Best practices

The legal operations interview guide

May 29, 2024
Streamline AI

Table of Contents

What is legal operations?

Interviewing for a legal operations analyst or manager role? In-house legal operations (also known as “LegalOps” or “legal ops”) can be a compelling alternative to working at a law firm, especially for those who enjoy data-driven process improvements and project management. Legal operations teams tend to be more technology-forward, adopting legal tech solutions to deliver services efficiently. Many former paralegals, case clerks, project managers, and attorneys have found fulfilling careers going in-house in legal operations roles. 

Take a deep dive into the legal operations role here.

I think my answer changes so often because the Legal Ops function really does evolve. But suppose I were to give the gist of what Legal Ops does in one sentence, it’s: “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

Key responsibilities of legal operations roles

LegalOps roles focus on optimizing in-house legal department efficiency through process management, technology implementation, and strategic planning, providing a structured environment with opportunities to influence business outcomes and drive continuous improvement. In-house roles offer respite from billable hour pressures, better work-life balance, and collaboration with cross-functional teams to impact strategic decisions. Effectiveness is often measured by the quality and impact of work rather than just hours billed, making them ideal for those who thrive on improving the efficiency of processes and leveraging data to drive performance.

What’s helpful to look for are people who have strong attention to detail and enjoy living outside of the box. When you're trying to assess what a company or legal department needs or ways to make things better, you have to get a little creative sometimes. That means thinking outside the box and not just doing what everybody else is doing. You need to be able to think about the company as a whole — the overall picture — especially when it comes to spend. - Brandy Musick, Senior Manager of Legal Operations at Keurig Dr Pepper Inc.

Preparing for a legal ops interview

Understand the role and responsibilities

Legal operations roles are pivotal in optimizing the efficiency and effectiveness of legal departments. They encompass process management, technology implementation, and strategic planning. Understanding these key responsibilities is essential for the interview. The skills and responsibilities for legal operations roles can vary significantly depending on the size and sophistication of the legal operations department.

Access a sample legal operations job description here.

The first legal operations hire

When a company hires its first legal operations professional, the role is often broad and multifaceted. Responsibilities might include:

  • Building foundations: Establishing basic processes and systems for legal work, including legal request intake forms, matter management and document management
  • Technology implementation: Selecting and implementing essential legal tech tools to streamline intake, centralize all legal work, and automate workflows, such as review and approvals
  • Vendor management: Developing relationships with external legal service providers and negotiating contracts.
  • Reporting and metrics: Setting up initial metrics and reporting frameworks to track legal department performance.
  • Budget management: Overseeing the legal budget, ensuring cost-efficiency, and forecasting expenses.

Roles at a more established legal department

In a more sophisticated and larger legal department, with existing legal operations professionals, roles can become more specialized, including:

To better understand the type of legal operations professional a company is seeking, it's important to go beyond the job description. Take time to learn about the structure of the legal department. Use resources like LinkedIn to identify key team members, their roles, and review their job descriptions to see how the department integrates with other business units. This knowledge will help you understand how you can add value to the team and effectively frame your work experience and skills.

Understand the company

To succeed in a legal operations role, it's essential to prepare thoroughly, communicate clearly, and understand not just the legal team, but the business itself. Legal operations often serve as the connective tissue between the legal team and the broader business — essentially responsible for running the legal department like a business. 

Dive into the company’s business model and the industry it operates in. This includes understanding the company’s strategic goals and how the legal team contributes to achieving these objectives. Familiarize yourself with recent industry trends and how they might impact the company.

Be prepared to highlight key skills

Practice explaining legal concepts in a way that non-legal professionals can easily understand. This skill is crucial as you will often need to communicate complex information to stakeholders who do not have a legal background. Focus on clarity and simplicity in your explanations. Highlight your ability to connect legal risk to business impact and provide examples of how legal operations can mitigate risks and add value. This shows your strategic thinking and understanding of business dynamics.

Structure your answers for impact

To make a strong impression in a legal operations interview, structure your responses using the STAR method, a framework for setting clear and achievable goals. It stands for:

  • Specific: Clearly define the goal.
  • Measurable: Establish criteria to track progress and success.
  • Achievable: Ensure the goal is realistic and attainable.
  • Relevant: Align the goal with broader objectives or personal values.
  • Time-bound: Set a deadline to create a sense of urgency and focus.

