Legal operations, also known as “Legal Ops”, is the business support side of the legal department. Think of it as the bridge between the traditional practice of law and the business side of an organization. Their role is all about improving the efficiency, effectiveness, and delivery of legal services from the in-house legal team. In simpler terms, it’s the behind-the-scenes machinery that keeps a legal department running smoothly, from technology and finance to project management and analytics, and freeing up and enabling attorneys to better focus their time on legal analysis.
While the scope of legal operations can vary from one organization to another, at a high-level, legal operations is charged with:
Effective legal operations departments prioritize data-driven approaches. They’ve identified the most relevant legal team Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to measure their team’s achievements and have established key processes to do so. Legal Ops then shares these insights and metrics with department and company leadership to drive strategic planning. This ensures that the legal department’s objectives align with the border business goals, making legal a strategic partner rather than just a cost center.
A key responsibility of legal operations is developing and managing the department’s budgets to ensure that resources are used responsibly and spend remains predictable. They implement robust processes and systems to create budgets and forecasts, monitor legal expenditures (often utilizing eBilling software), and manage accruals. They’re also charged with identifying opportunities to manage costs, including negotiating fee structures with outside counsel. Throughout these processes, legal operations maintain a close collaboration with the finance department.
As companies grow, legal teams are often asked to do more with less — and a modern legal technology stack can help a legal department scale up legal services without adding significant headcount. Legal operations teams often drive more efficiency or effectiveness through the legal team’s technology strategy. Often considered tools include intake and workflow automation, electronic discovery, contract management, and matter management systems. Driving this initiative includes researching technology vendors and evaluating legal software options, implementing and overseeing legal technology solutions, training the legal team and staff on how to use the tool, and monitoring usage and feedback. Legal Ops can ensure faster time-to-value by being the dedicated point of contact within the legal team. When implementing these technologies, a key priority is adopting software systems that integrate, share data, and work well with each other to create a seamless experience.
For many legal departments, outside counsel fees can be the largest line item in the budget. For this reason, legal ops can make meaningful changes with effective vendor management. This includes selecting third-party service providers such as law firms and other consultants and negotiating fee arrangements and contracts. Once these vendors are onboarded, legal ops employ benchmarking metrics to assess outside counsel performance against set expectations. This comprehensive approach not only involves regular performance evaluations but also the implementation and adherence to clear billing guidelines.
As teams grow or team members change, Legal Ops works to ensure that knowledge is shared and consistently applied, providing consistent quality and reducing errors. They do this through creating and maintaining team wikis, legal knowledge hubs, contract repositories, and a library of form documents and precedents.
Legal Ops will work on refining workflows, managing legal intake processes and projects, and working to ensure tasks are done efficiently and effectively without hiccups. As they manage various legal projects, they track progress, allocate resources optimally, and maintain timelines. With their behind-the-scenes work, legal operations can expedite task completion and boost the overall productivity and morale of the legal team.
Legal operations teams are pivotal in bolstering the professional development and training within a legal department. This includes setting up onboarding processes for new team members to ensure they’re familiar with the legal teams’ tools, processes, and best practices, setting up training programs and CLEs on the latest legal regulations or new software tools, staying on top of legal trends and regulatory changes, and implementing tracking and feedback systems to understand the effectiveness of training initiatives for further improvement.
When setting out to hire your first legal operations manager, you’re essentially seeking the glue that will hold your legal department together, making it efficient and streamlined. At the heart of it, you want someone who is a mix of a strategist, a technologist, and a hands-on executor.
Since they’ll often partner with legal and finance department leadership, a strong candidate should not just be good at the day-to-day but must be able to envision long-term strategies, plan for scalability, and anticipate future challenges.
Look for a candidate with a strong foundation in legal processes and someone who is tech-savvy. Given the growth of legal tech to meet in-house legal’s needs, look for candidates adept at using, implementing, and vetting new technology solutions. Ask them how they keep abreast of legal tech trends or software solutions. Can they share experiences driving the evaluation or implementation of software solutions? For instance, if they’ve previously implemented a contract lifecycle management system at a previous job or have been involved in refining legal workflows using modern software tools, that’s a big plus.
Beyond technical know-how, your ideal legal ops manager should have strong interpersonal skills, and be a natural communicator and collaborator. Given that they’ll be working closely with the department, business partners, and external vendors, their ability to articulate ideas, gather feedback, and rally everyone toward common goals is invaluable. They should possess excellent organizational skills and be able to make sure tasks are prioritized, delegated, and completed efficiently.
The Legal Operations Manager will be responsible for improving and maintaining operational processes within the legal department, supporting the General Counsel with budget planning, creating and managing processes, identifying and leading initiatives to improve legal team efficiency, implementing and managing the legal team’s technology stack, and ensuring effective communication between legal and business teams.