Legal ops is trending, there’s no questioning that.
If you run a quick search on Indeed right now—no matter when “now” is—you’ll find more than four thousand job postings looking for full-time legal ops professionals in the United States alone.
Companies of all sizes are looking to garner the benefits of this still-nascent function that, when implemented correctly, can help boost efficiency and turn your legal team from a cost-center to a revenue-generator department.
However, amid all-time low unemployment rates, widespread work-from-wherever policies, and rising salaries, the hiring market for legal ops talent is more competitive than ever. In addition, legal ops is such a new function that professionals —let alone great professionals—are scarce to begin.
So, how do you make sure you incorporate the best talent to your team?
That’s exactly what we asked legal ops pros Sarah Flint, Director of Legal Operations & Technology at Hubspot, Mike Russell, Head of Global Legal Operations at Expedia, and Ashly Suedkamp, Director of Legal Operations at ServiceNow, in a recent webinar moderated by Logikcull.
In Suedkamp’s view, there’s actually a more fundamental question that goes first. It might sound quite obvious, but it’s often overlooked: Is a new legal ops hire what your team really needs?
Understand Your Team’s Needs
Before you start to look for your next hire, Suedkamp recommends performing a pressure test on the alleged need to incorporate a new member to the team—or even to hire your first legal ops professional.
You want to consider aspects such as:
- Is there anyone on the team with the right skills to perform the job?
- Is anyone on the team working on building up the abilities necessary for the job?
- Can the existing problem be tackled as a one-off project or will it turn into a permanent need?
- Is there a process that needs to be fixed or improved? If so, can technology help?
If the answer to all those questions is no, you’ll find yourself armed with strong arguments to build the case for an additional headcount.
However, more often than not you’ll realize that you can amplify internal resources to meet your needs. For example, you might be able to source an employee from another department interested in having an internal gig where they can apply their skills.
That strategy has become really valuable to Expedia’s legal ops team. The company runs a rotational program, where employees have the ability to switch departments for six months, bringing their technical expertise and institutional knowledge to a new group. Through this initiative, Russell has sourced internal talent to meet some of the legal team’s most pressing challenges—without the need for increased headcount.
Legal technology is also a great ally to optimize processes that don’t require more hands on deck, but rather the opposite. A good example of such a process is eDiscovery.
Traditionally, legal teams have either outsourced or hired more personnel to manually handle data for litigation, investigations, or subpoenas. This kind of approach generally leads to massive costs and low efficiency, which is the opposite of what's expected of the legal ops function.
But with the right tools, you can streamline every part of the discovery process and run it in-house, no matter how limited your resources are. Companies following this approach, such as Worley or Veolia, are saving over six figures per matter by using Logikcull to handle discovery internally. Rather than increasing headcount to manage the process, they now need even fewer people involved.
As a legal ops professional, it’s your job to find ways to automate tasks and elevate the team’s performance, which means developing a technology-first approach. To better understand whether a new tool or a new teammate is the resource you need to deliver internal bandwidth, consider the following aspects:
- Are there specialized tools that can help with your problem or need? (If you’re dealing with inefficiencies around contract management, billing, knowledge management, or eDiscovery, there definitely are.)
- If so, do you require a dedicated expert to operate them or are they user-friendly enough that anyone in your team could use them?
- How long does it take to get fully onboarded?
- How much time can they save you?
- What’s their cost? Can they deliver positive ROI quickly or are they so prohibitive that hiring someone would be a better option from a cost perspective?
- Does the tool include constant updates and has excellent customer service to assist when you run into an issue?
Thinking deeply about those questions and conducting a thorough analysis of all the options available, will help you make the decision that brings the highest operational excellence to your team.
Now, let’s imagine that, after careful assessment, you conclude that increasing headcount on your ops team is the right move. What happens next? How do you find the best candidates? Which key competencies and background should you look for?
What Makes an Ideal Legal Ops Candidate?
That’s a tough one.
The requirements for your ideal legal ops candidate will depend on a myriad of factors, such as your current team’s structure, skill sets, dynamics, pain points, culture, etc.
