as a team, empowering your people, communicating with one another, and having visible performance. These are all skills you learn through Six Sigma or a Lean process, and they fully apply to the law department.

Advice and parting words

ACC: What advice do you have for in-house attorneys looking to land a general counsel position, or transition to other positions outside of the legal department?
Mark: The first thing they can do is to refer to ACC materials. I wrote an article in the January-February 2012 ACC Docket, “So You Want to Be a General Counsel? How to Maximize Your Chances.” Again, I would say there are legal areas of expertise that are valuable to have, as well as those non-legal areas. The non-legal area includes Business 101, really understanding your company’s business; being strategic; having those leadership and nontechnical skills; interpersonal skills that are really critical; and importantly, being able to work with and develop people and teams is essential.

Then when you flip over to the legal skills, to be successful, I would advise you to be involved with the legal area that’s the business of the business. Among the most important attorneys at MassMutual are the insurance attorneys — that’s the business we’re in. Being a litigator of MassMutual is interesting. Being a human resources or an employment attorney at MassMutual is interesting. And they are valuable and important to us. But we don’t make our money litigating or dealing with the just employment issues. Therefore, you want to get involved in the legal issues of the business because that’s where you really add value. Of course, if you want to be a general counsel, at some point you’ve got to understand issues around corporate law, securities, and governance. My successor, Mike O’Connor, our new general counsel at MassMutual, is a Wharton business school grad and is the perfect example of this.

ACC: Parting words of advice?
Mark: People ask me that. And I give a non-legal answer, because it is the most important. And that is: your time is really your most valuable and limited resource that you can’t buy, reverse, accelerate, or stop. How and with whom you spend this resource reflects who you are as a person and what you value. You ought to think about how you spend your time. If you’re spending too much time working or in work you don’t enjoy and not spending enough time with those you enjoy being around or your family, you have to potentially question if that’s the way you should spend your time.

One last closing thought: I’ve been involved in various initiatives as general counsel, including as co-chair of Paulette Brown’s Diversity 360 Commission at the ABA. I believe that will be absolutely critical to the success of an enterprise or a law group is a focus on diversity and inclusion. Here are the six reasons:

  1. It’s all about talent, and the talent is changing and becoming more diverse.
  2. It’s all about our customers, and our customers’ are having the same changing demographics.
  3. You make better decisions with diverse and inclusive teams.
  4. Diverse and inclusive teams are more creative and innovative.
  5. Diverse teams and inclusive teams are more engaged.
  6. Diversity and inclusion drive productivity.
We push hard for diversity and inclusion at MassMutual. We push hard for it as a company and we push hard for it as a law department. That is going to be a differentiator for the winning companies — and the winning law departments — of the future.

And, oh yes, for winning technology departments.

Getting to Know Mark Roellig…

John D. RockefellerWhat book are you currently reading?
There’s value in learning from the past, hopefully with the view that we will not repeat it. And it is valuable to understand what made leaders successful in the past. So I read a lot of histories and biographies, and right now I’m reading Titan, a book about John D. Rockefeller.

What advice did you learn in law school that you still apply today?
I’m not certain I had picked up a lot in law school that has made me successful in my business/legal career. Maybe the only thing that I would focus on would be work habits: I learned to work well with others, be a member of a team, and how to add value to the team.

Name one person, living or dead, you’d love to have a cup of coffee with?
Some might list Mother Theresa, Martin Luther King Jr., or Jesus, but for me, it would be my dad. He has passed; but over a cup of coffee I’d want to thank him for all the guidance he gave me, and in particular, for the values of curiosity and of continuous learning. He was a professor and scientist and always curious. He valued continuing to learn; I’d want to thank him for that. Without it, I would not have the wonderful life I enjoy today.

About the Authors

Tiffani AlexanderTiffani Alexander is the editor in chief of the ACC Docket.

The information in any resource collected in this virtual library should not be construed as legal advice or legal opinion on specific facts and should not be considered representative of the views of its authors, its sponsors, and/or ACC. These resources are not intended as a definitive statement on the subject addressed. Rather, they are intended to serve as a tool providing practical advice and references for the busy in-house practitioner and other readers.