Some tips for those embarking on a legal operations role – from those who have trodden the path and amassed great insight in the process.
The Lawyer’s GC as Business Partner conference in October featured a panel discussion on lessons learned in Legal Ops. An eminently qualified line-up of panellists shared their thoughts on what they would have done differently if they could start over.
The panel included senior personnel from Smiths Group plc, Accenture, Sky and Calor Gas and, importantly, between them represented the complete spectrum of legal team size (ranging from a team of just 6 lawyers to one with over 1000 lawyers!) They also reflected the widely varying levels of dedicated Legal Ops resources available to support legal teams (ranging from a dedicated Legal Ops team of 40 to a team that had no separately designated Legal Ops support at all). Despite the wide variance in their underlying teams, there emerged some key messages common to all teams looking to embark on Legal Ops, whether large or small.
It’s all about people
Change management is fundamental to the success of Legal Ops. The importance of bringing your people on the journey with you cannot be overstated. It is key to get the team to see what is in it for them; enthuse them to be positive agents for change.
Although it may be a lesser task to change the direction of a smaller team, the principle is the same. (Just one negative influencer in a small team can be a formidable blocker).
The panel also stressed the importance of garnering C-Suite support for investment and change. Focus on the outcomes that matter to the Board (quicker deal flow, improved risk profile etc).
Also remember to build relationships with other functions that might be essential to achieve your end goal (and, indeed, they may already have implemented some changes/systems that might be adaptable for your team).
Data is the new oil
All the panellists agreed the fundamental importance of having accurate information about the legal team on which to base decisions (internal costs, external legal spend, where work comes from internally, work types, transaction times etc).
Data and analytics are also of paramount importance to demonstrate to the C-Suite the value that the legal team is providing. One panellist commented “Gone are the days when we could just say to the Board ‘We’re great, can you increase our budget please?’”.
In a live poll taken during the session, 86% of the audience said they did not have readily available the data on their team that they would like.
Innovation for innovation’s sake
Over recent years there has been a frenzied search for that elusive piece of legal tech that will make all the difference. But that quest can be a distraction from what matters more: reviewing your people and what they do. One panellist put it succinctly: “You can build the most efficient machine in the world, but if it is not doing what you need then what’s the point?”.
That is not to say that there aren’t some useful legal tech solutions out there; but anyone embarking on Legal Ops needs to understand that they are tools to help implement what you want to achieve and the first priority is determining what that is. Another panellist commented that the single most useful tech solution they had adopted was a matter tracking solution to capture and analyse data on their team.
Each panellist left the audience with one key piece of advice that they would give to someone about to embark on Legal Ops. Although varied, each nugget was of equal relevance to everyone irrespective of team size:
- Gather the data at the outset and keep capturing it
- Build a support network around you
- Bring your people on the journey
- Being passive never leads to positive change. Whatever you do, do something.
This article was first published in The Lawyer in its January/February edition.