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Debunking 5 Myths about Legal Operations

April 2019 | SimpleLegal

It’s the most exciting time to be in legal operations. With more attention on the role than ever before, legal operations professionals have the opportunity to drive real change through process efficiencies, new technologies, and vendor management – and we’re just scratching the surface.

But with any emerging role comes new challenges – and myths – around the purpose, scope, and responsibilities. In today’s post, we will debunk five of the most common myths we’ve heard about legal operations.

1. Legal Operations is Clearly Defined

Many legal professionals, especially those within the CLOC community, describe legal operations in line with a definition shared by our friend, Dan Baker, Chief of Staff, Director of Legal Operations at Ancestry.

“The legal operations’ role is comprised of CLOC’s twelve core competencies with the ultimate goal of making sure your attorneys are best leveraged to do their jobs, while creating an organization where folks feel valued and want to stay.”

And while this serves as a fantastic baseline for how to define legal operations, the reality is that the function is new – it is quite broad and therefore often adapted to meet the needs of a specific legal team, its departmental maturity, and the company’s overall goals and objectives. For instance, some organizations have legal operations teams primarily handling paralegal work, while others have legal ops focus solely on managing budget or the technology stack. Legal operations comes in many flavors so don’t fall into the trap of comparing yourself to others when it comes to building out your own legal ops team.

2. “Our Legal Department is Too Small for Legal Operations”

Historically, only mature organizations with large legal departments could afford to bring on a dedicated legal ops function. And it was easiest for them to show the ROI with such a new role and justify headcount. This planted the seed (or in this case, the myth) that in order for legal operations to be warranted, the legal department must reach a specific size – generally VERY large.

But as the 2017 CLOC Annual Survey showed, the attorney to legal operations headcount ratio varies drastically from one industry to the next. At the end of the day, there is no “legal department size guide” to follow though there are general best practices around hiring and expanding legal ops teams.

We’ve also seen that a legal operations hire frequently becoming a GCs first hire. Early legal ops programs facilitate operational rigor and put critical infrastructure in place that can scale as the department grows and their scope of work increases alongside. And just because you don’t have a specific headcount for legal ops, or a full legal operations department, doesn’t mean you’re not investing in it.

3. Legal Operations is JUST Being Great with Technology, Data, and Metrics and Being Part of the Legal Team

There’s no arguing that legal ops plays an instrumental role in ensuring efficient and accurate data collection, which can then be used to make more informed and strategic decisions that not only benefit the department, but the entire company.

But being an excellent legal operations professional goes beyond just fluency in data, metrics, and technology. The best legal operations professionals also have an extensive skill set including:

  • Project management
  • Executive presence
  • Change management
  • Presentation skills

It is these skills that allow legal operations to drive great transformation throughout the legal department, cross-functionally with other business units, and for the entire business.

4. Legal Technology Will Solve All Operational Problems

One mistake that legal teams often make is thinking that technology is a fix-all magic button for any problems they face. This is a myth! In the wise words of Mary Shen O’Carroll, Director of Legal Operations, Technology and Strategy at Google and CLOC President, “A new set of golf clubs is not going to make you a better golfer. There are fundamentally other things that need to change and it’s not just the tools that will magically fix that for you.”

Technology doesn’t solve bad process. Legal Operations must first think about how to optimize the processes. Then, they can ask themselves, “How can technology be integrated into this process to help achieve greater results?”

Getting adoption of new technology is a whole other ballgame (and probably worthy of its own post). To ensure adoption of any technology, have a change management program in place. If you’re not sure where to start, we recommend focusing on these five key building blocks to create a successful change management program:

  1. Strategy
  2. Planning
  3. Communication
  4. Training
  5. Measurement

5. Legal Operations Will Continue to be a Small Community

Legal operations is a new and emerging field, but one that is growing and evolving at lightning speed. As a proud sponsor of CLOC four years in a row (including the institutes in London, EMEA and Australia), we’ve seen it first-hand. The outpouring of support from legal operations professionals – all with different backgrounds and experiences – to swap knowledge and tackle some of the most common legal operations challenges is inspiring. Not only is legal operations is here to stay, the community supporting shows no signs of slowing down.

See You in Vegas for the 2019 CLOC Institute!


Can’t get enough legal operations? If you’re attending the 2019 CLOC Institute – register here if you haven’t already – and please join our CLOC session:



Building and Optimizing Modern Legal Departments
Tuesday, May 14th at 10:30am
Speakers:

  • Nathan Wenzel | CEO, SimpleLegal
  • Frances Pomposo | Director of Legal Operations, Workday
  • Lucy Bassli | VP & DGC of Legal Operations, Snowflake

We’ll be discussing what a strong legal ops team looks like, how to leverage and maximize technology, strategies for collaborating with other departments, and the future of legal tech.

And don’t forget to schedule time to meet the SimpleLegal team and check out our modern and intuitive legal operations platform. It’s also the perfect opportunity to pick up your limited edition CLOC swag – we’ve got some exciting surprises in store!