The STAR method is excellent for answering interview questions because it helps you provide clear, concise, and focused responses. This structured approach demonstrates your ability to present metrics, build a business case, and handle other key tasks in a legal operations role. It highlights your problem-solving skills and showcases your achievements in a logical manner.

Sample interview questions and answer tips

Describe a situation in which you had to manage multiple competing priorities. What was your strategy, and what were the outcomes?

Explain your method for assessing urgency and importance, delegating tasks, and setting clear milestones. Focus on methods like prioritization matrices, project management tools, or time management techniques. Discuss how you balance urgent vs. important tasks with a legal priority framework. Provide specific examples of how your strategic approach led to timely and successful project completion, improved efficiency, and positive feedback from stakeholders.

Describe a challenging project you managed and the outcome. How did you ensure key milestones were met?

Showcase project management skills, including planning, execution, and overcoming obstacles. Share how you worked with key cross-functional stakeholders, such as Procurement, Finance, IT, and more. Highlight the impact and any lessons learned.

Can you provide an example of a process improvement you implemented?

Focus on identifying inefficiencies, planning improvements, and the impact on the team or company. Mention any tools or methodologies used.

Can you give an example of how you’ve used data analytics in your role?

Focus on data-driven decision-making and the tools used (e.g., BI tools, Excel). Describe how data analysis led to specific, actionable insights and improved outcomes.

Can you describe your experience with selecting and implementing legal technology solutions?

Share how you identified and prioritized a key pain point that merited a technology solution, such as intake and workflow automation software. Explain how you assessed the needs, built a business case, selected the software solution, implemented and rolled out the tool, and measured success. Talk about how you’ve implemented continuous improvement.

How do you stay updated with best practices and legal technology?

Mention continuous learning methods such as legal newsletters, legal operations industry resources and events, and professional networks, such as CLOC or LegalOps, or ACC’s Legal Technology report. Highlight your proactive approach to learning.

How do you measure the success of legal operations initiatives?

Discuss metrics and KPIs such as turnaround time, cost savings, and compliance rates, and why they’re important. Explain how you report and use these metrics to drive improvements.

Describe a time when you had to manage a budget for a legal department.

Show financial acumen by discussing budget planning, monitoring expenses, and cost-saving initiatives. Provide examples of how you aligned the budget with strategic goals.

Can you describe your approach to managing legal spend?

Highlight budgeting and cost-control measures. Discuss tools and strategies for monitoring and optimizing legal expenses.

How do you manage relationships with external vendors and law firms?

Discuss your approach to vendor selection, negotiation, and ongoing relationship management. Mention strategies for ensuring cost-effectiveness and quality service.

How do you handle and resolve conflicts or disagreements within legal teams or with other departments?

Describe your approach to understanding different perspectives through active listening and fostering open dialogue. Highlight how you facilitate collaborative problem-solving and align resolutions with the organization’s objectives, ensuring all parties feel heard and respected.

How do you ensure effective communication within a legal team?

Highlight communication tools and strategies such as regular meetings, collaborative platforms, or clear reporting lines. Discuss fostering a culture of transparency.

Describe a time when you had to explain complex legal information to non-legal stakeholders.

Highlight communication and simplification skills. Discuss methods for making legal concepts accessible and actionable to business stakeholders.

Describe a situation where you had to handle a crisis.

Highlight crisis management and problem-solving skills. Discuss coordination with stakeholders and communication strategies.

How do you approach training and development within a legal team?

Discuss your strategy for assessing team members’ skills and creating tailored development plans that address specific needs. Highlight your initiatives to foster a culture of continuous learning through regular training sessions, workshops, and mentorship programs, ensuring that the team stays updated with the latest technologies, processes, and best practices.

Can you share your approach to change management?

Talk about how you create a supportive environment through effective communication with stakeholders, manage diverse personalities, and highlight benefits of the tools to gain buy-in. 

When I’m interviewing potential legal operations candidates, two of the questions I ask are, “What is change management to you? How do you approach it? I ask this during the interview process because one of the keys to successful legal operations requires positive change management, especially when you’re dealing with lawyers. - Ashley Willoughby, Director of Legal Operations at Coherent Corp.

By using these tips and examples, you can effectively prepare for an interview for a legal operaitons manager or analyst role, showcasing your skills and experience in a structured and impactful way.

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