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In-House Counsel

Interview with Stephanie Corey of UpLevel Ops

We’re sitting down with legal professionals to learn more about their roles and responsibilities, uncover useful insights and best practices, and discuss their view on the future of legal and legal technology.

In today’s feature interview, we have the pleasure of chatting with Stephanie Corey, Co-Founder of the Corporate Legal Operations Consortium (CLOC) and Co-Founder and General Partner at UpLevel Ops, a consulting firm specializing in providing services for in-house legal departments and law firms. Being a part of both established legal ops teams as well as those started from scratch, Stephanie shares her perspective on making the case for a legal ops role, as well as the challenges that come with the position, and how to up level oneself as a legal ops professional.

Having been on both an established legal ops team, as well as one that was starting from scratch, what would you say are some of the benefits and challenges of each?

When I was at HP we had a huge Legal team – approximately 1,500 people – so we had the bodies and resources to absorb any work coming in. I had almost 100 people in the Ops team, which meant there were enough people to delegate the work to, and if I needed resources or support, there was always a way to make it happen. Of course the downside to working in a large organization was the bureaucracy. There were a lot of approvals we had to go through, specifically when dealing with Corporate IT to implement new technology. Another downside was the siloed nature of the organization, so there wasn’t a lot of cross functional work happening either within my team or across the department.

Moving to a small company was a breath of fresh air. There was no bureaucracy. As long as I had the money to pay for something, I could do whatever I wanted to do. We were given a budget and allowed to manage as we saw fit within that budget. Working in a smaller organization also enabled our functional partners like HR, IT, and Finance to better provide solutions for our needs. The downside is that the margins were very thin, so while I was able to drive my own initiatives, we had to find very creative ways to fund my programs and get the headcount we needed.

When does a company know that it’s time to build out a legal operations team and how does a GC make the case for legal ops?

Someone is already running the business by doing the budgets, tracking spend, processing the invoices, and managing the contracts, so it’s really just a matter of figuring out when to formalize the role and hire someone specific for these functions to take it off the desk of the attorney.

When it comes to making the case for legal ops, you have to look at workload. You can make assumptions about how much time it’s taking the attorneys to do the administrative work – let’s say it’s typically about 15% of their time – and how much time is spent tracking down invoices and doing budgets. From there, you can calculate the cost of inefficiencies and make a case for a dedicated legal operations role.

What helps champion a legal ops role?

I think once attorneys see how much time a legal ops professional can save them, they begin supporting it pretty quickly. Typically these roles start out as tactical roles where the legal ops manager will implement critical infrastructure in the department. Eventually, as the person matures into the role and gains experience and confidence, the GC will hopefully begin to include him/her in decision making and strategy development as well.

In general, the legal ops role is being championed as people are taking legal ops more seriously. Just like in other industries, other types of professionals besides lawyers are now seen as critical to the delivery of legal services, which has been a catalyst for elevating the status of this role. In addition, having legal operations professionals come together under one voice via various groups has also played a huge part in unifying the role.

You’ve spoken at legal events and conferences all over the world. What are your thoughts on global legal operations – are we seeing the same trends overseas as we are here?

Certain pockets have embraced legal operations early and we’re seeing a lot of the same trends we do here in the states. The East Coast adopted legal ops far earlier than the Bay Area because the need was there sooner due to the highly regulated pharma and finance industries. After that, it hit the tech sector – New York, Chicago, and San Francisco is where we saw the genesis of legal operations from a tech standpoint. Now, it’s pretty ubiquitous in the US.

I’ve talked to colleagues internationally and while the legal operations function is present abroad, it’s still growing, though I think we can expect it to grow faster than it did in the US because it’s been done before. There’s a model and an evolution that can be referenced.

To close, what advice would you give someone just starting off in legal operations?

There is no formal path. If you come from a different department such as Finance, HR, or IT, with Legal as your customer, you’re already supporting the legal operations function. You have the experience and knowledge of working with the Legal team and that’s the best way to get someone to notice you.

If you are a law student or someone from a firm, you have to really show that you have program management experience and the mindset of constant process improvement. You have to program your brain to constantly be searching for a better way to do things.

That said, a legal operations role is an equal combination of analytical, programmatic and soft skills. You’re the one who really ensures that the legal programs are getting adopted – and the only way to do that is to be well-liked and trusted. You’ll be more successful if you’re influential rather than forceful.

Stay In the Know

We’d like to thank Stephanie for taking the time to chat with us! If you enjoyed today’s interview, subscribe to our legal ops blog to make sure you never miss insights from our feature interviews. And if you, or a fellow colleague, is interested in sharing your in-house counsel experiences, email [email protected]