Legal operations (or “legal ops”) is becoming a more common and mature position within in-house legal departments.
According to a 2018 “flash survey” of Chief Legal Officers by Altman Weil, 75% of legal departments with 50 or more attorneys have at least one person managing legal operations and half of the smaller legal departments surveyed reported having a legal operations manager. That number is sure to grow as companies try to reduce legal bills and increase legal department efficiency.
But what is legal ops, and what are the responsibilities of a legal operations manager? Below are few places to learn more and some from legal operations professionals out in the trenches.
A good place to start learning about legal operations is with CLOC, the Corporate Legal Operations Consortium, a non-profit organization of legal operations professionals formed to educate, share best practices, network, and drive change across the “corporate legal services ecosystem.” The ACC also has a popular legal ops group and the newer Legal Value Network also has a solid contingent of legal operations professionals.
CLOC describes legal ops as:
A multi-disciplinary function that optimizes legal services delivery to a business or government entity by focusing on twelve core competencies:
Frances Pomposo, Head of Legal Operations at Workday, says legal operations is “a multifaceted function that serves as the business function of a legal department.” Pomposo notes that “the legal department has a unique perspective since it connects with all areas of the business and the legal operations team ends up being involved in a number of initiatives that fall into the categories outside the legal department”.
She also notes that her role as head of legal ops spans many areas including strategy, budget planning, vendor and outside counsel management, knowledge management, staffing and training, e-discovery, project management, security, and acting as a de facto chief of staff for the GC.
Theresa Chang, Director of Legal Operations at Splunk, describes the goal of a legal ops team as “provid[ing] the infrastructure to optimize legal service delivery to the business.” She uses the term ‘infrastructure” to mean “ensuring that the right people are involved in the right processes and are supported by the right tools/technology.”
Chang says to carry out her role, she has four goals: (1) identify best practices and enabling technologies, (2) create a globally connected legal department, (3) design growth and development opportunities and (4) ensure effective resource allocation.
Pomposo says she touches nearly every area of the legal department and ends up supporting many initiatives outside the department as well. She also points out that “if you are in legal operations then you essentially need to be prepared for surprises and change every day. That’s part of what makes the role so interesting. One of the biggest surprises is the number of areas and responsibilities you support in the role.”
Chang agrees that dealing with change is a big part of legal ops. In fact she says that when she started her role she did not realize how important change management would be. Chang says an important part of her job is managing expectations and time.
Not always. Many legal operations professionals are attorneys, but many also have business backgrounds (such as MBAs) and others have project management experience. In fact in another recent Altman Weil survey of Chief Legal Officers, less than 25% of them said that their legal operations director held a law degree.
Looking for legal operations resources? As noted, the CLOC website is a great legal operations resource and the Association of Corporate Counsel also has a legal operations section with legal ops resources for its members. Another great legal operations resource is Simple Legal’s Resource Page.
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