You’ve heard the hype. Legal ops is transforming the legal department and making a positive impact on just about every other department too. But how do you get started? How will legal ops fit into your team? And will the C-suite buy in? Whether you’re looking to make your first legal ops hire, or you’re interested in a career in legal ops, we’ve got answers for you.
In our latest panel discussion, moderator Eric Frank, Legal Ops Consultant at Lawtrades, spoke with Janine Dixon, Legal Operations Manager at Meta and CLOC Washington DC Regional Group Leader, Neshade Abraham, Global Head of Legal Operations at Etsy, and Cindy Kaneshiro, Director of Legal Operations and Chief of Staff at Nutanix. They shared a ton of wisdom and practical advice.
In case you couldn’t make it, here are our 5 key takeaways.
💼 Know your business
Legal ops can only be successful if it aligns with the priorities of the biz. Take note – it’s good to water the lawn but not when the house is on fire. There’s also a good chance that you’ll be short on resources so you’ll need to figure out how to optimize what you have.
Here are seven steps for developing a legal ops strategy:
- Get to grips with the business goals for the next quarter, year, or even five years.
- Have a tight hold on your own departmental goals.
- Meet with stakeholders and understand their pain points.
- Ask attorneys to estimate how long they are spending on different administrative tasks (But don’t try to get them to record their hours. That’ll go down like a concrete dinghy).
- Check for redundancies – multiple people responsible for tasks that only require one.
- Look around and see where there’s room for improvement.
- Take a peek at the 12 functional areas of legal ops, according to CLOC, the Corporate Legal Operations Consortium, and decide which one/s to prioritize. These include things like financial management, technology, and program/project management.
💸 Pay the bills and they’ll love you
Cue Pink Floyd, ABBA, and The Notorious B.I.G. because it’s all about the money. All of our panelists said they recommend a legal billing specialist as your first legal ops hire. Along with that, your first legal tech buy should be a billing system. Why? Because you’ll very quickly be able to show your attorneys and your C-suite the tangible financial benefits.
- Attorneys wasting less time doing billing admin.
- Statistics on what is handled internally vs externally.
- Better enforcement of outside counsel billing guidelines.
All of this can translate into savings that will help you get buy-in for your next hire. Another possible option for your first hire is a legal ops jack-of-all-trades (or Jill, or Zainab) — someone who can address a variety of problems. This is particularly good for fast-evolving, dynamic teams.
When it comes to the type of person you should hire, there’s no one answer. Paralegals, attorneys, and project managers all make good legal ops pros depending on the skills you need. It’s an advantage if they understand attorneys, their gripes, their attitude to change, and what makes them tick.
For your second and third hire, you’ll need to assess the team and your overall strategy. You could consider someone to deal with:
- Outside counsel spend optimization
- Project management
🗣️ Speak their language
Having all the answers is pointless if you can’t communicate those ideas and get both attorneys and the C-suite to buy in (not to mention give you some budget). The first step is making sure that the legal team feels included in the decisions that are happening and that their problems are being addressed. The next step is to take your strategy on a roadshow. If you can show attorneys that you’re taking something off their plates, their faces will light up like a kid at Christmas. The same goes for the C-suite and anything you present that will save them money, free up resources, or improve efficiency.
Use any data you can gather to back up your case (CLOC resources help here) and make sure you’re talking their language. If the C-suite loves to talk about data-backed decision-making or ROI, use those terms. Think about what they care about. For example, can you get contracts moving faster, automate NDAs, streamline billing, or shorten SLA time? Tell them how that will help the business reach its goals. It will help if you can situate the ops team so that they report directly to the GC. That way you’ll have top-down buy-in from the get-go.
Of course, all of this is not a once-off process to get the legal ops function off the ground. You’ll need to keep showing off your value, taking the pulse of what the department needs, and demonstrating your impact with data. That being said, be careful not to overcommit or promise things you can’t deliver. You’ll regret it later.
🏈 Go long
Once you get the legal ops function off the ground, you can start to think about the long term. It’s good to have an ambitious strategy that aligns with the business but you do need to be flexible. Something new could pop up that requires loads of outside counsel. Remember that little blip that started in March 2020 and had everyone pivoting? Things can change in a heartbeat. You’ll constantly be balancing triage with working towards a loose long-term vision. Keep checking in with all the stakeholders so your strategy stays current.
As part of your long-term strategy, make sure that you are developing your legal ops (dream!) team and facilitating their growth. The more skills and experience they can gain, the stronger they’ll be in the future.
With time, legal ops will also start to build cross-function with other departments. Sales, finance, and marketing will all have interactions with legal ops and probably use you as a conduit to interact with (intimidating) attorneys. So make friends. You’ll need them.
👫 Don’t be a stranger
You might be the only person pushing for the ops function in your business, or perhaps you’re the first legal ops hire and you’re trying to figure it all out. But that doesn’t mean you’re alone. The legal ops community is full of helpful, friendly people who have been in your shoes. So reach out.
CLOC should be your first port of call. They have useful resources and events as well as an active messageboard with a search function for quick questions. There are also smaller networking groups like Link, ACC Legal Operations, and the Legal Value Network. You can build your network via LinkedIn or even start your own regional legal ops group.
If you can’t find what you need through networking, there are also consultants and experienced legal ops freelancers you can bring on board to help you get going (hello, there 😀).
Finally, don’t forget to pay it forward and offer your wisdom to others once you’re a pro.
Enjoy these recaps? Share them with your network!
👋 The team at Lawtrades
P.S. we’ve been working on something huge. If you’d like to download an exclusive, practical guide on how to build and scale your legal ops function from the ground up … register for the waitlist here.