What Is Legal Operations?
Legal operations, or legal ops for short, is the discipline of making in-house legal teams run more efficiently and make better decisions. Legal operations professionals and teams equip their law-practicing colleagues, vendors, and internal partners like finance and procurement with better processes, technologies, and data-driven insights so that they can deliver maximum value to the organization. In short, legal operations is a strategic function that helps to redefine in-house legal as a value-creator, rather than a cost center.
Legal Operations Is Growing Quickly
The set of activities and responsibilities that comprise legal operations management has existed for as long as in-house legal teams have existed: someone (or some group of people) within the legal team has long been responsible for managing law firm billing, keeping track of important documents, and so on. Large financial services organizations, which typically manage hundreds of millions of dollars in law firm spend every year, were the first to realize that this was a function unto itself. It was at these organizations that legal operations began to coalesce as a new function within the legal team.
It wasn’t until the early 2010s that these activities and responsibilities started to coalesce into a discrete function called corporate legal operations. Since that time the discipline has exploded. There’s a dedicated professional organization, Corporate Legal Operations Consortium (CLOC), whose membership has swelled from 500 in 2016 to over 2,000 in 2020. As of November 2020, about 26,000 LinkedIn members have “legal operations” in their title. Put simply, legal operations has become the norm, rather than the exception.
Brightflag’s smallest customer, a two-person legal team, consists of a General Counsel and a Legal Operations Manager. On the other hand, Brightflag’s largest customers have entire legal operations departments, led by a Vice President of Legal Operations or a Director of Legal Operations, consisting of more than a dozen team members spanning process, analysis, and even software development roles.
Meet the Catalysts of Legal Operations
Corporate legal operations professionals have diverse backgrounds. Many are current or former attorneys or paralegals; others are consultants, technologists, or finance experts. What’s common across all legal operations professionals is a focus on constant improvement and transformation; indeed, they are the catalysts of modern legal teams. We’ve published featured profiles of a number of these catalysts as part of Brightflag’s ongoing efforts to advance the legal operations community.
Brenda Hansen began her career as a paralegal before joining a multinational biotechnology company as its Compliance & Legal Operations Lead, where she served for almost 11 years. Now a Senior Legal Operations Consultant with UpLevel Ops, a Brightflag partner, Brenda focuses on how to make lasting changes in legal operations. It’s a topic on which she is uniquely qualified to speak.
On the other side of the world, Denise Doyle serves as the Legal Transformation Lead for Telstra, Australia’s largest telecommunications company by market share and a Brightflag customer. A relative newcomer to supporting legal teams, Denise has a long history of success in project and change management. Unsurprisingly, her work focuses on sustainable strategies for times of transformation.
Stéphanie Hamon has spent her entire career on how to reposition relationships that surround legal operations, first in client relationship and business development roles at AmLaw Global 200 law firms, then as Head of Commercial Management for one of the world’s largest banks, and now as Head of Legal Operations Consulting for Norton Rose Fulbright, a member of the AmLaw 100 and a Brightflag partner.
And if you’re thinking of getting started with legal operations, consider watching our webinar with Sheila Dusseau, Head of Global Legal Operations for Ferring Pharmaceuticals, also a Brightflag customer. In it Sheila shares five lessons from her first year in legal operations, ranging from the relationship between legal and finance teams to implementing legal technology to setting goals and KPIs.
As you can see, legal operations professionals can come from anywhere. This diversity of opinions and experiences is exactly why legal operations is driving unprecedented change and disruption in modern legal teams.
Legal Operations Software
The market for legal technology is exploding. In 2018, investment in legal technology exceeded $1 billion; in 2019 that level of investment was achieved by the end of September, implying a 33% year-over-year increase. There’s software for in-house teams to manage their bills, entities, and more. There’s also software for law firms, helping them to track time, bill clients, and understand staffing requirements. And then there are categories of software used by in-house teams and law firms equally, such as contract management, document management, and e-discovery. G2, the world’s largest tech marketplace, lists more than a dozen categories of legal software.
In its 2020 State of the Industry Survey, CLOC found that 76% of legal teams are using legal e-billing software—by far the most widely adopted category. There are a number of reasons why this is the case. First, outside counsel typically is the largest expenditure for legal teams and therefore represents the greatest area for potential improvement. Second, cost savings generated by using legal e-billing software can be used to fund additional legal technology projects. Finally, the category is well-established, with a community of consulting firms that implement and support the software.
Of course, there have been many developments since e-billing software was first introduced, including the introduction of in-house legal operations, the rise of alternative fee arrangements, widespread adoption of the cloud, and accessible big data and artificial intelligence technology. Today’s legal teams are taking a more proactive approach to managing outside counsel spend using next-generation software called legal spend management. Brightflag’s legal spend management software is built around a core of artificial intelligence and machine learning, providing legal operations professionals with advanced technology to drive strategic change within their organizations.
Popular Resources on Legal Operations
Insights From Brightflag
- How to Get Budget for a Dedicated Legal Operations System
- Improving Relationships Between Law Firms and Corporate Legal Teams
- Law & Software (webinar series)
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