The number of legal operations, or “legal ops”, positions is growing as companies try to reduce legal bills and increase legal department efficiency. But where should a legal operations manager start to revamp a legal department?
We talked to a few pros for advice.
A few years ago, legal industry analyst Jordan Furlong presciently noted on his Law 21 blog, those holding legal ops roles are positioned to profoundly impact the consumption and demand of legal services:
. . . I suspect that the other new player on the demand side, Legal Operations, will prove to be even more impactful. Whereas Procurement seeks to lower the price of legal services, Legal Ops is interested in lowering the volume of legal services, reducing risks and eliminating unnecessary or inefficient activities. Legal Ops, it seems to me, would like to re-engineer corporations’ entire approach to their legal risks and obligations. Can we act in ways that reduce our legal exposure, streamline our legal processes, standardize our legal activities, and minimize our overall legal spend, both inside and outside? These are important questions, and as companies begin to answer them under Legal Ops’ leadership, the whole corporate legal market will be shaken to its roots.
The recent Association of Corporate Counsel Legal Operations Maturity Benchmarking Report confirmed Furlong’s prediction.
The survey analyzed the average maturity level of 316 corporate legal departments in 15 different areas of legal operations (such as electronic discovery, knowledge management and compliance–full list below). The survey found an average legal operations maturity score of 27.3 out of 100 (1-33 early stage, 33-66 intermediate maturity and above 66 advanced legal operations maturity).
However, for legal departments with a legal operations professional, the average legal operations maturity model score was 43.3. Talk about a position showing its value…
As the Legal Operations Benchmarking survey establishes, companies cannot just ramp up an efficient legal operations program overnight. You gotta start somewhere and figuring out where to start could be overwhelming. But, no matter where a legal department starts, there are a few preliminary steps that must be taken. For advice about rolling out legal ops initiatives, we asked some legal ops professionals to tell us where they started.
Jameson Monteiro, Director of Legal Operations for Assurant, says that the first thing the person in a legal ops role must do is understand current processes and what everybody is doing day to day to handle legal tasks.
Addressing legal operations is a three step process, he says. First current workflows must be analyzed. The next step is to look at, evaluate and identify technology that can be used to streamline legal processes and the third and final step is implementing the technology and process efficiencies.
Monteiro says when he took his legal ops position he started with an “old school” approach and mapped existing legal service delivery processes on a pad of paper. It took many interviews with all participants in the process to fully understand their tasks and roles. He says talking to those involved is invaluable. “If you get on a plane and talk to all people involved, you will get the true ‘Hollywood story’ rather than an abbreviated version because you need to understand process start to finish.”
Frances Pomposo, Director of Legal Operations for Workday, says that implementing improvements to legal workflows is a team effort and the team should extend beyond the legal department. She says it if often a good idea to open lines of communication with IT and other departments that frequently work with legal.
“Legal and IT depend a great deal on each other so having visibility into what is in the IT pipeline and assisting with initiatives that may have legal impact early on make a huge difference.” Pomposo says that if there are opportunities to partner on overlapping projects then the work provides value to both teams.
Assurant’s Monteiro agrees that building a trusted team is key to helping with process analysis. He says the team must include attorneys, IT, procurement and leadership.
Monteiro stresses that it is imperative to get buy in from management for any changes to the way an organization delivers its legal services. You need 100% buy in from leadership to get things done he says.
Theresa Chang, Director of Legal Operations for tech company Splunk says a good place to look for ways to improve legal service delivery is identifying the organization’s pain points. Good targets for tweaking are process gaps, repetitive tasks, manually-intensive processes, bottle-necks and single points of failure.
Assurant’s Monteiro says no matter the area of legal operations addressed, the key is to get started. As Monteiro points out, “many times when you look at processes you see individual areas to tweak, but it ultimately starts to move back to [improvements in the whole legal delivery] system”.
For ideas about where to begin a legal operations overhaul, take a look at the CLOC (Corporate Legal Operations Consortium) 12 core competencies, or consider some of the 15 areas of legal ops included in the ACC Benchmarking Report discussed above: