Best practices

How to partner with legal ops

April 16, 2024
Natalie Kim

Table of Contents

Natalie Kim is Head of Commercial and Privacy Legal at Intrinsic, an Alphabet company. Views are the author’s own.

Legal counsels need to optimize for impact amidst daily challenges to productivity like shifting priorities, surprises, and fire drills. There’s always more work to be done than time in the day, requiring an effective balance between long-term strategic initiatives and day-to-day tasks. While legal ops has always existed in some form, advances in technology and growing industry awareness have vaulted the function into a critical contributor to legal team success. Partnering effectively with legal ops can be a game-changer to enhance productivity, legal team reputation and efficiency as repeat work and ad hoc processes are automated and delegated away. This post outlines three factors to a solid partnership with legal ops.

Understand great processes = great client service

It takes a village to protect the company from risk and uphold best practices and standards. Legal teams rely on this “village” of colleagues to timely inform us, follow our advice, and tell others what they hear. Especially because legal advice can often be of the “eat your vegetables” variety, we need a bedrock relationship with our colleagues built on trusting support.

In order to cultivate and maintain this trusting relationship, transparency in how legal teams operate and what we expect is critical. Both can be achieved by clear, simple, and efficient processes on how to reach and work with legal. This is where legal ops can have a transformative impact by establishing intake, contracting, and other processes for frequent legal needs (procurement and NDAs are often great places to start). An effective legal team understands that great client service includes accessibility of the right legal team member or self-serve guidance material that solves the problem. 

Even after processes are put in place, continually look to improve the “customer experience” legal provides by keeping an eye out for points of improvement or growing pains in existing processes. Maybe that manual workaround was great when your company had 50 people but no longer works now that you have 500. While legal ops can and do address these proactively on their own, supercharge this effort by continuing to keep a process mindset and providing data points for improvement to legal ops.

Give legal ops a clear, strategic mandate

If legal ops is seen and utilized exclusively as support to legal, much of the potential is left on the table. Capitalize on the operational acumen, project management skills, and technical savvy of legal ops by putting them front and center in strategic cross-functional initiatives with org-wide impact. This can often be paired with more “bread-and-butter” legal ops projects to increase scope for legal ops and visibility for legal as a whole across the organization.

For example, in our CLM implementation we made sure to have legal ops in the driver’s seat for not only tactical execution and admin, but interfacing directly with cross-functional stakeholders as broad as compliance, sales, IT and finance. With legal stepping away from making every granular decision, legal ops was empowered to make decisions and develop strong partnerships with the many cross-functional stakeholders. With legal ops being seen as the “owner” of all things CLM, they were invited to further cross-functional collaboration opportunities such as sales motion design and tool interoperability planning across all commercial teams. 

More successful projects start a virtuous cycle of impact opportunities for legal ops and overall enhanced visibility and appreciation for legal. Giving legal ops a wide, strategic mandate and vision-setting opportunities will pay long-term dividends for the whole team.

Have an open mind

Innovation or change can be uncomfortable, especially when longstanding habits or customs are challenged. However, it’s essential (especially when you’re managing legal ops) to give them free rein over process improvement not only of everyone else’s processes but those near and dear to your heart as well. 

Technology is changing rapidly in legal tech, and the pace of change is only increasing. Legal ops is at the forefront of these changes and responsible for keeping the finger on the pulse and cherry-picking those most beneficial for your company. While proper vetting and due diligence are important for any new tool or process, it’s important to start from a place of curiosity and trust in the expertise legal ops brings. 

The iterative part of process development means that eventually, the process that you put together might need to be deprecated in favor of something else. One of the first things I did when I joined my company was to implement a naming convention and folder system for contracts which I maintained with great care. However, the team grew in size, more and more people started to contribute to the folder and it became impossible to retain the same accuracy. Eventually with implementation of a CLM tool, legal ops helped introduce a searchable, automated contract database that did not require such fine-grained maintenance. Becoming too attached to a particular process can come at the expense of the innovation and velocity that allow counsel to focus on higher-order tasks. Allow for experimentation, understand that occasional failure is built into the process, and trust that the wrinkles will be ironed out — eventually!

A solid counsel-legal ops partnership is a foundation for bringing order out of chaos when everything feels overwhelming. When approached with thoughtfulness and respect great synergies can result from the partnership, leading to more colleagues happy with legal and a happier legal team.

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