We look at the scope of the Legal Operations team, its structure, and how you can set up your own dedicated Legal Ops function for success.
In-house Legal teams are asked to act as a strategic advisor to corporates, while becoming a service center that helps empower the entire organization. Torn between increasing workloads and limited budgets, in-house counsel has hard time meeting these demands.
Enter the Legal Operations team, a dedicated function within in-house Legal, whose goal is to enable in-house counsel do their job more efficiently, turning their expertise into readily available interactive guidance across the corporate. Below, we dive deep into the structure and dynamics of a Legal Operations team, from their strategic initiatives to day-to-day tasks, how the entire corporate benefits from Legal Ops, and finally, the most important success factors that enable Legal Operations to do its own job efficiently.
Table of contents
- What does a Legal Operations team do?
- Structure of a Legal Operations team
- Setting up your Legal Ops team for success
- FAQs about Legal Operations teams
- Benefits of a dedicated Legal Operations Team
What does a Legal Operations team do?
At its core, Legal Operations exists to support Legal in all areas of its work – from strategic alliances with C-suite and other business units, to sourcing legal tools and taking care of the legal spend.
The Corporate Legal Operations Consortium (aka CLOC) sets out 12 Legal Operations competencies that can then be further expanded into areas of work of Legal Ops teams. These competencies are:
- Business intelligence
- Financial management
- Firm and vendor management
- Information governance
- Knowledge management
- Organization optimization and health
- Practice operations
- Project/program management
- Service delivery models
- Strategic planning
- Training and development
While these competencies show the vast scope of Legal Ops’ work, they do not truly showcase the tangible value that Legal Ops has for a business.
If you want a closer look at the full value of Legal Ops, check out our Ultimate Guide to Legal Operations. In the next section, we’ll focus on the most vital competencies and how they translate into the day-to-day activities of a Legal Ops team.
Legal Ops and business intelligence: data-driven decisions
While most business functions have benefitted from data insights for years, in-house Legal is just now catching up and recognizing the importance of data-driven decisions. Many law departments still make little use of data and metrics, but the pressure to identify KPIs, measure them, and report on them is increasing.
To aid in this transition to data-driven legal work, Legal Operations teams must:
- Determine the metrics and KPIs to track.
- Monitor and report on these metrics to Legal and other business units.
- Create and implement the data strategy.
- Build dashboards that help other units make informed decisions.
- Find patterns and feed these insights to other business functions for better decision-making.
Role of the Legal Ops team in financial management and eBilling
As legal budgets start to stall, in-house counsel need to make adjustments to how they use resources.
Legal Ops must play a supportive role in resource use by:
- Analyzing and forecasting legal budgeting needs.
- Predicting, monitoring, and reporting on legal spend.
- Identifying areas where costs can be optimized.
- Taking care of eBilling setup and maintenance.
- Managing contracts (and almost 57% of business leaders report that contract inefficiencies lead to slower revenue recognition)
- Helping bring more predictability into how finances are managed
- Communicating and aligning with the corporate finance department
Managing external counsel and vendors
In-house teams rely on external counsel for specific guidance, but finding, onboarding, and communicating with multiple law firms and vendors is time-consuming for the already thinly spread Legal departments.
Here, Legal Ops:
- Finds and onboards new external law firms and counsel.
- Performs due diligence checks on potential vendors.
- Negotiates rates and pricing structures.
- Manages long-term partnerships with vendors.
- Identifies areas for collaboration and partnership with vendors.
Information governance for company-wide compliance
Legal Operations teams serve as a bridge that connects the Legal team with other units, ensuring company-wide compliance when it comes to proprietary information. In particular, Legal Ops teams:
- Create organizational policies that are accessible and understandable by other business units.
- Develop a strategy to ensure that all employees in the organization are familiar with procedures and policies.
- Take care of who has access to highly sensitive and confidential information and monitor access to these records.
- Create and update how all business records, both in paper form or digital are stored on-prem and in the cloud.
Learn more about data privacy compliance.
Legal Operations teams provide the right legal tools
According to the 2019 Blickstein Group Law Department Operations Survey, approximately one in every three law departments still say they don’t have the technology they need to do their job. And Legal Ops is here to change that.
When it comes to securing the right tools, Legal Operations:
- Sets and implements the overarching tech strategy for the Legal team.
- Assesses the Legal team’s tech stack and identifies any needs for new tools.
- Determines which tech software to purchase.
- Evaluates and selects tech vendors and suppliers.
- Automates repetitive, manual tasks and workflows.
- Connects tools for common processes, such as contract management, IP management, e-billing, and document automation.
- Leads any collaborations needed with the IT team.
