So what is Legal Ops? Is it a new buzzword in the legal industry? We think not. Since the financial crisis, law firms are increasingly employing a spectrum of people to cover the operations of their firm. Pricing directors, COOs, Practice Managers. However, recent years have seen a growth in the number of legal ops professionals working with General Counsel. Even smaller in-house departments now have their own Head of Operations. Indeed CLOC, the industry leading group of legal ops professionals, modified its membership criteria to include legal departments with fewer than fifty people. Clearly legal ops is here to stay. But what is behind the rise of this relatively new job title? What exactly are Legal Ops responsible for? More importantly, what does this mean for law firms?
The Rise of Legal Ops
There has been a marked change in the role of General Counsel over the last ten years. In-house teams have grown considerably. Indeed, there is an ongoing trend to move work traditionally done by firms, internally. On the other hand, the legal sector has also seen a shift in its financial structure. Billing by the hour is being increasingly rejected by Counsel. What does all this mean? Increasing complexity for in-house teams. Legal ops is designed to allow lawyers to spend more time on the actual practice of law. Take, for example, the increasingly tough procurement rules. The complexity surrounding the selection of external counsel is huge. Procurement professionals must compare pricing, but also diversity, success rates, environmental policies. Successful legal ops departments bridge this gap and support legal professionals in making these choices. They then act as guardians of these arrangements, holding firms to the procurement rules throughout their working relationship. The rise of technology, too, has been key in explaining the growth of legal ops. In-house stands to benefit as much from legal tech as the firms they work with. But determining what will support your processes and what will hinder them is time consuming. Legal ops is able to assess the needs of the legal department and tailor technology to suit that need. Again, freeing up Counsel to focus on the law.
What is Legal Ops?
As previously mentioned, at its heart legal ops is about reducing the burden on lawyers. Specifically by handling those activities which do not concern legal practice. CLOC (Corporate Legal Operations Consortium) has a handy visual of the areas legal ops cover. From Knowledge Management to Data Analytics, legal ops has a broad remit.
However, when determining legal ops' most important functions, it can be best to turn to Linkedin. Take Justin Ergler for example. As Director of Alternative Fee Intelligence and Analytics at GlaxoSmithKline, his remit clearly falls under legal ops. Justin's bio includes tasks you would expect like supporting in-house in "killing the billable hour". However, his role also covers
"develop[ing] ROI-style metrics that quantify and capture the value delivered to GSK by successful engagements with outside counsel. This initiative will give the corporate Legal function finance-based performance metrics which showcase actual value as opposed to the traditional financial metrics of cost savings and/or reduction in overall Legal spend financial metrics used today."Linkedin
Lucy Bassli, Assistant General Counsel, Legal Ops and Contracting at Microsoft has a similarly broad bio. As well as (presumably) helping Microsoft reach their goal of shifting 90% of their work to a fixed fee model, Lucy lists an impressive amount of other tasks, including:
"moving legal services into the modern era by focusing in legal department efficiencies, alternative legal service providers, metrics and data driven process improvements."Linkedin
So clearly legal ops is designed to support a shift in the way legal teams have traditionally operated. Herein lies the core reason why every in-house department should have a legal ops professional.
Does my in-house team really need legal ops?
There are thousands of articles identifying why firms can no longer rely on traditional legal models. From building fixed fees, to identifying underlying profitability, firms are moving towards a new 'business of law'. To do this, they are employing a smorgasbord of people to support this shift. However, firms cannot move alone. Procurement rules are one of the most influential drivers of this change. From Microsoft to Deutsche, companies are the root cause. But without professionals to drive and then police this shift, real change is unlikely to be long lasting. Successful legal ops is about identifying the ways in which in-house lawyers can innovate. Or better still, the innovations they can foster with their external counsel.
Many professionals were asking "what is legal technology?" 10 years ago, but it's now the norm. Similarly with this legal ops trend, it's important to adopt new practices and operations early to prepare your firm for what's to come. Those companies which fail to employ skilled legal ops departments, stand to be left behind. From a financial standpoint, legal ops can drive down costs, reduce risk and increase value in numerous ways. Legal ops can also spearhead change and improve processes. After all, if companies are demanding this from their lawyers, why should their own internal teams be any different? In the end, legal ops is vital for any company for one simple reason. Because change is most effective when it's a collaborative effort.
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