Predictions for legal ops in 2023 with Lauren Stern of Dolby Laboratories, Inc.

Kara Wen | February 9, 2023 | Articles

In-house legal departments have to continue to do more with less in 2023. As the year starts with a challenging economic climate where resources continue to decrease, legal professionals must remain agile and adapt whenever and wherever needed.

We’re sitting down with legal professionals to discuss the impact and their view on the future of legal and legal technology in 2023 and beyond.

For this interview, we have the pleasure of chatting with Lauren Stern, Director of Legal Operations at Dolby Laboratories, Inc. Also a former lawyer, Lauren shares her personal perspective on what legal operations and the wider in-house legal industry should be focused on in 2023.

What do you see legal ops focusing on in 2023?

In general, there are three core legal ops functions: people, processes, and technology. This year, I see the focus largely falling upon people and technology, as these are both at an inflection point and directly impact expense management.

The last few years have been turbulent and economic uncertainty is a reality in 2023. Focusing on the people and technology, will help in navigating that uncertainty and in parallel, strategically manage costs.

By concentrating on the people, engagement and connection will increase, which in turn impacts team performance, productivity, and stability. Closely examining legal technology, identifying the tried-and-true, mature solutions and weeding out those that don’t deliver, can create efficiencies that better support the people and business, reduce expenses, and generate savings.

In sum, rather than straight cost-cutting to address the uncertainty, which can have wide-ranging negative impacts, legal departments need to strategically manage and control expenses in a way that continues to mitigate risk and enable the business.

How do you see legal ops tackling the focuses you brought up?

Let’s start with people.

People are any company’s greatest asset. And yet so much has changed in this respect – both the faces of the teams and the way we work are different. We are now in a position where we have to put the puzzle back together, but the world has changed and the pieces are different. This is where legal ops, as people and relationship managers, can help.

In a time where teams are hybrid, remote, and dispersed geographically, Legal ops can foster re-engagement and social connectivity through meetings planned with intention and purpose and team-building events. It’s also important to ensure everyone feels appreciated and valued for, as well as connected to, the work they do. This means not only finding ways to celebrate successes, promoting well-being, and creating opportunities for mutual feedback, but also getting our teams involved in the bigger picture. We need to open the window into how their respective roles fit into the larger mission and roadmap so they feel a part of the process and have insight into how their involvement directly contributes to and benefits the organization.

Furthermore, offering opportunities to develop professionally and support career progression is critical. This not only expands our team capabilities and reach, but also it shows that the company values its people. In situations where the team is stretched or has gaps, it’s critical to think about what we can do to alleviate the burden. Ask yourself, can we look at contractors or Alternative Legal Service Providers (ALSPs)? These solutions can offer skilled workload support for needs that are short-term or finite and, at a minimum, provide some breathing room to make strategic budget and resourcing decisions.

Focusing on the people leads to team satisfaction and stability, which benefits everyone. For the business it specifically translates into higher performance and continuity, which reduces or eliminates the cost of hiring, training, transition, and lost knowledge.

The other major focus is technology.

There has been an explosion of legal technology over the last decade. Whether you have embraced any of the new and continuously evolving options or are just a bystander staying abreast and considering taking the leap, the legal industry has been on a roller coaster ride and the options out there can be overwhelming.

In legal ops, we’ve spent years examining the technology and going through implementations, enhancements, and integrations. In 2023 and beyond, I hope to see a narrowing of tech solutions as the mature solutions and those that truly deliver to the requirements rise to the top.

In addition, the buzz around AI shows that legal is not going to settle for just the foundational legal tech of e-billing or contract lifecycle management solutions. Legal ops teams are scrutinizing their tech stacks and asking themselves:

  • What technologies do we not have but need, or have and are meeting our needs, which are going to be our foundation for efficiency and optimization in our legal service delivery?
  • What are the new and innovative solutions (AI, machine learning, etc.) that can add a next level of agility, precision, streamlining and / or time / cost-savings?
  • What technology isn’t delivering or meeting our needs and should be eliminated (even if that means overcoming sunk-cost bias)?

Legal technology is not new, but with all of the change in this space and a clearer focus on the business needs and what the market has to offer, 2023 and the next few years should be a year of finally implementing or fine-tuning the legal tech stack.

So with all this at play, how do you think legal ops can continue to support the wider legal department and organization as a whole?

Everything we discussed represents change, and with any change, there is always going to be hesitancy and pushback. Legal often can be very traditional or set in its ways. Legal ops can ease the change, the transition and frustration that can come with it, by continuing what we’ve done since the very first implementation – educating stakeholders on the benefits and risks associated with embracing or not embracing the change, including them in the process and conversation and taking their feedback into account, and supporting them along the way through training, documentation and partnership.

As for expense management, another significant issue in 2023 is the dramatically increasing outside counsel rates. Legal ops needs to go beyond the invoice level and look critically and comprehensively at the whole program. Some things to explore and potentially reconsider:

  • What firms are we engaging and why?
  • Are we receiving the expected level and quality of service and is it addressing the business needs?
  • Do our billing guidelines need to be updated? Do they address our current needs, set appropriate expectations and align with the industry?
  • Can we look at alternative fee structures for more defined projects or engagements?

Again, however, we cannot just simply cut costs, but rather we need to strategically manage expenses. Any enhancement needs to be done with the awareness that outside counsel are important and necessary partners. At the end of the day, we need to find that synergy and middle ground to continue to deliver results.

This discussion has been incredibly insightful and full of great tidbits for any legal ops professional to leverage during the year. Any last thoughts you’d like to leave for us today?

The world has changed a lot over the last few years and 2023 presents a lot of uncertainty. Legal ops needs to focus on how to appropriately and cost-effectively support and resource our teams for the benefit of the people themselves as well as the legal department and business as a whole.

Also, as we lean more on technology, we need to make sure that the solutions selected are secure. This is particularly critical in legal, as we handle significant confidential and private information. With the increase in cyber-attacks and new and evolving privacy laws, data security needs to be on everyone’s radar and a part of your technology requirements.

Stay in the know

We’d like to thank Lauren 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 experiences, email [email protected]

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