A decade ago, nobody who was anybody in business would have thought much of the terms “legal operations” or “law department management,” much less seen legal operations as a burgeoning area or a hot career path. But Silicon Valley started to catch up a few years ago by hiring legal operations managers as part of their general counsel or legal department roles. Today, you see even smaller and mid-size firms establishing legal operations as an autonomous domain in which best practices can increase the efficiency of the legal team and, through this vector, the company as a whole.
This post discusses what exactly is covered under “legal operations” and what a legal operations manager does; how establishing the best practices in this realm can increase efficiencies; and, finally, the role that operations management has in the larger process of legal entity management.
Just What Are “Legal Operations”?
As with any emerging field, there’s no one set way to define the task. But broadly speaking, legal operations are those processes which, when they are excelled at and automated, serve as the stitches or glue that hold the various practice areas and functions of a legal department together.
Some of these operations include:
- Optimized workflow
- Optimized contract management
- Performance management
- Vendor management
- Financial and budget management
- Outside counsel management
- Litigation support
- Technology support
- Data and legal analytics
- Professional capability and resource management
- Cross-departmental and cross-functional alignment
So, What Does a Legal Operations Manager Do?
Along with the obvious roles, like taking care of outside counsel and vendors, many legal operations managers also oversee legal department budgeting and staffing. They’ve implemented e-billing and e-contract systems and other technology initiatives. In some cases, they can also oversee diversity and pro bono programs the firm wants to encourage.
The Corporate Legal Operations Consortium, or CLOC, which is the trade association for legal operations managers and executives founded in 2009, is broadly dedicated to helping legal departments run along the lines of the rest of the business. And, as more and more General Counsels recognize the benefits that operations managers bring to the table in terms of cost savings and quality control, the role will be one of increasing importance in the field.
Although whether your firm’s legal department should have its own autonomous operations manager must be calibrated to its specific needs, it’s never too soon to think about establishing the best practices for legal operations management discussed above. This can create a launching pad for the future when your legal department does have that need.
Increasing Legal Efficiency With a Legal Operations Manager
Legal operations management and the professionals dedicated to it provide a meaningful opportunity for departments to derive greater efficiencies and empower in-house attorneys to spend more time on the practice of law while automating or speeding up the team’s practice generally. The legal departments of multinational enterprises almost invariably complain of being overworked and understaffed compared to what’s asked of them on a daily and an ongoing basis. Legal operations strategy to share and analyze data helps legal departments to “do more with less.”
Firms that have implemented the role have seen major benefits. As recently as 2015, Cisco Systems VP and Deputy General Counsel Steve Harmon, as legal operations manager, was overseeing a team of 40+ people that combined legal and technology experts, the latter of whom were engaged in developing automated systems and tools to expedite regulatory compliance, file storage and contract management. According to their General Counsel, the contract management system alone saved the legal department over $29 million from 2010–2015.
Legal Operations and Entity Management
We’ve talked in this space before about Legal Entity Management (LEM) as a specific subset of the science of entity management technology. Briefly put, LEM is a strategy for handling regulatory compliance and administrative maintenance on an ongoing basis, particularly the functions typically handled by the legal, compliance and/or governance departments. Financial regulations in the US, Europe and worldwide enacted since the financial crisis of 2008 imposed new recordkeeping and reporting requirements, among other things, that greatly increased the complexity of what organizations are expected to monitor and report on to their leadership, governments and shareholders.
For example, it’s normal for the legal department of a multinational company to have to field dozens of requests in a single day about the details of ownership for international entities when leadership is planning a reconstruction or an expansion. LEM keeps all of this data in one place, at the fingertips of the people who need access to it. It also helps companies stay up-to-date on their fiduciary, regulatory and statutory responsibilities; gives the leadership advice on the best practices of corporate governance; and actively maintains the corporate record of all transactions, filings, reports and audits.
Together, legal operations management and legal entity management can achieve big things. Hence, legal operations managers are seeing great successes with the implementation of e-billing, electronic signatures, global subsidiary management and other technologies. Legal entity management produces major efficiencies in the contemporary legal business world.
Leverage Technology for Operational Optimization
Software programs for legal operations and entity management are developed systems for storage, cycles and notifications. They allow multiple parties to access the data they need while assigning permissions based on rank and responsibility. A customized platform that automates legal compliance reduces the risk of human error, helps legal and leadership teams work more effectively, and realizes higher savings and quality in the long run. More and more companies are turning to outsourced software solutions in legal management, generally because they don’t want to spend time or money unnecessarily reinventing the wheel.
These and many other features are offered to customers of Blueprint OneWorld’s entity management platform. Blueprint’s entity management platform offers comprehensive, efficient and sustainable ways to underline legal department best practices. Please call or email us today so we can start putting it to work for your organization.