Legal Operations: Working behind the best legal teams in the world

One of the biggest hurdles for any in-house legal team today is the need to define and articulate the team's value to the C-suite and other executives. To determine these values requires interpreting legal work in business terms. Demonstrating that value requires measuring and understanding outcomes, which requires proper metrics and data analysis to help legal units drive desired behaviours and quantify successes.

The ever-growing number of in-house legal departments, the technological advancement and increasing complexity of management is changing the way legal business is conducted today. Today, agile corporate environments require agile legal departments. A traditional legal team might struggle with balancing pressures of the businesses while scores of contracts have to be evaluated every day. Therefore, legal teams today are being redefined to cater to the needs of organizations; they are more diverse, more tech-oriented and more efficient.

What are legal operations/legal ops?

Legal ops or Legal operations focus on how legal services are delivered today by taking bits of the organization which are pre-existing and putting them together in one place, one team. These teams bring together people from diverse backgrounds and allow them to collaborate and augment the service they provide to their clients. Legal operations officers and their units bring together leadership, knowledge and experience necessary to help align legal services with enterprise objectives.

What are the advantages of a legal operations team?

Businesses that set up an effective legal operations team can reap multiple valuable benefits—including higher quality of legal work, improved resource efficiency, improved legal risk profile, and better talent retention.

  • A good legal operations team enables its company to use legal resources more efficiently, and thus achieve cost and time savings. By differentiating important from unimportant tasks and prioritising the most crucial ones, the team helps inhouse lawyers to focus their time, energy, and expertise on legal work that has the biggest impact.
  • It helps improve the legal risk profile, by quantifying legal liabilities for different scenarios, such as the loss of all existing lawsuits or the introduction of unfavourable legislation. They can effectively identify financial exposure to law firms and new service providers, such as what would happen if a provider became insolvent. With the help of on-demand reports and (in the most advanced cases) real-time reporting to track the degree to which people are complying with regulatory and legal requirements.
  • It helps develop, implement, and enforce processes essential for feeding information into the knowledge management platform and can maintain and refurbish the platform as needed. The team may set up a centralised repository of information for legal documents and legislation. The resulting knowledge-sharing platform fosters collaboration and enables lawyers to systematically review, store, and provide data on former external legal advice—such as legal memoranda, written pleadings, and other types of correspondence with foreign law firms.
  • The legal operations team can also use the organization’s knowledge-management system to support best-practice sharing across teams. Such sharing can cover areas such as legal strategies, the most effective use of legal tech, and the best law firms and new legal service providers for specific legal issues.
  • Legal operations allocate legal costs to business areas, engaging in financial forecasting and budget review with management. The team’s goal is to align the legal department’s resources behind the company’s overarching financial strategy. Last but certainly not least, legal operations compile financial reports for the in-house legal department—regularly or at the request of the general counsel or his or her superior.

What does a legal ops team look like?

A legal operations group consists of diverse individuals with varying backgrounds. It not only consists of lawyers but can also have project managers, a full-grown tech team to support other functions. The team directly reports to the General Counsel. It is responsible for the operations of the legal department, with the ultimate goal of maximizing the delivery of legal services.

Someone with a strong financial background, CPA or MBA, would likely make for a good choice. The basic differentiator of legal operations professionals would be their business management experience.

The operational staff must have a strategic, operational and data-driven mindset. You'll need people who are smart, self-motivated, tech-savvy, good with numbers and have leadership traits. From a managerial standpoint, the person must be able to engage business stakeholders at all levels of the company. They should be able to create processes and practices to improve the day-to-day efficiency and effectiveness of the legal team, facilitate change, and control costs.

A typical legal ops team would ideally consist of the following mix of people:

  • Data Analyst
  • Lawyers
  • Project Managers
  • General Counsels

What falls under the purview of a legal ops team?

Generally, a legal operations team focuses on financial matters since it is where an immediate risk and benefit can be seen. However, there are a variety of operational tasks a legal ops team can perform. A smart general counsel realizes this and uses the team in its entirety, from financial analysis to strategy.

Here are some of the responsibilities of a legal ops team:

  • Establish and drive strategic and operational initiatives on-budget on-time results
  • Reporting key operational and substantive metrics for the practice group that will help to make more informed decision-making
  • Identify and implement tools to streamline existing practices in the legal departments
  • Manage, design, rollout new systems as well as train the staff for the same
  • Develop and implement processes and policies to manage the usage and spend
  • Assist with budget matters and optimize workflows of the various legal department
  • Collaborate successfully with cross-functional teams including sales, support, business development, service, IT, regulatory, and finance as well as various business units
  • Help other teams understand the bigger picture by creating a shared strategic framework
  • Automate repetitive or time-consuming manual processes

In conclusion, legal operations, while a young and developing discipline, has already shown its impact in both, traditional and modern businesses. It is very much the differentiator between overworked legal teams and places where the work is streamlined. Over the next few months, look out for more posts from SpotDraft on legal operations.