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What is Legal Operations?

What is Legal Ops?

Previously, only large legal departments had a formal Legal Operations Department. But now, a formal Legal Operations group reporting into the General Counsel is becoming much more common, even at smaller companies.

Recently, the leading industry group for legal ops professionals, the Corporate Legal Operations Consortium (CLOC), modified its membership criteria to include legal departments with fewer than 50 people.  In our own customer base, we've seen formal Legal Operations Manager job titles in legal departments with as few as 5 people.

The increasing prevalence of the formal legal ops role, may just be a reaction to increasing budgetary scrutiny. But, the growth of legal operations during both up and down economic cycles implies more of a secular trend rather than a reaction to short-term financial conditions.

Legal Operations is the set of business activities, processes, and people that maximize an in-house legal team's ability to protect and grow the company. It requires a wide-ranging combination of skills including Strategic Planning, Financial Management, Vendor Management, Technology Management, and Legal Data Analytics.

Who are Legal Operations Leaders?

A Legal Operations leader typically reports directly to the General Counsel and serves as a Chief of Staff who helps legal departments get the most out of their legal budgets, legal vendors, and legal technology. They bring the skill set of an MBA to help the JDs get positive return on their million- and billion-dollar budgets.

But, they're not all MBAs. At our customers, Legal Operations leaders tend to fit one of four distinct personas: 

  • the uber-analyst who brings quantitative rigor to the legal department, 
  • the MBA who brings additional operational and financial discipline to the legal department and their vendors, 
  • the lawyer who has chosen a more business-focused career path, or 
  • the highly analytical JD/MBA who is valued for both legal and business expertise

The key characteristics of all Legal Operations leaders are: 

  • a strong understanding of the core business, 
  • an ability to translate the needs of business departments into legal requirements, 
  • a commitment to use the internal legal department to grow the company, and 
  • an ability to manage outside law firm performance

Is Legal Operations Always a Separate Department?

Companies don't always have a specific department (or even a formal job title) focused on legal operations. At some companies, the General Counsel takes on the entire responsibility for communication, strategic, and financial planning. In other cases, the operational responsibilities of the legal department are divided among attorneys, paralegals, and analysts.

A SimpleLegal customer with more than 50 legal team members worldwide, does not have a formal legal operations department. However, at that customer (a multi-billion-dollar company with a presence on 6 of 7 continents) a Deputy GCs describes himself as "the de facto legal ops person" with the remaining legal ops duties split between an attorney in Singapore, two paralegals in the US and France, and an FP&A manager.

Is it Time for Legal Operations?

Legal departments have a company-wide responsibility to protect and grow the business while also managing internal and outside counsel budgets. They face increasing pressure to do more with less.

Legal Operations helps companies maximize their investment in their legal team, legal vendors, and legal technologies.

Author:
Founder & CEO

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