Feature interview: the evolution of legal operations with Liz Way
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.
This month, we had the pleasure of chatting with Liz Way, Operations Director, Legal and Compliance at Change Healthcare – one of the world’s largest healthcare IT companies. With decades of experience, we were most interested in hearing how Liz has witnessed the role evolve over the years.
Interview with Liz Way of Change Healthcare
How has the legal operations role changed from when you first started to now?
Early in my career, the role was generally referred to as the office manager within the in-house legal department. There wasn’t a lot of technology, so the job was primarily focused on making sure the day-to-day operations of the legal organization ran efficiently – things like ensuring that the lights were on and all computers and printers were working.
The evolution of the role from then to now has been transformational. It has reinvented itself over the years, and now has the official title of legal operations. It’s not just an office manager type position, but a highly-respected and strategic role. I’m now responsible for everything from strategy and vendor management to staffing and budgeting.
With the experience you’ve had in the evolution legal operations, what do you wish that more people understood about the role as it stands today?
I report directly to the GC and am part of the leadership team for the legal and compliance organization. I currently have fifteen people that report into my operations department. I have a voice and am empowered to ensure the organization is moving in the right direction. For example, I recently met with the admin staff on changing the current support model. We discussed tweaks to make it more efficient and what could be done to ensure smooth operations across the board.
Ten years ago, an office manager would not be evaluating or advising on something like this, and would never have a direct report. So, things have changed.
What is your secret for managing relationships with outside counsel?
I see myself as the interface between the organization and vendors, and have found that an open, transparent relationship is the key to success. Effective management of outside counsel is dependent on building that relationship from the very beginning, starting with our attorneys.
It is important to understand both sides of the relationship:
- Our law firms are our trusted partners and have an obligation to abide by our billing guidelines
- We have an obligation to pay their bills
When a vendor or law firm inquires about payment status or has a question, I’ve learned that nothing good comes from being dismissive toward them. We value our outside counsel and want to create strategic partnerships so I always make sure to respond back in a timely manner. Outside counsel are experts that we trust, and we value their work. It’s very important each law firm and vendor we work with understands that we feel that way.
Implementing legal operations software with spend and matter management capabilities is the best way to open up additional communication with law firms. It is more efficient for both sides of the relationship, and there are time and cost savings through elimination of paper invoices.
What are your top recommendations to new or growing legal operations teams trying to influence positive change in the legal department?
My top recommendation is to be open to new ways of doing things. It’s our job as legal operations professionals to create better, more efficient habits for departments throughout the organization – even if it means that we’re not going to do something the way it’s always been done. The idea that the status-quo won’t be accepted must be communicated to all stakeholders involved, including leadership. You’ll run into challenges, but you can’t get discouraged about investigating the wrong path.
You also need to make sure you have a vision, and it can’t be tunnel vision. Build a strategy for how you want the organization to reach a specific goal; a six month, one year, and two year plan, for example. But you don’t just support one business unit, so your strategy should be focused on how to provide a value add and ROI to the entire enterprise.
What trends do you anticipate seeing in the legal operations industry in the next few years?
The position will only gain more respect as legal operations professionals continue to demonstrate the value they bring to the organization. Most already have a seat on the leadership team, and if they don’t, they soon will.
I also think there will be additional tools and opportunities for legal ops to make sure the organization is operating at top efficiency, and that more will be adopting the existing tools (video conferencing, e-Billing, knowledge management, etc).
Where else are you involved in the community? What groups do you look to for advice, resources, or just connecting with peers?
In my opinion, CLOC (Corporate Legal Operations Consortium) is one of the most important organizations, especially for those looking to connect with peers in their region. ACC (Association of Corporate Counsel), and their legal ops arm, is another great resource for those interested in learning more about their role.
Build Efficient Legal Operations
We’d like to thank Liz for taking the time to share advice to new legal operations teams and her experience with how the role has evolved over the years. If you enjoyed this interview as much as we did, subscribe to our blog – we’re always sharing the latest in legal operations!