A ClariLegal interview with Deisha Vazquez: Delivering Value by Developing Relationships

August 31, 2023 

By Cash Butler and Jeff Kruse.  

“People want to know that you care before they care to know what you know.” – Deisha Vazquez. 

How do you build confidence in a legal department? How do you deliver value for your organization through the legal function? Deisha Vazquez knows precisely how to do both. You build relationships throughout the organization regardless of your title or role. 

Processes, procedures, data, and technology usually get most of the attention when people talk or write about delivering value through legal operations. But Deisha takes a different approach. She is a dynamic visionary who leaves an indelible mark on the organizations where she has worked. 
Deisha delivers value through the power of human connection. In short, Deisha is a people-first person. For her, the key to providing value through the legal operations function is to build and develop genuine relationships throughout an organization. She has used this approach throughout her career and has found it especially helpful in her legal operations roles.  

Building Relationships Has Led to Her Success 

Deisha has been successful because her approach to legal operations centers on collaboration, empathy, and continuous improvement. She cares about people and takes the time to get to know her clients and what their respective needs are. Her success is a reminder that people are the heart of every organization.  

Developing Relationships is the Key to Legal Operations 

Deisha has a gift for connecting with people. Although she describes herself as a “data nerd” who “loves process and loves technology,” she proudly proclaims that her “gift” is more with people.” As she explains, “The people part is the thing that helps me get the process and technology pieces done.” 

One example of how Deisha approaches developing relationships differently is how she responds to the ubiquitous question of, “What do you do?” Instead of giving her title or profession, Deisha replies with a human-centric question. She asks, “Do you want to know what I do, or do you want to know who I am because what I do doesn’t make me who I am, but who I am makes me good at what I do?”  

Building Relationships to Build Bridges  

In both her previous and current roles, one of the keys to her success has been her ability to build bridges between teams and departments. Deisha notes that developing processes and procedures for the legal department impact “not only the legal department but the company as a whole because of all the pieces that the legal department touches.”  

Because the legal department impacts every part of a company, Deisha has made it a practice of “cultivating genuine relationships” with people throughout the organizations where she works. As she put it, “whether it is the person at the front desk, the admin next to you, the executive assistant, the IT department, or the CEO, it helps to build relationships with everyone.” 

Deisha has been exceptionally good at building those relationships. She understands that for the legal department to be successful, she must be “the connector of dots” between legal and the business functions like the finance team or the IT department.  

Building Relationships to Effectuate Change 

Deisha’s proclivity to build relationships and connect the dots has helped her with change management. By artfully building relationships throughout the business, Deisha ensures that the people impacted by changes in the legal department are not only informed but that they are part of the process.  

She uses that people-focused approach from the beginning. As Deisha believes that “change management is not a separate component of operations. It starts at the beginning. You should be thinking about change management at the assessment stage when you are getting a chance to meet people and getting to know their personalities.” Deisha has been successful because “people will be more open to and less resistant to change if they have been a part of the process.” 

One of Deisha’s guiding philosophies is that “people want to know that you care before they care to know what you know.” Underlying that philosophy is her approach to partnering with her internal clients. Her goal is to “identify their pain points and understand what they would like in an ideal world as it relates to their function.”  

One example of her successful approach to change management came at a prior job. She was responsible for implementing a new contract management process and system. One of the company’s best and longest-standing salespeople was skeptical of the changes suggested by the legal department. This salesperson had been with the company long enough to have seen many changes in personnel and processes in the legal department. This person “had lost faith in legal.” As Deisha put it, “he didn’t believe what I was selling.” 

She took it upon herself to develop a genuine relationship with this salesperson to restore faith in the legal department. She “dug into why he felt the way he did” about the legal department. She then addressed his concerns and “showed him how we rewarded the sales team for providing us with all the information we needed and how they would get faster turnaround times.” 

Through her approach, she turned her biggest skeptic into her greatest ally. Instead of resisting change, he became a leading advocate for the change management surrounding the new contract management process and system implementation. He helped bring other sales team members in line with the changes and even advocated for a pay raise and promotion for Deisha. 

Building Relationships Requires Speaking the Right Language 

Deisha describes herself as trilingual. She speaks “English, Spanish, and attorney.” In reality, though, Deisha speaks several other dialects of business. Through her innate ability to connect the dots and build relationships, Deisha speaks the language of finance, IT, sales, and marketing. She knows that “when you’re able to speak the language of your clients, you can make change happen.”  

She also describes the need to be able to speak the language of the individuals who are “actually responsible for that task because, at a high level, the CLO or the VP of Sales might not know that this person is doing all of this manual work.” Deisha’s approach of getting to know the pain points of the people throughout the organization ensures that she is successful in driving change and delivering value to the companies where she has worked.  

To Deisha, “speaking the same language” also requires understanding the different communication styles and preferences for different people and different business functions. As she put it, “Communication requires different styles and standpoints because everybody learns differently.” So, for some people, she has used quick reference guides; for others, she has used short videos or lengthier SOPs. She has successfully made change happen and achieved adoption by adapting to the specific requirements of the people impacted by the change. 

Building Relationships to Generate Revenue 

Deisha strongly refutes the idea that “legal is just a cost center.” She even rejects the idea that “legal is only for revenue protection.” Instead, based on her experiences, she has seen that “legal can help with revenue generation.”  

To prove her point, Deisha described how she “helped close $11 million of a $23 million goal by getting it over the finish line to make it one of the company’s best years at the time.” Due to her efforts as project manager helping close the deal, “the attorneys on the other side” sent a note to her boss “to say how much it was because of me that the deal got pushed as far down the field as it did.”  

One of Deisha’s fundamental strategies is to align her goals and the goals of the legal team with the company’s objectives and to ensure that her efforts and those of the legal operations function contribute to the company’s overall success.  

Expertise in Building Legal Operations  

Building out a legal operations function or a legal team is nothing new for Deisha. In her last position at an integrated dental services organization, she had to rebuild the entire legal department. Prior to joining the company, all the legal professionals except the General Counsel had left that company. Deisha embraced the challenge of training for three positions in three days. However, within two months after joining the company as a temporary employee, the General Counsel who brought her on announced he was leaving. Deisha was left as the only person in Legal and was required to report to the CEO.  

Within a short amount of time, Deisha proved herself, she gained the trust of her colleagues, executive management team, and negotiated with the CEO to become the first Director of Legal Operations. She rebuilt the entire team from scratch and sourced for the next General Counsel. Deisha grew the legal team from one person to seven. 

Deisha recently started as the new Director of Legal Operations for Zelis, a growing healthcare technology company that focuses on modernizing the business of healthcare. Deisha is the first Legal Operations professional to join Zelis, which just went global. In her new role she will follow her typical process of assessing company needs, current procedures, and existing technology to develop her “Most Important Tasks” (MITs) and set the strategy for building out the legal operations function at Zelis. 

Disclaimer: The statements of the interviewees in the Value Article Series are opinions and observations of a personal nature and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and policies of their respective employers. 

Published in LEGALBUSINESSWORLDLegal Business World Publications • August 31 • 2023 at www.legalbusinessworld.com