What does Legal Operations encompass?

Think of legal ops as a multi-tool; a dozen different functions available on demand from a single person. Most legal ops roles cover process improvement, vendor management, communications and change management, IT and legal tech, legal spend, cross-department relationships… the list goes on. It is still tricky to define the function precisely as it encompasses an extremely wide range of responsibilities and skills.   

Who do they report to?

Most Legal Ops teams report to the General Counsel or the Chief Legal Officer. However, a number of companies now have an additional dotted line to other functions, such as the CFO or the COO.

What are the key objectives of a Legal Ops team?

Until recently, legal teams operated in silos, almost as separate entities from other business units. Today’s legal departments no longer have this privilege. They are slowly becoming a fully integrated component of the larger business with similar expectations and requirements as other business units such as HR or IT. It is a drastic change and means new operating models must come into play.

That’s where legal ops teams step in. Legal Ops is the driver of legal transformation. The overarching goal is to make life easier for in-house legal departments and help them navigate this transformation. In theory, it’s a straightforward – and desirable! – objective. The reality is a lot more challenging. 

How do in-house departments benefit from Legal Ops?

In-house lawyers often struggle to keep up with heavy workloads. When time is of the essence – and it always is – process improvement or resource optimization are low on the agenda. Legal Operations specialists are to lawyers what agents are to artists. They let lawyers focus on their art and provide the support they need to get the best results possible. In practical terms, this means focusing on efficiency through optimization and this is clearly a full-time job. 

Which skills are essential to succeed in Legal Ops?

If you look at job ads for legal ops, you’ll note they tend to put a major emphasis on experience with legal tech. It makes a lot of sense but it paints a very limited picture of the role.

Legal ops specialists are jack-of-all-trades in the best possible way. They have excellent project management skills, they are strong communicators and they understand why and how process improvement works. They also have a good understanding of financial objectives and can easily work with outside counsel or ALSPs. On top of that, they bring a wide range of ‘soft skills’, from negotiation skills to plain common sense! 

What are the common mistakes to avoid as a Legal Ops specialist?

There is a lingering misconception about legal ops and legal tech being interchangeable. The best way to dispel this is to ask “what’s my mission as a legal ops professional? Doing tech or doing more?”

Any discussion on legal transformation should include the people-process-tech equation. Take one of the components out and the equation fails.

Let’s say the legal ops team wants to improve Process A and decides to go full steam ahead with a piece of legal tech without considering the people and process elements. It might work! Unfortunately, odds are it won’t. In order to balance the people-process-tech equation, they need to review the process (automating a good process is useful; automating a bad process is… bad). They should consider who will lead the tech implementation phase, who the users will and/or should be, and whether required skills are available in the team. They can also explore whether outsourcing the process to an ASLP would be a more cost-effective solution. There is a long list of questions to answer before jumping head first in the tech pool.

Tech is tempting and can be a game-changer but focusing on tech alone is a very slippery slope.

In what ways has Legal Ops evolved over the years and what does the future look like?

The legal ops function is fairly young – some large companies are only just developing the function internally – but in the last ten years, the role has grown at an incredible pace. This is an incredible time for the legal sector as the first generation of legal ops specialists get to set the cornerstone of the function. They get to shape what the role can and should be, with every opportunity around the corner, and that is the brightest future I can imagine.

Scroll to Top

Get in touch