A Deep Dive Into Legal Operations

May 24, 2024

Table of Contents

What is Legal Operations

Legal operations, often referred to as legal ops, plays a pivotal role in the modern legal department, functioning essentially as its operational backbone. While lawyers concentrate on the practice of law, the legal ops team handles the many functional aspects that keep the department running effectively. This team is responsible for various business tasks, including strategic planning and financial budgeting, keeping up-to-date with the latest advancements in legal technology, establishing scalable processes, and monitoring key legal KPIs and metrics.

Successful legal ops teams adopt a proactive approach to partnering with the business. They work to understand each business team's unique demands and challenges and how they collaborate and communicate with legal teams. The legal operator’s goal is to identify and implement strategies to streamline these processes, boosting cross-functional efficiency and effectiveness. 

“We make legal function in a much smoother way so that the attorneys can go back to doing attorney work.” - Jo Vong, Legal Operations Manager at Plaid

How the Legal Operations Role has Evolved

The legal operations scope has evolved over the past few decades, reflecting the changes in the corporate legal landscape. Initially a supporting function, legal ops has grown into an essential aspect of modern legal departments, mirroring the complexities and demands of today's business world. Here's a timeline that captures the major milestones in the evolution of legal operations:

Pre-1990s: Focus on Risk Management

  • Legal operations is primarily centered around managing risk.
  • The role involved overseeing outside counsel, with limited emphasis on cost management.

1990s to Mid-2000s: Strategic Insights Era

  • A shift towards incorporating strategic insights into legal operations.
  • Handling more complex, regulated, and international legal issues.
  • Growing use of outside counsel with some sensitivity to costs.

Mid-2000s to 2019: Trusted Business Partner

  • Legal operations start to be viewed as a trusted business partner.
  • Emphasis on the strategic use of automation and legal service providers.
  • Focus on driving efficiency and reducing costs.

Post-2019: Era of Innovation

  • Legal operations professionals become innovators and culture drivers within organizations.
  • Establishing a culture of continuous improvement in legal departments.
  • Emphasis on strategic use of technology and data analytics to enhance efficiency.
  • Legal operations increasingly involved in holistic business strategy and decision-making

What are the Core Competencies of Legal Operations

The Corporate Legal Operations Consortium (CLOC) has identified 12 core functional areas, known as the "CLOC Core 12," which are essential for the effective management and growth of legal operations. These areas provide a framework for legal departments to achieve functional and departmental maturity. The 12 areas are:

  1. Strategic Planning: Setting department mission and vision, aligning with corporate priorities, and developing long-term, strategic plans.
  2. Financial Management: Managing budgets, forecasting, and financial planning to align legal spending with departmental and business outcomes.
  3. Firm and Vendor Management: Creating and sustaining productive relationships with external firms and vendors, ensuring value, transparency, and innovation.
  4. Technology: Implementing and leveraging technology solutions to automate processes, enhance efficiency, and support legal operations.
  5. Data Analytics: Using quantitative and qualitative data to improve legal department function, uncover trends, and inform decision-making.
  6. Information Governance: Developing policies for managing and protecting sensitive information, ensuring compliance and minimizing risk.
  7. Knowledge Management: Capturing, sharing, and effectively utilizing organizational knowledge and best practices.
  8. Professional Development and Team Building: Focusing on recruitment, training, and development to build a skilled and cohesive legal ops team.
  9. Cross-Functional Alignment: Collaborating with other business units (like IT, Finance, HR) for improved efficiency and impact.
  10. Service Delivery Models: Optimizing the allocation of legal work to the most suitable providers, whether internal or external, to ensure quality and cost-effectiveness.
  11. Project and Program Management: Effectively managing legal projects and programs, utilizing specialized skills for successful implementation.
  12. Practice Operations: Streamlining legal practice operations to allow lawyers to focus on high-value legal work, reducing operational tasks.

The ACC Legal Operations Maturity Model 2.0 serves as a comprehensive reference tool for legal departments, designed to help benchmark their maturity in various operational areas. This model takes into account that priorities and goals may differ based on a department's size, staffing, and budget constraints. The model covers a broad range of functions essential for the efficient operation of a legal department:

  • Change Management and Communications
  • Contract Management
  • eDiscovery
  • External Resources Management
  • Financial Management
  • Information Governance (Records Retention)
  • Innovation Management
  • Intellectual Property Management
  • Internal Resources Management
  • Knowledge Management
  • Metrics & Analytics
  • Project & Process Management
  • Strategic Planning & Legal Operations Leadership
  • Technology Management​​

These functions represent key areas where legal departments can focus on developing capabilities and implementing best practices to enhance their overall effectiveness and align more closely with business objectives.

Top Legal Operations Resources

Legal operations professionals have access to a variety of communities and resources that offer support, education, and networking opportunities. These resources are essential for staying updated with the latest trends, best practices, and innovations in the field. Here's a brief overview and a list of some top communities and resources:

  • Consero Legal Operations: Known for organizing high-quality, invitation-only events for senior legal executives, Consero offers a unique platform for networking and gaining insights into legal operations and management. Their forums provide opportunities for sharing experiences and learning from industry leaders.
  • Corporate Legal Operations Consortium (CLOC): A leading global community offering education, networking, and resources specifically tailored for legal ops professionals.
  • Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC) Legal Operations: A section of the ACC dedicated to supporting legal operations professionals with resources, education, and networking.
  • Legal Operators: Connects legal operations professionals globally, providing forums for sharing best practices and innovations in legal ops.
  • ILTA (International Legal Technology Association): While focused on legal technology, ILTA offers valuable resources for legal ops, particularly in the tech domain.

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