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How Legal Ops Can Help Scale Your Legal Department

By Rodolfo Christophersen posted 06-24-2022 17:44


Please enjoy this blog posted on behalf of the author, Mary O`Carroll, Chief Community Officer, Ironclad. 

Through my years at Google, CLOC, and now Ironclad, I’ve met with countless GCs and in-house professionals struggling to scale their legal departments and optimize their resources. Fortunately, I have some experience with this.

I started at Google when the Legal department was roughly 200 people. At first, our legal department looked like many others; we had no processes or procedures, no systems or tools, no data or reports. By the time I left 13 years later, the department had scaled to over 1,400 people globally, maintaining enviable levels of efficiency and collaboration.

Any organization looking to grow needs to have legal partners well-versed in the company’s particular needs and challenges. In today’s growth economy, that may mean scaling your internal legal team quickly. Here are five tips to help you get there – through legal operations. But first and foremost – how should you think about hiring a legal ops manager?

Hire differently
When you feel like you’re drowning in work, there’s a tendency to want to hire more attorneys with your same background so that they can hit the ground running and take work off your plate. While that feels right, it will only alleviate things temporarily. Maybe you don’t actually need to hire more attorneys if you give them time back to do the attorney-ing. On the other hand, hiring a Legal Operations professional can act as a force multiplier in scaling your existing resources.

Legal Ops should be one of your first five hires if you’re focused on growing and scaling efficiently. If you're not sure whether your department is ready to do so, ask yourself this… How much attorney time is spent on things like budgeting, outside counsel management, headcount planning and org structure? Or evaluating and implementing systems and tools, figuring out what to outsource and to whom, and what to automate? What about rolling out cross functional initiatives, responding to new regulations and investigations, reporting up to the board or exec team, and creating metrics and reports to help guide decisions? I’m assuming the answer is: a lot of time. And guess what? These are things that lawyers aren’t trained to do, and often have no interest in doing. By hiring someone with business acumen to manage this for you, you can have someone focused on scaling while you get the added benefit of improved professional satisfaction from your attorneys – who now get to focus on the right type of work.

Establish formal processes and procedures early
While it may seem early and feel a bit bureaucratic to force people to work through proper channels and get approvals to do things, it’s much easier to start doing that now than to change bad habits later. This can include things like creating a process to formally request contracts, engage outside counsel, request budget, and more. Once these processes are in place, a legal operations team can not only maintain them and increase adoption, but iterate and scale them as your company grows.

Document these in one place (like an intranet site or shared doc) as an easy-to-access source of truth about how to get things done. And be sure to train new hires on this when they start.

Automate as much as you can
Today’s technology can really help transform a legal department; automating your manual or time-consuming processes offers so many improvements that will allow you to scale. Aside from the drastic efficiency benefits, you’ll also unearth a wealth of data and reports to help you make better business decisions and create controls to help automatically manage risk. Again, this is a step that is uniquely suited for a legal operations pro to manage – where they can continuously iterate and scale automation.

So you know you need to invest, but where? To prioritize your tech options, you’ll want to start where you can make the biggest impact. Look across your department to determine what type of work is taking up the most resources – whether that’s headcount, time, or money. For more than 80% of growing departments, that will be contracts. If that is the case for you, a Contracts Lifecycle Management (CLM) system can really help save time and speed things up for your team, often saving multiple FTEs-worth of work right off the bat. Think about where you can create self-service capability like allowing your business clients to access pre-approved templates or contracts language where they can – oftentimes – bypass Legal altogether, freeing up valuable time for all involved.

Create a plan for data management
Data gathering and data management become even more crucial as your legal department grows and scales. You simply have to know how your team is doing at all times – from budgets and spending to contracts, cases, and outcomes.

Always be thinking about how to capture, structure, and report on data when you’re establishing processes or systems. By building a data analytics plan upfront, you’ll set up your organization for success by creating actionable insights that allow you to prioritize your team’s efforts at all times.

With every initiative, think about how you might measure success. Think about capturing the current state and then showing improvement over time – which could be hours of time saved, improvements in turn-around time or sales velocity, reduced risk, or better controls. And remember to take the time to manage up and share those wins back with your leadership teams. By demonstrating the impact and value of your initiatives, you can start to build the case for future investment in efficiency improvement projects.

Encourage knowledge sharing whenever possible
Collaboration is key, so be sure to establish a culture of knowledge sharing early on that your legal operations team can then manage. Similar to data, knowledge management also becomes increasingly difficult and crucial as you grow and scale. Shouting over the cubicles in the office or blasting out a department-wide email when you need to find certain information may work effectively when you’re small, but that falls apart quickly as a knowledge management strategy when you scale.

Instead, create habits for people to store and share work products, documents, and relevant decision-making histories. This will ensure that all employees have access to the overall expertise held within the organization and don’t have to waste time digging around.

Building a legal department is no easy feat – but with the proper hiring mindset, setting and maintaining the right processes and procedures, and proper adoption of the right technology are the beginnings of a very solidation to the department. Legal operations are central to each and every one of these beginning steps – which allow your legal teams to focus on the work that they do best: legal.