🪜5 Key Takeaways: The Path from Paralegal to Legal Ops

Legal Operations. It’s as mysterious and intimidating as US Special Ops. Well, not quite. But it is the most in-demand position in legal! So what is it exactly, and how can paralegals transfer into this world? Lawtrades Head of Community Matt Margolisspoke to Carl Morrison, Director of Legal Ops at MGM Resorts International, Deisha Vazquez, Director of Legal Ops at Benevis, and Tom Stephenson, Director of Legal Ops at Credit Karma. They told us how they made the jump and went on to whip their legal departments into shape.

In case you missed it, here are our top 5 takeaways.

💼 The COO of the legal department

07:00 – 19:45

Much like Lady Gaga, the legal ops role has been evolving and growing in popularity since the mid-2000s. It’s fast becoming a must-have as legal departments realize they’re a total game changer. So what does legal ops do exactly? They act as a revenue protector, making sure the C-suite are getting maximum bang for their buck out of legal. They do so by looking at the business operations of the in-house legal department and figuring out how they can be improved.

Confusing intake systems. Bottlenecks in the contracting process. Attorneys’ time is wasted on non-legal tasks. Legal ops takes all that off the lawyers’ plates. Legal desperately needs someone with those skills because let’s be honest, attorneys don’t necessarily know the first thing about business or project management. Legal ops also keeps an eye on the greater mission, so lawyers can focus on putting out fires. In other words, if GCs are Neil Armstrong, legal ops is Houston.

📅 A day in the life

39:25 – 49:19

So that’s the teaser trailer. Now here’s the behind-the-scenes footage. The day-to-day work of a legal ops pro might include:

  • Chatting to colleagues to gauge the appetite for change.
  • Implementing legal tech, systems for gathering data, and workflow solutions.
  • Making data-driven decisions.
  • Using performance data to show how legal is killing it.
  • Pushing for a bigger tech or talent budget.
  • Liaising with ops teams in other departments.
  • Growing and shaping the team.
  • Providing business advice to the GC.

Basically, they’re the glue that holds the legal department together. They are nimble and their role can be shaped to meet a legal department’s needs, no matter the size or budget of the department, or the industry in which it operates.

🦘 Making the jump

19:36 – 32:23

If you’re thinking of making the jump from paralegal to legal ops, there’s good news. You’re probably better equipped than you think! You can stick a different label on it, but lots of paralegal work is operational in nature. It could be billing, budget management, vendor procurement (e.g. finding the best court reporter), or finding ways to speed up the process of dealing with intake forms. Sure, there will be other areas where you have no experience at all but there’s always room to learn. So many paralegals have taken the same journey. Just don’t wait for an opportunity to fall into your lap.

Here are some of the ways you can move towards a legal ops role:

  • Educate yourself. Take a look at the job description of your dream role then head to the University of YouTube to learn as much as you can (but we didn’t tell you that 🤫).
  • Skill up. Take on more operational tasks within your current role.
  • Get networking. Reach out to legal ops pros on LinkedIn. Or check out CLOC(The Corporate Legal Operations Consortium).
  • Advocate for yourself. Let the higher-ups know your goals. Ask for opportunities to upskill. Let them know how you can better serve the department in an operational role.
  • Impress. Being good at what you do now is a great advert for what you’ll do in a new role.

If a lack of confidence is holding you back (don’t sweat, we’ve all been there), look for inspiration. Deisha, for example, started out her career with a high school diploma and a paralegal certificate. Since then she’s:

  • Built an entire legal department from scratch.
  • Run a legal department while the GC was on medical leave.
  • Brought in $11M by implementing a contract management system.

If that doesn’t inspire, we don’t know what will.

🛒 Can I get you a cart for that ego, sir?

32:24 – 39:35 and 49:35 – 56:10

Attorneys have hurled curses, insults, and even physical projectiles at our panelists. Yikes! But, unfortunately, it happens. Being a superstar attorney can lead to an oversized ego (and, well, sleep deprivation). First off, where possible, find a work environment where you’re surrounded by people who will help you succeed and grow. We spend way too much time at work to be dealing with toxic people.

If you do find yourself working with Johnny Bravo, confidence is your friend. Project the image of a highly valuable professional (that’s what you are after all) and others will see you that way too. Sometimes you will have to just put your head down, get the work done, and let the bad behavior roll like water off a duck’s back. At other times, you need to draw boundaries. If necessary, take an attorney aside and let them know, in a polite and professional manner, that their behavior made you uncomfortable. In short, confidence + boundaries + EQ = win.

🤖 A future-proof career

56:11 – 59:43

More and more companies and even law firms are saying of legal ops “Where have you been all my life?” Efficient operations and revenue protection will sound even sweeter if we find ourselves in (whisper it) a recession. Our panelists predict that the profession will be elevated. Legal ops will be brought more into the C-suite and the board of directors as well as private practice. The only way is up.

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👋 The team at Lawtrades