Legal Operations in the broadest sense refer to the responsibilities peculiar to a legal department that are not the law itself. It is the amalgamation of all business operations and processes and personnel that augment an in-house legal team to meet the legal needs of a company utilizing a strategic business approach.
Unlike legal administration teams that carry out admin tasks, including phone call management, document drafting, and conduction of legal research, legal operations vary significantly by supporting such skills as planning, management of finances and technology, and legal data analytics.
Before 1990, the primary focus of legal operations was risk management and reduction of external counsel costs. From the 90s to the mid-2000s, the focus was on heavier use of outside counsel while attempting to lower costs. The mid-2000s to 2019 saw the introduction of strategic value to the business as a major consideration, and from 2019 till date, innovation and process improvement have become paramount considerations.
Purpose of Legal Operations
The Corporate Legal Corporations Consortium (CLOC) has a “core 12” competencies list that gives the functions of legal operations as:
- Business intelligence: Collecting and analyzing data based on essential metrics, converting them into actions for more strategic decision making.
- Financial management: Planning legal spending, budget creation, implementation and monitoring of e-Billing, forecast expenditure, etc.
- Firm and vendor management: Choosing the right firms by performing due diligence, the discovery of opportunities, negotiation of favorable rates, contract management handling.
- Information governance: Creation of clear policies to reduce corporate risk and communication of those policies to employees and management of data security and compliance.
- Knowledge management: Knowledge management involves facilitating hubs of knowledge, template creation, and prevention of loss of knowledge due to factors such as role changes and departure of staff.
- Organization, optimizations, and health: Creating a hiring vision that guarantees cultural fit, team members' work/personal life balance, and constant flow of talents.
- Program/project management: Manage projects, workflows, and programs efficiently without jeopardizing quality.
- Service delivery models: Definition and structure of service provider relationships, simplifying larger projects into tasks assigned and reducing dependence on legal outsourcing.
- Strategic planning: Creating team goals in alignment with stakeholders' priorities.
- Technology: Automation of tasks that consume time and recurrent tasks and enhance the accuracy of data collection.
- Training and development: Creating resources for training new intakes and expedite the development of employees’ careers.
Goals of Legal Operations Department
The ultimate goal of legal operations is to adopt all tasks that do not require a law degree, giving lawyers time to focus on legal assignments. When in-house lawyers focus their attention on legal problems rather than administrative ones, improvement in work/life quality results in increased organization’s overall efficiency.
Common Legal Department Mistakes
- Manual task overload: Spending time and effort on draining, time-consuming tasks result in lower job satisfaction ratings and ultimately an inefficient use of employees' skills. This implies that manual tasks should be less prioritized and adequately assigned to allow legal employees to function effectively for the roles they have been paid to fill.
- Contract backlog: There will be contracts and documents in need of finalization and completion. The movement of such documents for attention as required would be sluggish and potentially chaotic if the process is not automated. This would lead to a waste of time and resources, and ultimately, an ineffective department/organization.
This can be quite a hassle seeing that legal representation in organizational decisions has become much more commonplace. Thus, the need for trusted automation where necessary to provide an efficient legal department and aid faster and accurate decision making.
- Missed contract events: Recording of court dates, contract termination, payment dates, and other such information in diaries and excel sheets can be quite unreliable as these documents may not be seen or dates forgotten before due dates. This can cause legal departments to reek of unreliability, and updates can easily be missed or miscommunicated. Such mistakes may be avoided by using centralized legal ops software capable of prompting users of upcoming tasks weeks, or months before the event.
- Lack of visibility: Without a central hub for controlling the simultaneous processes happening concurrently, a lawyer may not have the right insight pertaining to what information is required and who to get these from. This often results in a haphazard working environment where follow-ups are extremely difficult. It may also affect the department if certain key players leave the organization as the organizational process assets of the organization are resident in their minds rather than a centralized hub.
- Risk exposure: Multitasking may result in vital information being skipped when the processes involved are manual, exposing the organization to varying degrees of risk. This can be especially disturbing as documents emanating from the legal department should be strictly confidential. Unfortunately, an absence of automation is sure to cause untraceable leaks often.
- Keeping track of expenses: All departments have budgets, so having easy-to-understand forecasts and an automatic means of calculating expenditure is highly beneficial. Keeping track of legal spending manually would otherwise be a difficult endeavor without proper automation.
Proper automation includes the benefits of providing forecasts and spotting discrepancies on a centralized front.
How Technology Has Changed Legal Operations in the Legal Profession
- Streamlining lawyer/client communications: Unified communication tools enable legal departments to work remotely and communicate with clients using various means such as instant messaging, email, video conferencing and voicemail, etc.
- Automating e-Discovery: Digitization of evidence documents eliminates irrelevant documents and saves lawyers and paralegals the stress of rifling through leaves of unnecessary volumes. Advanced automation software has provision for keywords and phrase searches, ensuring more efficient legal teams.
- Case management simplification: Digital business management platforms have been adapted to suit the needs of legal case management. These days, there’s software for pretty much any aspect of legal ops. For instance, Bigle Legal offers solutions to automate the scheduling of important dates, document management, etc.
- Creation of online communities: Disadvantaged communities and entities can use this to access pro bono legal advice and provide an avenue for lawyers and law students to connect and share information. Social media is another increasingly popular forum for lawyers to network and collaborate.
- Increased Specialization: As a result of the increased use of technology to create an efficient legal operation department, there’s been a significant diversification of legal team members, as traditional legal roles have become more extensive, giving rise to more functionally astute lawyers.
All in all, technology has impacted Legal operations in a multitude of ways. Mostly, by creating a more efficient working environment to ensure that legal departments can meet up with the growing needs of organization executives for more legal input in otherwise mundane issues.