Deep dive

What is legal operations? A guide to legal ops and its benefits

March 21, 2024
Melody Chen

Table of Contents

What is legal operations?

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. This multidisciplinary field harnesses business processes, software and technology, financial management, and project management to empower legal professionals to concentrate on legal counsel while streamlining service delivery. By integrating strategic planning, technology innovations, and data-driven decision-making, Legal Ops transforms legal departments into dynamic, efficient entities that align closely with business goals, driving value and reducing inefficiencies across the organization. In simpler terms, it’s the behind-the-scenes machinery that keeps a legal department running smoothly, freeing up and enabling attorneys to better focus their time on legal analysis.

“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

Interviewing for a legal operations role? Prepare with our comprehensive interview guide for legal operations roles.

Key functions of legal operations

While the scope of legal operations can vary from one organization to another, at a high-level, legal operations is charged with:

  • Partnering with leadership on strategic and financial planning to ensure strong department performance and spend optimization
  • Implementing and integrating legal technology solutions to drive efficiency.
  • Managing vendors, including selection, cost negotiation, and performance evaluation.
  • Identifying opportunities for efficiency, including streamlining workflows and emphasizing continuous learning and adaptation for the legal department.

Business intelligence and strategic planning

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.

Financial planning and management

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. 

Legal technology management

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.

Vendor Management

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.

Knowledge Management

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.

Process and Project Management

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.

Professional Development and Training

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.

What makes a good legal operations manager?

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.

What are some tips for a new legal operations manager to be successful?

"Make sure key business stakeholders have a strong understanding of what legal operations is. You won’t get the legal operations staff or budgetary funding to build and grow without it. Lead with confidence in these meetings, and be kind; after all, you are the face of the legal operations function.” - Ashley Willoughby, Director of Legal Operations at Coherent Corp

For a new legal operations manager aiming for success, understanding the intersection between law, technology, and business processes is crucial. Start by familiarizing yourself with the current legal and technological landscape of your organization, identifying areas where efficiency can be enhanced through automation, process improvement, or technology adoption.

Establishing strong relationships with key stakeholders within the legal department and across the organization will be invaluable. Listen actively to their challenges and objectives to align your initiatives with the broader organizational goals. Additionally, immerse yourself in the legal operations community by engaging with communities like CLOC and ACC for insights, best practices resources, and networking opportunities. This will keep you updated on industry best practices and innovative solutions.

Emphasize data-driven decision-making by setting up metrics and KPIs to measure the performance and impact of the legal department’s activities. This approach not only helps in identifying areas for improvement but also in demonstrating the value of legal operations to the organization. Focus on developing a strategic roadmap for your department, prioritizing initiatives that offer the highest value and align with company goals.

Effective communication and project management skills are essential for implementing changes smoothly and securing buy-in from team members and stakeholders. Remember, being proactive, adaptable to change, and committed to continuous learning are key traits that will contribute to your success as a legal operations manager.

Sample legal operations manager job description

Role Description:

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.


  • Develop and implement scalable processes to improve legal team operations.
  • Oversee budgeting, financial forecasting, and vendor management for the legal department.
  • Implement legal technology solutions, including intake and workflow management software, and manage the legal department’s contract databases.
  • Coordinate legal projects and manage relationships with internal and external stakeholders.
  • Coordinate work assignments for the legal team.
  • Create reports on the legal team’s performance and output and assist with workload management.


  • Bachelor’s degree and at least three years prior work experience, including at least one year of prior experience in a legal operations or general operations role.
  • Excellent project management and process improvement skills.
  • Strong knowledge of legal department processes and technology solutions.
  • Excellent interpersonal and communication skills.
  • Computer programming, business, and/or data science background is a plus.

Key legal operations resources

There is a wealth of legal operations communities dedicated to enhancing efficiency, innovation, and collaboration within the legal operations field. They offer a comprehensive suite of tools, best practices, insights, and networking opportunities to propel in-house legal departments.

Corporate Legal Operations Consortium (CLOC)

CLOC offers an extensive array of legal operations resources, from benchmarking data and best practice guides to educational materials and dynamic events. Don't miss their renowned annual conference in Las Vegas, a hub for innovation and community building.

Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC) Legal Operations

ACC Legal Operations offers a treasure trove of tools and insights tailored for in-house legal departments. Dive into resources like the ACC Legal Operations Maturity Benchmarking Report to gauge your department's progress and identify areas for improvement. ACC empowers legal teams to optimize their operations and maximize organizational value.

LINK Legal Innovators Network

Join the LINK Legal Innovators Network to tap into a vibrant online community where legal ops professionals exchange knowledge and resources. This platform is rich with webinars, articles, and templates designed to elevate your legal operations practices.

International Legal Technology Association (ILTA) Legal Operations Community

ILTA's Legal Operations Community serves both law firms and in-house legal department professionals, focusing on the integration of technology to streamline operations. Access a wide range of legal operations resources, including insightful webinars, white papers, and case studies, through ILTA. provides tools and resources available to legal operations professionals such as compensation benchmarking and competency models to best practices and thought leadership. They have an annual conference each year in Las Vegas in the fall.

Legal Operators connects over 3,000 legal operations professionals through unique networking opportunities such as dinners, in-person events, and monthly roundtables. Benefit from webinars and community-led research to stay ahead in the fast-evolving legal operations landscape.

By leveraging these legal operations resources, professionals can significantly improve their legal department's efficiency, effectiveness, and alignment with broader business objectives. For a list of events, conferences, and other resources for this year, check out our guide to Top Legal Operations Resources and Events for 2024.

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