Neal Huffman is a CORE Registered Paralegal (CRP™) and certified commercial contracts manager (CCCM) for Charter Communications in Greenwood Village, Colorado. He shares his experiences as a paralegal contracts manager in the interview below.
What is your background and education?
I graduated from Denver Paralegal Institute, an ABA-approved school, on a Friday and began my career the very next Monday with a litigation technology company in downtown Denver. I have been practicing for twenty years. I have a bachelor's degree in political science/pre-Law from South Dakota State University and a Master of Professional Studies from the University of Denver.
I am a member of the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA) and the Rocky Mountain Paralegal Association (RMPA). In addition, I belong to the National Contract Management Association (NCMA) and the International Association for Contract & Commercial Management (IACCM). I have written for The Overview, the official publication of the Rocky Mountain Paralegal Association.
What are your responsibilities as a commercial contracts manager?
In late 2009, I left a contract position with Catholic Health Initiatives (CHI) as an IT contract manager to take a contract management position with a cable MSO, Charter Communications. Charter has over 20,000 employees including hundreds of lawyers and paralegals. I work in the strategic procurement department of Charter Communications in Greenwood Village, Colorado. Prior to CHI, I spent several years at CenturyLink (fka, Qwest Communications) and Verizon Business (fka, MCI Communications) as a paralegal and contracts manager in their in-house legal departments.
As a contracts manager, I source and acquire technology (hardware and software) and professional services for the enterprise. Although drafting and negotiating contracts is the majority of my work, the job also requires management duties along the entire process "from cradle to grave" in every transaction. My communication with business units is critical to integrate solutions, save money and avoid costs while attaining the best solution in terms of reliability and functionality for the end-user business and residential customers. In my position, I procure goods and services worth hundreds of millions of dollars. As part of this process, I draft and negotiate complex Master Purchase Agreements and Consulting (or Professional ) Service Agreements, with an emphasis on creating Statements of Work (SOWs), Service Level Agreements (SLAs) and schedules for product descriptions and pricing.
What skills are necessary to succeed in your current contracts manager role?
To be successful, a contracts manager must master the art of negotiation. Resourcefulness, inquisitiveness, research, writing, communication and relationship management are crucial attributes to succeed as a contracts manager. A contracts manager must also master online research tools, search engine aggregators and detective skills to facilitate the researching and vetting of vendors and their products and services. Core knowledge in technology, commercial transactions and contract law are essential. The position also requires knowledge of Word, Excel and Outlook. As a contracts manager, I have a substantial amount of autonomy and rely on a hybrid mix of business and procurement skills.
What do you like best about your job?
The aspects of my contract management job that I enjoy most are:
- Autonomy to perform in the best interests of the business.
- Flexibility to be creative and resourceful in obtaining solutions, especially those which save money.
- Responsibility to negotiate on behalf of the organization and to manage vendors.
- The variety of projects, the breadth of which cover the entire company's needs.
What challenges are unique to your position as a contracts manager?
One challenge of contract management is staying on top of benchmarking and best practices in order to continually improve existing processes and to oversee spend under management. It is important to continually seek innovative solutions, not only in workflow and business process, but also in processes that can be replicated across the enterprise. This specialty involves a continual variety of complex transactions that demand strategic and creative thinking to achieve results. Uniquely situated, procurement is seen as a strategic asset of the business in directing competitive differentiation and advantages through new supply sources and strategically negotiated contracts.
Are job opportunities for paralegal contract managers growing?
Contracts specialties, including contracts management and administration, continue to burgeon. In the world of commercial transactions, contracts are a critical business necessity, although not necessarily a core business function. Businesses rely on legal departments and law firms to handle their transactional needs both on paper and in the ever-expanding realm of e-commerce. Because business by nature begets transactions, there will always be a demand for paralegals in contracts and commercial transactions.
How can other paralegals break into the area of contracts management and administration?
Transactional work is easy to find - every business has transactions, thus experience in helping entities with contracts will help the job-seeker. Although employers value negotiation experience, it is typically gained on the job.
Scholastically, brush up on: business organizations, real estate, contract law, Uniform Commercial Code and reading and writing skills. Contract certifications demonstrate proficiency in contract law, managing contracts and overall business knowledge.
As a contracts manager, what are a few of your favorite professional resources?
The National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA), the Rocky Mountain Paralegal Association (RMPA), the National Contract Management Association (NCMA) and the International Association for Contract & Commercial Management (IACCM) are indispensable professional organizations. Each organization provides member resources such as continuing legal education, webinars, brownbag lunches and other programs, yet the personal networking and collegiality bring the most benefit. Through personal connections, one can teach and learn. Involvement within these organizations, such as serving as an officer or on a committee, envelops a member into the heart of the organization where you learn from interactions with operating members and, serendipitously, about jobs.
Certification programs provide credibility and proficiency. NFPA provides a designation of Registered Paralegal (RP™) upon successful completion of an exam under its Paralegal Advanced Competency Program (PACE). In addition, it provides a CORE Registered Paralegal (CRP™) credential which I completed in the initial pilot test in 2011. Certifications prove career acumen and lend credence to the NFPA organization and its membership as well. Learning tools such as books, newsletters and online content provide self-service learning.
What was your career highlight as a contracts manager?
Transactions are always rewarding especially if the deal is closed in a win-win. My most memorable case involved a complex litigation regarding intellectual property. The fascination of this case stemmed from the size of the corporations in the dispute, the massive archives of document production (some of which involved a foreign language) and the inner machinations of legal analysis and strategy displayed by prominent civil litigation attorneys.
My personal highlight, however, is being able to interact with students at Community College of Aurora (CCA). I teach Introduction to Law as an adjunct faculty at CCA, which offers an ABA-approved paralegal program. I remember my program, the subjects I learned and the lawyers who taught me at Denver Paralegal Institute. I am honored to be able to teach aspiring paralegals and to contribute to their personal goals.
Do you have any favorite practice tips you can share?
Continually learn and be open to all areas of knowledge, yet concentrate on becoming an expert in your specialty by seeking the latest knowledge, becoming involved, leading thought and earning certification. Devote time for professional development as a wealth of knowledge and resources are available for advancement. In addition, attorneys are required to maintain CLE, including ethics, and paralegals should do the same.
Can you share a fun fact about yourself?
Airplanes, I can fly them and jump out of them.