When should I start investing in legal operations? Hint: you already are

Laura Guenther | August 9, 2018 | Articles

We don’t need legal operations yet.

We’re too small for a formal legal operations manager.

We’ll wait until our department has matured before considering legal operations.

We don’t have budget to invest in a legal operations platform.

If you’ve said any of the above at one time or another, I challenge you with a simple question – Why?

Legal Operations Isn’t ‘New’

Let me start by saying that legal operations has been around for longer than you might think. Our friend Liz Way, former Operations Director of Legal and Compliance, shared that early in her career, legal operations was generally referred to as an 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.

Fast-forward to today and the legal tech landscape has grown exponentially with legal operations evolving alongside. It’s now a highly-respected and strategic role that’s responsible for everything from strategy and vendor management to staffing and budgeting.

Innovative groups like CLOC and ACC Legal Ops, along with a wave of industry thought leaders and legal technology providers, are amplifying the voices of legal operations professionals and demonstrating the extreme value they provide to the legal department.

A Path Walked Before

Some may be hesitant about the rise of a formalized operational function within legal, but it is not unchartered territory (and definitely not a fad).

I know from experience. I started my career in what is now referred to as marketing operations and saw a similar transformation.

Over a decade ago, before the formal title of marketing operations in many organizations, marketers like myself were tasked with developing processes, building a data governance program, managing and implementing technology,  and having an overall ‘finger on the pulse’ of everything going on in the department.

A quick timeline for comparison:

  • 1990s: A renewed focus on customer retention, and a higher expectation of marketing departments to be accountable for resources and ROI, led to the introduction of marketing automation software.
  • Mid 2000s: Groups like The New Marketing Mission and the analyst firm, International Data Corporation, started publicizing the rise of marketing operations, and the first ever Marketing Operations Symposium was held in Los Angeles.
  • 2011: Marketing ops was identified as the fastest-growing position in marketing.

Sound familiar?

3 Levels of Legal Operations

Just because you don’t have someone on your team with the formal title of ‘legal operations’ doesn’t mean you aren’t already investing in it! Just like in my experience, you probably already have someone who is focused on the technology you use as well as the processes you are building and enforcing.

That being said, the question I challenge you with now is — How mature is your legal operations function?

At SimpleLegal, we like to think of legal operations in three levels:

  • Level 1: The Admin
    The beginner’s level of legal operations is typically an admin who manages the legal department’s vendors through the company’s on-boarding process. They facilitate payment for services rendered, and when possible, provide basic reporting to various stakeholders. They might also ensure compliance with financial controls and internal audits.
  • Level 2: The Optimizer
    The mid-level of legal operations is all about optimization. The legal operations specialist works more closely with vendors than an admin would. The goal of legal ops in this level is to help each vendor better understand how they can do more for the overall business. It may also include working with IT and industry consultants to deliver technology necessary to fulfill the responsibilities of the position such as tracking, reducing, and reliably reporting on legal spend.
  • Level 3: The Strategizer
    This level is what all legal departments should strive to achieve. Legal operations will work closely with the many groups that work with legal (a topic we’ll be discussing in more detail later in this guide) to make processes go faster given that certain activities must be done. Effective legal operations understands requirements, predicts needs, and implements the solutions to ensure maximum efficiency and effectiveness.

Interested in Learning More about Legal Operations?

Check out our comprehensive guide, Legal Operations 101: A Blueprint for Modern Legal Departments or head over to www.simplelegal.com. SimpleLegal is a leading legal operations management platform, helping modern legal departments run a more efficient legal department.

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