Most Legal Departments now have one or more dedicated Legal Operations specialists as part of their legal function. However, General Counsels still struggle with using their Legal Operations function optimally. In several organizations, Legal Operations is reacting to the demands of the lawyers, not proactively driving the vision and strategy of the General Counsels.
In my blog post ‘Three Year Strategic Plan to Build a Legal Operations Department from Scratch’, I have mentioned the importance of Building a Vision for Legal Ops leaders at a high level. In this article, I am going to delve deeper into the value a well-run Legal Operations team can bring to the table:
- Define and execute strategy – Legal Operations has the view of the entire Legal Department, and a Legal Operations leader is truly the best suited person to help the General Counsels define the strategy for the legal department. They work closely with all functions not only within the Legal Department but within the entire organization. They are also best suited to work with functional leaders to align the Legal Department’s strategy to the organization’s strategy. Strategy definition is not a one-time activity; it needs to be reviewed on a periodic basis and may need a refresh every 12-18 months depending on shifts within the organization or market dynamics.
Once the strategy has been defined, it is imperative that it is executed well, else it is just a piece of paper with no real value. The key is really to drive the strategic initiatives. While Legal Operations may not be responsible for the actual execution of all the strategic initiatives, they can help the lawyers with tools to ensure that the initiatives are managed and completed on time. It is important to build a governance program and provide visibility to the General Counsels periodically on all such initiatives.
- Build credibility – Legal Operations leaders are connected with every department in the organization – whether it is IT, HR, Finance, Sales or Marketing. With keen observation skills they can understand the pulse of the organization better than anyone else within the Legal Department. They are clearly the ambassadors of the General Counsel’s office and with a solution-focused mindset, they can change the way the Legal Department is perceived. Most functions view Legal Departments as risk-averse and roadblocks to business. I have heard so many people say it is best to stay away from the lawyers. However, Legal Operations by nature needs to be agile and people- They can help break the stereotypes that Legal Departments are boxed into.
General Counsels should leverage Legal Operations to be single points of contact on most cross-functional teams within the organization and empower them to be the face of the Legal Department.
- Stay abreast with the latest technology – Let’s face it, lawyers have a day job to do which ranges from reviewing and negotiating contracts, preparing for litigation matters, regulatory compliances and other matters that need legal acumen. It is impossible for lawyers to review every new technology update and evaluate new tools in the market. Legal Operations is best suited to cut through the noise and align the Legal Department’s requirements with the right technology. They know the priorities of their department, and they can shortlist the key tools for the lawyers to evaluate. We need to keep up with technological changes but at the same time we need to do it in an efficient manner and not get swayed by every new and shiny object in the market. Legal Operations, with its experience of managing a tech stack, can help Legal Departments navigate this very important piece in the way lawyers will work in the future.
Once technology tools are shortlisted, implementation and adoption are a completely different ball game where Legal Operations plays a key role.
- Financial Management – Most lawyers went to law school because they didn’t want to deal with math. We don’t like numbers and we don’t want to do anything to do with them. The reality of any organization, however, is that no matter what your role is you will have to work on budgets and manage spend. As general business managers, Legal Operations professionals have a good understanding of reading financial spreadsheets. They can be a conduit between the lawyers and financial department in setting the annual budgets and ensuring that a mechanism is put in place for lawyers to track budget vs actual spend on a periodic basis. Creating easy to read dashboards for lawyers and highlighting insights from the data will help lawyers get visibility into where the biggest spend areas are and how they can be managed early in the year.
Legal Operations teams can also ensure that invoices are tracked, approved and paid on time. There is a lot of work that goes on in the background in any organization for an invoice to be paid and lawyers don’t have the bandwidth to chase the payment of invoices. However, lawyers want the partner firms to be paid on time so that they continue to provide uninterrupted service. Legal Operations can smooth the process and relieve the lawyers of the burden of chasing invoices.
- Outside Counsel Performance Management – We work with people that we like and trust. This is true for most business relationships and so it is true for how in-house counsels choose firms that they work with. In many organizations, there is no method to objectively evaluate the performance of outside counsel. We continue to work with firms year after year without comparing the cost or quality of output. Legal Operations functions can bring a neutral perspective to this relationship. They can help benchmark fees across firms and assess whether a certain piece of work needs to be sent to outside counsel or an alternate legal service provider or be kept in-house. These decisions ultimately feed into how spend is managed and can, over the years, result in great savings for the Legal Department.
The above are some key value propositions of a Legal Operations function. There are so many more areas where Legal Operations function can improve the way a Legal Department functions and is viewed in any organization. In summary, Legal Operations can alleviate the burden from the General Counsel and run the Legal Department in an effective manner, like a well-oiled machine.
To find out how to best incorporate Legal Operations into your organization, contact Rachita Maker here.