November 6, 2020
By Sagi EliyahuReading Time: 4 minutes
Minimizing the cost of change—such that we derive value from the technology we invest in at low costs of adoption is an essential goal for just about every department in every organization. It’s also a substantial challenge. And in no department is this more true than legal—and, more specifically,Legal Operations.
Here, unique challenges exist. For a good reason, lawyers focus on risk: reducing it, safeguarding their organizations against it, and combating it when it manifests into a real threat. As a result, lawyers can be wary of process-level innovations, such as those requiring change because innovation introduces new risk variables.
This wariness makes sense and is ultimately a good thing. The legal department serves as a crucial business partner within their organizations, connecting to and impacting every part of the business. Systems for completing NDAs, for example, impact how quickly business conversations can start. Ensuring contracts are quickly signed affects sales velocity. Employee agreements can influence hiring processes.
Keeping the above in mind, legal’s comparatively conservative ethos for the tech sector serves as an essential counterbalance to predominantly innovation-focused mindsets. But as the rest of the business world moves forward, embracing increasingly powerful means of innovation that differentiate companies competitively, this same counterbalance can be an obstacle to embracing innovation and adapting to the change innovation requires, threatening to hold companies back.
For Legal Operations teams to be highly strategic partners within their organizations, they should push the organization forward. But how do you overcome the pushback? And once you do that, how do you ensure the new systems create real, tangible, appreciable value without requiring change?
Here are a few strategies.
Strategy #1: Reduce app-dependency.
A primary impediment to implementing more innovative and efficient processes and technological solutions in Legal Operations is the thinking that attempting to do so requires forcing employees to learn how to use yet another app.
Or, at least we think it does.
In truth, what innovative processes do is reduce the number of applications and software tools employees use. That new processes succeed in doing this is particularly crucial in the legal ops context, seeing how the employees we serve are uniquely allergic to new tech. Our goal should be to enable our people to focus purposefully on the right work. The more the legal department relies on disparate, static, siloed apps, the harder it is for our people to do that.
At the risk of oversimplifying things, the functional limitations of the applications we employ today — Asana, Onit, TeamConnect, Slack, Jira, and email — constrict us. Worse – the more applications we introduce into a process, the more those apps lose their power. Rather than enabling us, they burden us and limit our productivity because of what they can’t do, necessitating manual workarounds and fostering bottlenecks.
To create operations that truly increase our people’s power and capacity—without annoying them—we need to make our internal processes dependent on as few apps as possible, so that these manual workarounds and bottlenecks are removed.
Strategy #2: Reduce developer & IT dependency.
Just as depending on another app to address every process challenge is impractical, it’s similarly impractical to rely on your developers and IT department to minimize the pain of change.
Look, developers are influential, but relying on them to build custom solutions all the time inevitably delays your ability to problem-solve or adapt quickly—customization in this context bogs down your developers, IT, and your Legal Ops teams.
Custom-built solutions for the legal department increase your Legal Ops team’s workload. Custom-building solutions require legal ops teams to play a product manager’s role, working directly with developers to define the department’s business requirements. As the solution moves through development, developers look to the Legal Ops team to quality engineer the app. Once the app is ready to be launched, the Legal Ops team will be responsible for training everyone to use it.
This strategy is directly counterproductive to reducing developer and design dependency. We are introducing a custom-built solution that frustrates impacted employees just as much as introducing another “off-the-shelf” app—and relying on IT to get it done.
Remember, one goal here is to empower Legal Operations to react and function as needed, without a heavy reliance on your IT department. Introducing custom-built apps won’t accomplish that.
Strategy #3: Minimize user interfaces.
Perhaps the chief problem with attempting to innovate for efficiency in the legal ops context by buying or building new apps is that both strategies require employees to learn new interfaces. That this is inherently challenging is something Legal Operations teams have to understand. And this is true not only for complicated pieces of tech but for seemingly simple applications, too.
It’s crucial that instead of continuously increasing the number of interfaces, employees learn to use and derive value from those that currently exist.
Our organizations are at an inflection point. We have a decision to make regarding how we want to work in the future. In one direction: the end is adopting new apps (and in the process, increasing risk and exposure), or remaining stagnant and falling behind as an organization.
In the other direction is a kinder, happier, more empathetic future that lends credence to people’s needs, preferences, and unique abilities. The processes and systems with which they power organizations prove flexible, dynamic, and adaptive.
We must choose the latter path, especially in the context of Legal Operations. To do so is both prudent and moral. Legal Operations can be a practical and strategic business partner, capable of introducing new processes and optimizing existing ones without pushback. In this sense, it can also be a catalyst for adopting systems that improve employees’ lives.