In this way, Legal Operations makes legal workflows faster and more efficient. But more importantly, it makes the legal expertise readily available to all other units as needed, without increasing the legal workload.
Structure of a Legal Operations team
Legal Operations is still being shaped as a dedicated function, so there is no definitive answer to how it’s structured. Still, there are some consistent structural themes. Here is a rundown of key roles within Legal Operations, typically found across corporates.
Director of Legal Operations
Typically, the Legal Operations team is run by the Director of Legal Operations. They manage the entire Legal Ops function, working directly with either the General Counsel or C-suite. The Director of Legal Operations focuses on strategic legal ops matters, such as resource allocation, signing on new vendors and partners, employee initiatives, and any long-term strategic matters.
Legal Operations Manager
Legal Operations Managers deal with day-to-day projects and tasks. They manage and oversee a variety of Legal Ops ongoing projects, communicating with other business units and external stakeholders. One of the key assignments of the Legal Operations Manager is to monitor and identify areas to improve existing workflows and processes.
Legal Operations Specialist
Legal Operations Specialists juggle between various Legal Ops areas, from improving intake tools for the Legal team, to talking to other business units and creating policies that ensure employees work in compliance with relevant policies and regulations.
Legal Operations Analyst
Legal Operations Analysts help find data and translate them to insights that Legal and other business functions can use for more efficient work. This is a highly specialized role that primarily deals with KPIs, analytics, dashboards, reporting, and providing actionable information to the rest of the team.
A legal engineer, sometimes also called a legal technologist, is the person who actually builds digital legal solutions, products, services, and processes. They are at the nexus of legal expertise, software engineering, and client/business needs.
Setting up your Legal Ops team for success
While the Legal Operations team brings ample benefits to both the Legal team and the entire corporate, there is some mastery needed in making sure Legal Operations actually yields results.
After all, despite it being skilled in numerous vital areas for the business, Legal Operations is not insular. Instead, its success is measured through the success of other teams, Legal in particular. To do so, here are three key guidelines to help set your Legal Operations team for success:
- Align Legal Operations with General Counsel. Legal Ops typically reports to General Counsel and so as the role of a GC becomes more strategic, Legal Ops should follow. Strategic alignment with GC will mean strategic alignment with the top management. This means that Legal Ops will understand the broader context in which the corporate operates, so their hunt for operational efficiencies will be better informed. The stronger the alignment, the richer the insights that come through Legal Operations data analytics work. And as a result, the better performance of the corporate as a whole.
- Establish partnerships across departments. Legal Operations teams have the potential to help and inform the work of other business units as well, including Compliance, Finance, Strategy, and Procurement teams. Creating partnerships with these units will help Legal Operations bring value beyond Legal, becoming an enabler for the entire organization.
- Demonstrate tangible use cases of legal tools. There is a myth that needs busting — that Legal Ops is just about getting more tech. It’s not. Besides, if there is no clear value to your tech stack, there isn’t much purpose in rolling out just another piece of software. Instead, your Legal Operations team should be able to demonstrate value for your Legal team and other units well before purchasing a new tech tool. So it’s important that this tech stack stems from the strategic goals (hence the importance of alignment with GC and other business functions), rather than the other way around.
FAQs about Legal Operations teams
Legal Operations is a function within the in-house Legal department that works to improve the workflows and process of in-house Legal team, and in doing so, allow the in-house counsel to do work more efficiently.
Within a law firm, Legal Operations helps partners and associates work more efficiently, by taking care of anything from automating repetitive tasks, managing contracts with clients, and tracking budgets.
Legal Operations teams works on various operational tasks related to the work of in-house Legal department, from reporting on key metrics to contract management and eBilling, to creating organizational policies. For an in-depth look at Legal Ops work, check out our Ultimate Guide to Legal Operations.
Legal Operations team allows in-house counsel to focus on more strategic tasks, while at the same time servicing the entire organization. By turning legal expertise into actionable legal advice that’s available around the clock, Legal Ops ensures the company is fully compliant as it scales its business.
Benefits of a dedicated Legal Operations Team
Legal Ops may still be establishing footing in the legal industry, but its multi-faceted benefits already show. As we’ve seen, the Legal Operations team finds and extracts the right data and turns it into guidance for other departments and business functions. It also finds the right tools for the Legal team, sharing the operational “burden” with the in-house counsel, and feeding the right legal guidance to all employees.
And this is just a portion of the full power of Legal Ops team. Legal Operations teams not only help with juggling the operational aspects of the legal workload, but they help with strategic, data-driven empowerment of all other business functions. But to do this, they need the right tools themselves. If you want to equip your Legal Ops team with the right tool stack to help your legal scale, book a demo with one of our experts today.