Features

Amy Sellars – CBRE 

Making a world of difference in legal efficiency 

As an international commercial real estate brokerage and investor, CBRE Legal works on thousands of matters and contracts every year. Tracking this work can be frustrating for an industry behemoth. 

But those matters and agreements must be readily reportable to legal and the business. Until fairly recently, the legal team’s data collection could be erratic. So Amy Sellars observed when she joined the firm as vice president of global legal operations in May 2022. 

Amy Sellars | Vice President, Global Legal Operations | CBRE 

Amy Sellars | Vice President, Global Legal Operations | CBRE

“We had a lot of double entry and no consistency,” she recalls. “We had emailing and e-billing with incomplete information, and we had to find a way to reduce and streamline the workload.” 

She’s helped accomplish this by overseeing the transition to automatic document generation. Since last year, frequently used documents—and there are volumes—have been pre-generated, thus allowing her colleagues to fill in forms and save time.  

The process started with engagement letters to outside counsel and Sellars having a team member working full-time to launch and troubleshoot that initiative. As CBRE adapted, the new way of generating agreements was applied to other areas of the legal function. Errors and the need for second takes were reduced, and the documentation runs much more efficiently. 

“It may sound trivial, but if you want to measure the amount of time spent prior, I could say we’re way ahead,” she tells Vanguard from her Richmond, Virginia, office in January. “This frees our lawyers to focus on their more important responsibilities.” 

Process matters  

It’s all part of Sellars’ role as a direct report to General Counsel Chad Doellinger. As general counsel, Doellinger is entrusted with global oversight of CBRE’s legal interests. Sellars focuses on day-to-day processes that streamline operations. She knows how legal departments can be viewed as cost centers rather than revenue producers, doubling her resolve to create value. 

Last summer, Sellars’s team started experimenting with Chatbots. The need was obvious, she says, detailing how CBRE Legal fields requests and questions about any number of issues and answers are needed quickly. 

Amy Sellars | Vice President, Global Legal Operations | CBRE 

Through her collaboration with the infotech team, there’s now much data in an Azure cloud with its alphabet soup of capabilities: SaaS, PaaS, IaaS and whatever might be next. A data scientist has been hired to assist with acclimation, and Sellars says the initial response has been positive. 

“Our lawyers and internal business clients always have questions about our internal function, so our goal is to be able to provide them with a ChatBot as opposed to them going around asking others where’s the start,” she says. “It’s another value-add for efficiency.” 

Hack your bureaucracy 

Efficiency is not the only item on Sellars’ agenda. Later this year, she is kicking off an in-house hackathon – a project that she has done with other legal departments that is both fun and educational. 

Small teams throughout legal are tasked with designing automated solutions to office issues, with judges from the legal and digital sides assessing their ideas.  

“It’s fun, it’s competition, and it’s teamwork,” Sellars says. “It’s a jump-start initiative to change people’s perspectives. We’re getting them accustomed to technology and allowing them to work with colleagues with whom they usually don’t interact.” 

And for Sellars, it’s just one of the many ideas she’s introduced to better legal operations. Hackathons call for creativity and enterprise that might not be associated with a traditional legal role. But for what it matters, Sellars’s career path was not traditional. 

Still a teacher 

Sellars’s professional career began in the not-for-profit arts and education. The Yale University graduate worked at an Ed-Tech startup focused on Title 1 low-income schools. But as much as she enjoyed positively influencing young people, Sellars says the work in education was like the mythological Sisyphus, forever rolling a boulder uphill only to have it roll back upon nearing the summit. She decided she needed a change,  and law school held more and more appeal. In 2007, Sellars enrolled at Rutgers Law School, and, if anything, it brought her children closer to her. 

Amy Sellars | Vice President, Global Legal Operations | CBRE 

“Mom had homework, they had homework, and we did it together,” she says. “It was challenging but awesome. It showed them that one is never too old to stop learning and try something new. I think they took it to heart.” 

Sellars was sworn into the Oklahoma Bar Association in 2010. Having family connections in the Sooner State, she honed her legal skills there. She logged three years at the Tulsa firm Crowe and Dunlevy before going in-house as a litigator and e-discovery specialist with oil and gas company Williams. She also volunteered her services with Legal Aid OK and believes that pro bono work makes better lawyers. Afterward came positions at Walmart in Arkansas, Cardinal Health in Ohio, SunPower Corp. in California and CBRE, based out of Dallas. 

A vivacious and artistic type, especially during her younger days, Sellars managed a U.S. Tour of Russia’s renowned Bolshoi Ballet and pushed cultural pursuits while in education. Nowadays, she’s more into yoga and teaches several sessions a week at her rural home west of Richmond. She also keeps horses and enjoys organic farming and other hobbies of wellness and aging gracefully. 

According to her, there’s much to be said about being young at heart. That mindset led her to law school 18 years after her undergraduate degree in English. Though her career path wasn’t planned from the outset, Sellars says she’s glad to have gone into law after other experiences. If she has any advice for anybody—including her legal colleagues—it’s to be adventurous. Legal textbooks don’t teach problem-solving skills. 

“As we enter this age of rapid technological and social structure change, I hope that lawyers can be more open to trying things without knowing the results,” she says. “Being stubborn is averse to a growth mindset. You’ve got to be willing to say, ‘This didn’t work out as I expected,’ but I learned a lot and know the pitfalls from having tried. Edison didn’t invent the lightbulb in just one attempt, but he didn’t say he failed 10,000 times. He said he found 10,000 ways it wouldn’t work.” 

View this feature in the Vanguard Spring I 2024 Edition here.

 

Published on: March 13, 2024

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