Legal ops. We’re sure you’ve heard that a couple hundred times this past year.
Just like the Avengers are a team of superheroes with diverse skills who work together to save the world, legal ops professionals are putting out fires and saving the world for legal departments.
Corporate legal operations is a multi-disciplinary function that optimizes the delivery of legal services. They don’t just put out fires — they enable law firms and legal departments to become more strategic in their approach to legal services, to prevent fires from starting.
To make their role crystal clear, let's consider what legal departments do. Legal work (duh!) and the prioritization of that work. Legal ops focus on the latter.
Everything that has to do with the “business of law,” legal ops does.
By removing barriers that prevent lawyers from getting things done, implementing the right technology, and creating processes to avoid reinventing the wheel, legal ops serve an important efficiency function.
Yet, they are often in danger of having their programs cut.
Their understanding of the core business coupled with their ability to make strategic decisions and identify opportunities for the business can help companies save significant amounts of money in the long run.
Who Are Legal Ops Anyway?
As of May 2023, LinkedIn has 23,502 jobs listed when you search “legal operations” with 1,235 roles posted just within the past 24 hours.
A completely new role ruling the headlines on Google and posts on LinkedIn seems incredible, right?
But it’s not as new as you might think.
Until the mid-2000s, legal operations were just concerned with overseeing outside counsel. It has gradually changed over time from serving an administrative function to one that plays a crucial strategic role both in the larger business and the legal department context.
The legal ops role has rapidly developed from just one person to legal ops teams in some companies. With a specialized focus on high-volume, low-risk contracts and a drive to improve contracting workflows, non-attorney hires became the new contract managers and legal operation specialists.
Legal ops pros come from a variety of backgrounds. Paralegals, attorneys, and project managers — all bringing a different perspective to the table.
More recently, some have a long history in ops and don't necessarily have legal training. In fact, only 14% of the job openings required some sort of legal training, the majority of which were seeking director-level positions.
Having a legal background may be beneficial, but companies now are putting a much bigger emphasis on prior experience in legal ops or general operational roles.
Someone who gets excited about optimizing outdated processes, setting up new systems, diving into the big-picture, and “making a case” is being valued more than a JD or legal experience.
While attorneys are primarily focused on providing legal advice and representing clients, legal ops professionals are focused on managing legal workflows, selecting and implementing tech solutions, and managing vendors to ensure that legal teams can knock it out of the park.
Legal ops professionals see themselves as part of a larger mission to optimize and streamline the legal department — something like the Blues Brothers.
Smooth Operators: The Role Of Legal Ops
The Corporate Legal Operations Consortium (popularly known as “CLOC”), gives 12 core functional areas that every company optimizes for through legal ops professionals.
According to a report by CLOC, lawyers dedicate 3600 hours to legal ops tasks. For years, attorneys and legal staff have been juggling operational work with legal tasks to support their clients. By shifting ownership of operational responsibilities to legal ops, organizations can increase overall efficiency and the legal department can focus on core legal work.
Before ops can spearhead your legal department, it’s critical to understand how the role they play furthers business objectives.
1. Strategic Planning
As more work occupies their plates, attorneys often have a short-term and reactive approach to planning. Might not be the best idea.
Enter, legal ops.
They can help set the department's vision and build a long-term plan that aligns with business priorities instead of looking at just the immediate outcome.
2. Cross-functional Alignment
With the pandemic and other socio-economic factors affecting businesses, the role of the legal department is evolving. And it’s hard to ignore the evolving dynamics with every other department.
It’s time the legal department leads cross-functional collaboration to put an end to the “cost-center” mindset. Legal ops can help achieve that with their unique positioning within and outside the department by creating communication best practices, sharing resources, and standardizing routine contracts.
3. Technology Selection
Who doesn’t like the comfort of just “sticking with the existing?”
I’ll tell you who: Legal ops pros. Unless it’s working and there’s no better way to do it.
The cost associated with irrelevant and underused tech is the biggest impeding force to a team’s workflow. Without a clear vision for implementing technology solutions, the team is bound to feel the disconnect.
With legal operations skills onboard, you can say hello to cost-cutting. They identify gaps, evaluate vendors, and match business needs with the right solutions. Plus, bringing work in-house can save huge amounts of time and money by implementing handy tools like Logikcull, just like Twilio and Veolia did.
4. Vendor Management
Lacking clear alternatives and data-backed reasons, attorneys in legal departments often select vendors due to personal relationships. That method doesn’t really show the value the vendor brings.
Legal ops have an eye for identifying talent through due diligence that complements the already existing capabilities, helping develop a culture of transparency and cost-savings.
Apart from these roles, legal ops pros also manage finances, and optimize for service delivery.
Need access to something? Legal ops do it through knowledge management.
Spotting risks for better decision-making? Find your legal ops colleague showing you the right data to help you “make your case.”
Basically, legal ops are the heroes you didn’t know you needed.
Legal Ops Automating Your Job Away? Let’s Find Out.
Legal ops folks are heavily involved in automating workflows — automating an end-to-end process so it doesn’t need human intervention, reducing friction. People have concerns that this might automate away jobs and change the top-bottom relationships at a company.
During one of our Inside Voices sessions, Emily Teuben, Senior Director and Head of Legal Ops at PayPal pointed out a bigger issue — change management.
She adds that a lot of people question the change especially if the existing process is working and highlights the importance of storytelling.
“Sharing the why behind making a change is important so that you are not trying to take something away from them.” — Emily Teuben
She once encountered a notorious process that would keep teams engaged for a whole week. After automating a workflow, she quickly saw results — the same team that couldn’t see their family for a week were able to go home at 5 pm on day 1.
Automating workflows made them efficient and improved their quality of life. Within a day.
Keep your Legal Ops Pros
One of the key missions of legal ops is to create transparency within and outside the department. Through open channels of communication and technology (e-signatures, e-billings, eDiscovery, etc.), legal ops strive to provide business execs with enough clarity to have genuine confidence in the legal department.
By identifying inefficiencies in processes, legal ops reduce the amount of time and resources needed to complete tasks. This not only improves the speed of delivering legal services but also helps reduce costs, which is especially important during tight economic times.
You might be tightening your belts, but make sure that efficiency doesn’t take a backseat.
Instead of cutting them off, consider just how much you can save by keeping them. Because when you need them, legal ops will be ready. Just like Margo Channing from All About Eve.