Let's Talk Legal Ops - Key Takeaway/Summary

By Brian Balistreri posted 09-07-2023 18:10


Please enjoy this quick summary for ILTACON session entitled "Let's Talk: Legal Ops" by Harriet Joubert-Vaklyes, Senior Project Manager - Legal Operations, CBRE Group.

“’Legal operations’ in law firms should be called something else.” Brad Glickstein, moderator of the hour-long “Let’s Talk Legal Ops” panel, started the session off with an acknowledgement that we’re currently using ‘Legal Ops’ to mean everything that pertains remotely to operations in a legal context, with a call to find another term to specify when we mean “operations within a law firm.” With that caveat out of the way, it was time for introductions. Among the panelists: Michelle Compasso, Legal Operations at Corteva Agriscience; Sondra Rebenchuk, Senior Innovation Counsel at Blake, Cassels & Graydon LLP; Don Knight, Directory of Legal & Tax Ops at Crown Castle, and Steve Viron, Managing Counsel at Crown Castel. Brad Glickstein of Glickstein Group and Ron Warman of Affinity Consulting Group served as moderators/interlocuters.

Comprised of two panelists in traditional Legal Ops roles (as traditional as one can get in a still-nascent field), and two attorneys (both in-house and at a firm), the group was able to discuss a variety of instances that illustrates how Legal Ops is a multi-disciplinary function with an impossible array of tasks that no one person can do. In some companies, Legal Ops serves as the owner of legal tech, while others are primarily focused on CLM. In other instances, Legal Ops serves as the records management, document management, and/or data management functions, or focuses on legal entity management. In yet other scenarios, Legal Ops serves as a process improvement arm, and others still have a primary function of outside counsel management and invoice payments. All this to say: there is no one way to do legal operations.

The group focused on four big functions of legal ops: 1) delivering tech solutions, 2) collaboration between law firms and their clients, 3) optimizing outside counsel, and 4) legal service request management. I will focus below on functions 2 and 3.

On collaboration between law firms and their clients, Sondra discussed a time when a client approached their firm with a problem: getting their contracts reviewed in a cost- and time-effective manner. Blakes provided a project manager to map out the end-to-end process and came up with an elegant solution. They built a contract portal (in HighQ), where the client uploads contracts for review, which is then reviewed by attorneys working for Blakes’ in-house ALSP, ultimately making the work cheaper for the client and forging a stronger relationship with them. This is a good illustration of how law firms should be partnering with their clients’ legal operation functions to assess the needs of the business, determine which level the work should be performed, and assist in managing the work—making the law firm instrumental to how a corporate legal department does work is just good for business.

Further, the group posed some interesting questions around optimizing/managing outside counsel, namely:

  • ·         How can we make the process around different transaction types clearer to that everyone is on the same page about scope?
  • ·         How can we make use of our corporate procurement teams to ensure the person deciding on the vendor (law firm) isn’t the one managing the day-to-day? i.e.   how can we smooth out negotiations and enabling relationship management to be separate?
  • ·         How can we ask our law firms to assist us in working within scope? What kinds of controls are needed, and who can help manage those controls?

In discussing their respective Preferred Provider Networks, Michelle & Don highlighted that the “right” number of law firms to have on one’s panel will differ broadly: Michelle’s company size and type of work necessitates over a 1000 firms that they regularly work with, while Don’s group has managed to whittle their panel down to seven (7!) firms. Whatever your number, one of the most important questions to ask about your panel is: are these effective relationships? Regardless of your in-house legal team’s span in knowledge and experience, your law firm partners should be just that—partners.