The legal profession has seen an incredible rise in legal operations. The advent of sophisticated and modern legal technology, coupled with the steady progression towards running a transparent, data-driven legal department has created a new role that requires a unique mix of talent – and one that is attracting a wide range of professionals both with and without a JD.
Whether you are a new graduate looking to kickstart your legal career or are interested in pivoting to a more operationally-focused role, here are 5 skills that will help you land the legal operations job of your dreams.
1. Business Mindset
Successful legal operations professionals make a recognizable impact on critical elements of business success such as performance, productivity, efficiency, and profitability. The role is attracting hybrid workers – individuals who can not only think strategically and align legal work with business goals but who can simultaneously execute complex legal programs.
This “business first, law second” mentality isn’t a new concept for the legal department and is likely a trickle-down effect from forward-thinking general counsel who understand the value of running legal like any other business unit within the organization. COO (and former GC) of AppDyamics, Dan Wright, shared, “All of our meetings are centered on what data is telling us whether we are comparing contract turnaround to competitors or educating salespeople on tools and better ways to do things. It shows you’re on top of the dollars you’re spending, how things scale over time, and overachieving industry benchmarks,” which brings us to our next skill.
2. Financial Acuity
Legal operations professionals don’t need to be accountants per se, but being comfortable with data and financials is key to success. Preparing and setting budgets, spend forecasting, managing accruals or unbilled estimates from law firms, negotiating and monitoring AFAs (alternative fee arrangements), and reporting on all of these activities contribute to legal ops’ ability to control spend and drive efficiencies.
Alignment between legal and finance produces the best results for the organization, but a certain level of transparency between departments is required for this to happen. Learn how the legal ops and finance departments at AdRoll overcame this challenge and better understand how the ops role can fast-track a stronger relationship with key stakeholders in finance.
In an interview with Google Careers, Director of Legal Operations at Google, Mary O’Carroll, spoke about how broad the legal ops role is. “Our job is to be the executor and change agent. We get to see every aspect and function of the department, and engage with an extremely diverse range of teams and stakeholders. Legal operations leaders must possess a mastery of influence to help translate their vision and ideas into action, and it requires a deep understanding of the culture and of the legal department to do that successfully.”
Great legal operations professionals must work with their internal team, as well as a range of people in different roles, both inside and outside the organization. They bridge gaps between legal, IT, finance, and the business. This requires deep knowledge of each department to ensure that all groups seamlessly work together to protect the business and ensure everyone is on the path towards a collective goal. Having a collaborative mindset that is inclusive of all stakeholders is critical for those interested in legal operations.
4. Tech Curiosity
There is a wide range of technologies available to legal teams – and it’s up to legal operations professionals to stay abreast of available technologies in order to vet, test, and implement those that streamline workflows and eliminate administrative tasks so that attorneys can focus on high-priority legal work.
In fact, the CLOC (Corporate Legal Operations Consortium) 2019 State of the Industry Survey identified e-Billing and matter management software and contract management tools as the most commonly used among legal operations professionals, followed by e-Signature, board management solutions, document management solutions, and IP solutions.
Those who are thinking about a legal operations role need to be curious about technology, constantly keeping an eye out for new solutions as well as new product features within current solutions that can benefit the entire department. After a legal tech foundation has been built, understanding how those technologies can be connected with the tools of other departments will be key for driving additional time and cost savings across the organization.
Check out our Making the Case white paper and learn how to build a business case for legal technology – a great template whether you’re currently in a legal ops role or plan to grow your career in the field soon!
5. Willingness to Ask for Help
While experience helps greatly, no one person will have all the answers, especially in legal operations where roles and responsibilities are constantly evolving. Those who are willing to ask for help and learn from others will be successful in the highly cross-functional legal operations role.
One of the things we always advise new legal ops professionals to do in their first 30 days is to talk to everyone. Legal ops success is about over-communicating, learning the strengths and weaknesses of your team, and understanding how the legal department acts with internal clients. Those who can do so with humility will excel in the legal operations role and are sure to make an immediate impact.
Are You Ready to Jumpstart Your Career in Legal Ops
Many legal operations professionals are lawyers with in-house experience, however it’s not a requirement! We’ve seen many legal operations professionals with MBAs, strong financial backgrounds, and even CPAs who thrive as legal ops professionals. At the end of the day, like many other roles, a smart, self-motivated individual who’s comfortable with numbers and technology will be a great legal ops leader.
Check out our sample legal operations job description for more details on what it takes to be a legal operations professional and download our popular white paper, Legal Operations 101: A Blueprint for Modern Legal Departments for a comprehensive overview of the function.