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Operations 101

By Andres Jara Baader posted 06-29-2020 13:15


Please enjoy this co-authored blog written by Jake Hills, Vice President, Legal Operations, Elevate Services and Andrés Jara Baader, CEO, Alster.

1. What is Legal Operations all about? 

As the Corporate Legal Operations Consortium defines it, legal operations is a fast-moving, evolving, and varied discipline

"Legal Operations" describes a set of business processes, activities, and the professionals that enable legal departments to serve their clients more effectively by applying business and technical practices to the delivery of legal services. Legal Operations provides strategic planning, financial management, project management, and technology portfolio investment expertise that allows legal professionals to focus on providing legal advice.

2. Why Might Legal Operations functions be relevant for a legal team?

There are several trends driving the need for legal ops, however, we could say that the main ones are: (a) The need for increasing the service delivery model, introducing metrics, processes, resources optimization  and technology; and (b) the changes in the legal environment, where the traditional doing business faces a complex legal landscape driven by costs pressures and the need of speed on a digital economy.

3. What is the current landscape for legal ops?

As legal departments increasingly recognize the benefits of a legal operations team, they face the question of whether to invest in a legal operations manager or instead task an existing attorney to take on the job of managing legal operations in addition to their current workload. According to Bloomberg Law’s 2020 Legal Operations Survey results, the General Counsel led the legal operations team in over 50% of law departments. In only 17% of legal operations did a legal operations manager run things.  The CLOC 2019 State of the Industry Survey reported a similar trend. The CLOC survey found that only 50% of the people who lead their department’s legal operations team had the name “Legal Operations” in their title.

If you are embarking on standing up a legal operations function, I strongly encourage that you resist the temptation to add legal operations responsibilities to an attorney’s already full workload. While it may be a quick solution or a seemingly sensible short-term approach, numerous surveys have found that departments with at least one legal operations professional consistently outperform those departments without any. Notably, the recent 2020 ACC Legal Operations Maturity Benchmarking Report showed that, of the departments that rank in the top 10% of departments by the ACC maturity score (based on more than 15 functions on the ACC Maturity Model), 73% of those departments employed at least one legal operations professional.   

I encourage legal departments to carefully think through what they are trying to accomplish with a legal operations team – and, if they want it to make a meaningful impact that they invest accordingly.

4. Which are the main contributions/benefits of a legal ops team?

We could say that the main contributions are:

  • Legal professionals focus more on legal work .
  • Quantifiable data analytics that provide metrics and measurements to improve process .
  • Greater visibility of legal spending
  • Technology implementations that optimize and accelerate process and allow client self-service.

5. What are the key considerations when starting a legal ops team?

An effective legal operations team prioritizes – and, as necessary, re-prioritizes – projects on an on-going basis. Improving the delivery of legal services requires coordination and communication with other parts of the business, in-house legal team members, and outside counsel. Competing interests and different priorities are inevitable and can paralyze the effort to stand up a legal ops team. To prevent getting stuck before you even begin, keep in mind one of my favorite quotations: Just Start.

Guided by the principle of “Just Start,” the crucial first step is to determine and analyze legal spend. You need a good understanding of your department’s expenses if you are going to sensibly prioritize your activity and develop an effective legal ops organization. According to the ACC Legal Operations Maturity Benchmarking Report, a focus on Financial Management consistently rates as the key differentiator in its maturity model: a department’s focus financial management regularly correlates to its degree of maturity.

To develop the financial management functions of your department, you need an eBilling Provider matched with your department’s needs. By funneling all of your department’s spend through an eBilling solution, you can obtain the information necessary to sharpen your focus on the strategic cost-savings initiatives that provide the highest and fastest return.

This brings us to another critical step: we encourage our customers to develop a benefits matrix to visualize and assess the impact of various spend management initiatives. We find it’s best to start with the program that is the easiest program to implement, involves the least effort change management, and provides an immediate ROI. One program that meets all three of these criteria is Invoice Review. There is minimal work necessary to implement is, its change management requirements are very modest, and it can save legal departments, on average, 3-5% of total spend.

Here is an example of a Benefits Matrix for reference when considering legal spend management initiatives:


6. How does Legal Ops relates with technology?

Legal Ops ensures that the legal team has the right tools and processes to most effectively perform its work.

Therefore, you would expect that a Legal Ops function starts with creating a long-term technology roadmap that covers the different needs of a specific legal department. As you know, there are many tools out there in the market and the number is increasing. Hence, a proper Legal Ops professional or team should have a good map of the available technologies, but also understand in a proper way the limitations of its company to acquire or implement them.

In contrast to a hodge-podge of point-solutions that only capture and track information about a single aspect of legal operations, one example is Elevate ELM, which offers a single, integrated workflow and reporting system across multiple business processes, such as project management, contract management, e-signature, budgeting and billing, and reporting. This kind of tools should be the ones Legal Ops seeks for to focus the efforts of change management and technology adoption, one of the key entry barriers of any new tool.