About the author

Aine Lyons

Vice President & Deputy General Counsel, WW Legal Operations

The Future We Want In Legal Operations

By Aine Lyons

Page Reading Time: 5 minutes

The pandemic has shifted the ground under our feet. It has disrupted not just our industry, but all industries. And it is not just the pandemic; other tectonic shifts have left our world fundamentally changed.

There has been a global reckoning on racial and social justice which can no longer be ignored. The acceleration of climate change effects has seen Environmental, Social and Corporate Governance (ESG) rise to a top investor and corporate priority. And privacy and cybersecurity have become the new imperatives to inspiring trust with customers and employees.

The picture is clear: We are living through a time of unprecedented change. And it is only human nature to be anxious when things change that much, that fast.  But remember: Legal operations has always been about change. As a community, we embrace disruption and turn it into opportunity. We do not need to fear this moment. We need to embrace it, to realize its incredible potential for positive transformation.

We are already living through some amazing shifts in our industry, our culture, our world. Suddenly, nothing seems out of reach. For so long, our industry clung to the past. This wave of disruption has swept away much of that resistance. And we meet this moment with more power and influence than ever. As a legal operations community, we have never had more of a voice. We have gone from playing at the margins of the industry to being true stakeholders.

We stand at a crossroads. For years, the way forward was blocked. Now, at long last, the road ahead is open. So where do we go now? As a legal operations community, what is the future we want for our industry?

For me, there are a few big areas where I want to see us focus. I can sum these up in three words: Ecosystem, Technology, and Humanity.

Ecosystem: We need to break down the silos that separate us

I believe it is time to get serious about connecting our fractured legal landscape.

Think about how far we have come in legal operations. In just a few years, we have made huge strides in modernizing and updating our mindset, approach, and practices. We are smarter and more effective in so, so many ways. And legal operations teams are not the only ones who have improved. Law firms, law schools, new types of service providers, have all invested heavily to add capabilities and new skills.

But here is the problem: Everyone is working on their own backyard, their own organization.

We have really strengthened and improved the nodes. No one is really working to connect all those nodes into a coherent, rational system. We are not thinking holistically or trying to solve problems collectively. Even the term “ecosystem” is misleading. The reality is that our industry often does not feel or behave like a real ecosystem. We are more defined by our disconnection than by our connection.

To bring in the next big wave of innovation and growth in Legal, we need to step out of our backyards and engage with the entire landscape. This means bridging huge gaps of culture, understanding, and practice with law firms, technology providers, and all the other parts of our industry.

This will not be easy! But it will be worth our time and investment. By forging stronger and more rational connections across the ecosystem, I believe we can bring new speed and value to our industry.

Technology: We need more connected and usable solutions

We need a fundamental shift in how we consider, adopt, and leverage technology. Not that long ago, we lacked basic technology capabilities and solutions. No more. Now, there are too many. And they rarely seem to work together.

The result? When it comes to legal tech these days, anything is possible… but nothing is easy. The capabilities are all there, but what is the actual experience of the human beings at the center of it all? Are they adopting it, are they using it? Do they have a unified view of the data?

We need platform solutions that give us new insight and operationalize our manual and lower-value tasks. Most critically of all, we need standardization, simplification, and seamless integration.

We have a big role to play here! We need to partner with technology providers and integrators to understand our needs, and to think holistically to create more user-centered, intuitive, solutions that drive business outcomes. And we need to provide clear common standards and expectations that focus on ease of use and unification.

If we fail to address this, the problem will only become even more daunting. It is time to push for and demand more elevated and holistic technology.

Humanity: We need to get better at supporting and serving our people

Finally: I want to talk about how we bring more humanity, inclusiveness, and purpose to our industry.

As a community, we have always seen, and addressed, some things clearly. We are operations people; we all understand the value of process, organization, technology, use of data and so on. And we are really good at taking on these things and finding ways to make them work better.

But what have we not addressed? We have innovated a lot of creative, smart things to help employees be more productive. What have we done to make sure they are satisfied, in balance, and aligned to the values of the organization? Far less.

Today, employees have different expectations and demands. They want to work for an organization that feels purpose-driven. To feel that their employer is committed to things that they believe in, to feel supported and heard. Employees are rising up to apply positive pressure to an industry that has let them down in some vital areas. From our dismal mental health record to slow progress on diversity and inclusion, they are no longer satisfied with empty promises.

We need to stop looking at our employees through a “manage and control” lens and embrace a new relationship. We need to listen and engage, understand and empower. This is new territory for many of us so you can be sure there will be some mistakes along the way. There are many pieces to this, but to me, it is ultimately about culture. We have to invest in defining and strengthening the culture within our teams and organizations.

This is not easy or obvious. But if we in CLOC bring the same level of creativity and focus to this new challenge as we have to the other parts of our mission, we can make a real difference in people’s lives.

Conclusion: The future is now

 For all the pain and hardship it has introduced, the pandemic has left us all with something priceless. It has reminded us that the most important things in our lives are the ties we share. Family, friends… and this community. Without you, our passionate and engaged members, this organization would be nothing.

You know, we used to talk about the future as if it were this abstract concept over a far horizon. No more. The future is now. It is happening all around us. We see it in the huge shifts across our industry and our world today.

And we have the voice, the power, and the determination as a community to influence that future for the better. That is the thrilling mission that we face now… together. I look forward to taking that journey with all of you!