This is the third of a three-part series on the key themes we took away from the CLOC 2018 US Institute. Every year, legal operations professionals from around the world gather at the CLOC US Institute to learn, network, and share experiences. In this series the Brightflag team will delve into the key messages from the conference, and the actionable insights shared by some of the greatest minds in legal operations.

Innovation: Creating Agents of Change

The final key theme emerging from the 2018 US CLOC Institute was the focus on seeing innovation through the lens of change management. Innovation should not be seen as an end-goal in itself, but as the start of an ongoing program of change.

In CLOC’s closing session, in which the GCs of  Cisco Systems, Inc., Hewlett Packard Enterprise and NetApp, Inc. spoke about the future of legal operations. They identified the core task of the legal department as driving the competitive advantage of the firm. This can be done by helping other departments, like Sales and R&D, work faster, better and smarter in order to grow the business, while ensuring they do so in a legally appropriate way.

Throughout the CLOC institute, speakers stressed that today’s legal departments want to distance itself from the outdated, harmful view that consulting legal is a necessary evil of doing business. Instead, the legal professionals of the future want to be viewed as value drivers within the business, not as a cost center that slows down ‘real’ work.

According to Mick Sheehy, GC of Telstra, who spoke on the topic of by ‘Getting Buy-In For Your Legal Ops Innovation Projects’ in a discussion hosted by Brightflag, the most effective way for the legal department to drive value is to create a culture of innovation. In an innovation culture, new ways of delivering value for the business are gathered, implemented and rewarded.

However, as noted by Julie Sullivan, Director of Legal Operations at Rimini Street, innovation projects do not simply become successes on their own. To be successful, innovations must be carried out by ‘change agents’, champions of the innovation project who genuinely believe that the project will improve their everyday working life.

Once shown the personal value they will derive from the project, change agents naturally evangelize about the innovation and convince others of the merit of the change. Change agents do not necessarily have to be senior people within the department: they can be the paralegal who no longer has to do a repetitive, manual task, or the Accounts Payable team member who does not have to manually reconcile the finance system with the legal approvals process every week.

While cultivating change agents around a specific innovation project is key to success, creating ad-hoc processes to foster change for each innovation project may not be enough to enable a culture of innovation. Instead, some thought may need to be put into creating the appropriate processes to foster innovative projects.

At Brightflag’s CLOC discussion, Brad Rogers, CIO at TIAA explained the success TIAA have had with an innovation toolkit, which includes a number of innovative tools that any employee can use to augment their daily tasks. With the help of a change agent on the IT team, Brad found a way to use the chatbot from the innovation toolkit to automate a repetitive manual process, giving him back hours of time every week.

To help identify tasks that are ripe for innovation on a departmental scale, Brad also suggested that departments undergo an activity survey, where all legal staff are asked to document the tasks they complete on a weekly basis and how much time they take. To make employees more comfortable with the survey, assurances should be be given that no survey will be looked at individually, but that data will only be assessed in the aggregate. Access to this kind of data can be hugely useful in identifying which tasks are taking up a disproportionate amount of time, either because they are largely manual or because the process for completing them is overly complex. Innovation projects will naturally flow from this analysis, and agents of change will quickly come forward to support projects that give them back time to do meaningful work. 

The CLOC 2018 US Institute provided a lot of food for thought for any legal professionals looking to foster positive change in their department and beyond. However, great ideas are only the start of the long road to meaningful improvement. If anything, CLOC serves as a call to action for all of us to get to work to make our departments truly innovative, and to foster agents of change.