First 30 Days: what to tackle in a new legal ops role

Varun Ambrose | April 12, 2023 | Articles

When starting a new role, overcoming the learning curve along with the desire to make a lasting impression can put a lot of pressure on you. And with the responsibilities of the legal ops role varying from one department to the next, an exciting opportunity can quickly start to feel overwhelming.

That’s why we wanted to share a few key areas that legal operations professionals can focus on during their first 30 days at a new company. While not a comprehensive list, limiting your first few weeks to these focus areas will help you create a thoughtful plan that not only organizes your immediate priorities, but provides you with a long-term roadmap for how to make a significant impact.

Get to Know Your Team’s Strengths and Weaknesses

One of the best ways to uncover how to quickly drive new processes and efficiencies is by learning how the legal team currently operates. What better way to learn than by engaging in conversations with your new team!

While informal interactions are helpful for getting to know general feelings and team dynamics, schedule a time to speak with each person one on one to understand their role. Ask each person what do they like about their role? What are their biggest pain points? Answers to these types of questions can help you learn the ropes while also pinpointing common themes and areas for improvement.

Understand How the Legal Department Interacts with Internal Clients

Legal operations has the ability to introduce operational rigor to the legal department, but process improvements don’t have to (and shouldn’t) stop there. Because legal works with so many departments, from finance and accounting to IT and human resources, it’s important to understand how legal interacts with these teams on a regular basis.

Our friend, Ryan Black, is the Head of Legal Ops at Opendoor and was their first legal ops hire. He recommends that new legal ops hires go on a “listening tour” with major stakeholders to understand what is and isn’t working, and how the legal team could better support the rest of the departments – a strategy he’s used and found success with. Doing so allowed him to understand where the legal department might be a bottleneck for projects and formulate a plan to remedy the issue.

Additionally, legal must be embedded into the c-suite and the overall business operations. This is key in order for a legal department to articulate – often through reporting and analytics – its value and ultimately, how it supports the success of the entire business. By going on a listening tour, legal ops professionals are exposed not only to business unit leaders themselves, but initiatives the business is doing that need additional legal attention. This way, the proper steps can be taken to ensure the business engages the legal department at the right time in a project’s life cycle.

Identify Areas for Process Improvements

After collecting information on your team’s strengths and weaknesses and pairing those findings with your newfound knowledge on how the legal department interacts with other business units, you’ll have a good grasp of what your current processes look like – who is doing what, when, and how.

From there, work with the business to develop process maps. We recommend creating a graphical representation of the work being done, which encompasses how the teams work together or hand off work (including the when and why). This visual representation helps bring clarity to opaque processes and can make it easier for everyone to identify shortcomings in the way things are currently done. While it requires a pretty hefty time commitment upfront, it will pay dividends long term!

Create (Or Evaluate) a Technology Roadmap

Because technology heavily influences the way legal teams operate, its emerged as one of the key areas of focus for legal operations professionals – and one of CLOC’s (Corporate Legal Operations Consortium) core legal ops competencies. The most successful legal ops professionals are fluent in data and technology, sharing the benefits technology can provide with their team and greater organization.

If you’re joining a legal department that’s hindered by manual processes, use your first 30 days to develop a technology roadmap that can be implemented over the next two to three years. Focus on technologies that will provide data on how legal operates and where the department is investing money. Once you have visibility into your spend, you can make suggestions for new investments or how money can be reallocated to drive greater outcomes. In some cases, like for the legal team at AdRoll, spend visibility benefited other departments outside of legal such as accounting and finance.

When legal technology is already being used by the department, start by creating a list of those technologies. Then, meet with your team to understand what each technology is being used for and any pros or cons. Depending on your team’s overall goals, it may be time to evaluate new technology. This is especially important for legal teams that have been using the same solution for a number of years as the tech landscape has evolved, with more modern and intuitive legal operations management platforms emerging as alternatives to legacy systems. Check out this quick 10 point questionnaire that can help you decide if you’re ready for a legal operations management platform.

Legal Operations is All about Connectivity

Spend your first 30 days at your new role soaking in as much information as possible about your team’s existing strategy and company’s overall vision. You’ll undoubtedly find ways to increase connectivity between members of the legal team to complete projects efficiently and effectively, between your team and outside counsel to ensure high-quality legal work, and between your team and other departments to support business goals and growth while reducing risk.

For other tips and strategies on building out and optimizing legal operations, download our popular white paper, Legal Operations 101: A Blueprint for Modern Legal Departments.

Legal Ops