However, there is some consensus on what makes a well-rounded legal ops professional. The Corporate Legal Operations Consortium (CLOC) recently defined the Core 12 functions of legal operations, which have the ideal of conquering operational excellence at their heart. A good legal ops candidate will be well-versed in most of these tasks and have a track record of generating operational excellence for other legal teams.
But a simple way to understand what a legendary legal ops candidate looks like is to analyze what the most innovative companies out there are seeking. So, we analyzed them.
In a recent study, we went over dozens of job openings from companies like Lyft, Coursera, DoorDash, Marqeta, Google, and Patreon to find those most sought-after qualities that the best legal ops talent share.
Here’s an infographic with our main findings:
One key takeaway from this study is the fact that most companies don’t require a legal background for legal ops roles. In fact, only 14% of the job openings required some sort of legal training, the majority of which were seeking director-level positions.
Companies put a much bigger emphasis on the candidate’s prior experience in legal ops or general operational roles. This is aligned with Sarah Flint’s experience at Hubspot, where the problems she’s trying to solve—achieving operational excellence and execution, managing risks, and improving and automating existing processes—don’t require a background in legal ops since they are general operational tasks, which allows the team to significantly broaden their candidate pool.
Another interesting fact is that having excellent communication skills, both written and oral, and being able to work cross-functionally with other teams are the most frequently required skills, even over apparently crucial traits like project management skills or technical savviness. Since legal ops needs to deal with so many internal and external stakeholders, the ability to persuade, get buy-in, and communicate ideas effectively is key to succeed in these roles.
Regarding the tech stack required, 24% of all the job posts required knowledge of general legal tech solutions, without mentioning any tools in particular. This signals that most companies are seeking tech-oriented candidates with prior experience optimizing processes with technology, but their knowledge of the company’s specific tech stack is not as relevant.
Another fact worth mentioning is that MS Office Suite is the most frequently required technology (mentioned in 22% of the job openings), closely followed by Google Workspace. For any great legal ops candidate, it’s essential to master productivity tools like Microsoft Excel and Google Docs, but for legal teams dealing with high volumes of discovery, it’s equally crucial to have ops staff who can successfully navigate the challenges of preserving and collecting data from Google Vault and Microsoft 365.
When it comes to the processes that these companies are trying to optimize through technology, it becomes apparent that contract management, billing, and discovery are top priorities. A great legal ops candidate will be familiar with the right tools to alleviate the burden that these traditionally manual and expensive tasks are posing to the team.
Oftentimes, however, the challenge of your legal ops hire won’t be to streamline the internal billing or discovery processes. Rather, they will have to deal with external vendors managing those tasks and find more efficient and cost-effective ways to handle them in-house with the right technology and workflows.
In fact, a recent study conducted by Gartner revealed that 76% of in-house legal teams cited “controlling outside legal spend” as their biggest priority, which is aligned with the key responsibilities of legal ops candidates: improving workflows, implementing legal tech, and administering legal vendors. It all boils down to “doing more with less,” and the biggest savings for in-house legal teams often come from reducing their reliance on external providers.
How to Find the Best Legal Ops Talent
By now, you might have decided that hiring a new legal ops professional is the right move for your team and you probably have a clear picture of the anatomy of the perfect candidate based on the requirements from top companies.
But how can you ensure you attract the best talent? And, most importantly, how do you assess if your candidates actually meet your requirements? How do you verify if they’ve truly “done” it?
You can spend hours browsing through legal ops openings for inspiration to draft your own job description, and spend some time with HR putting together the ultimate hiring plan with the perfect questions that leave no stone unturned.
Or, you can download Logikcull’s legal ops hiring bundle with all the resources you’ll need to attract and evaluate the absolute best candidate for your team.
- Two job description templates to attract your ideal legal ops candidates for senior and associate positions.
- A comprehensive list of interview questions to evaluate your candidates on the five most relevant legal ops skills and responsibilities.
- A scorecard template to effectively assess your candidates on the most important criteria for you.