With advances in technology changing the legal landscape, the role of the legal professional has evolved as well. As a result, legal departments are in the midst of changing the way they work. So, how can professionals take advantage of the endless opportunities on offer? I will share some of my personal experiences spanning a quarter of an era in legal operations. They show that this profession, as some claim, is not something of the past 10 to 15 years. Nor is it the best thing since sliced bread.
Earlier this year I had the privilege to take a deep dive with fellow General Counsel at the Leadership in Corporate Counsel program at Harvard Law School. It was inevitable that we would address legal operations and we embarked on our elaboration using the definition set by CLOC. This states that “legal operations is a multi-disciplinary function within a legal department that optimizes services delivery to a business or government entity focusing on CLOC’s 12 core competencies.”
We concluded that legal operations was, is and always will be a General Counsel’s responsibility. The nature of the General Counsel’s role is too demanding to be carried out by just one person, consequently there is an ongoing search to identify ways to break the role into parts. That’s where legal operations comes in.
Since legal operations and its underlying models derive from business model innovation that originated in the second half of the last century, we have to be frank and admit that there is nothing new. Legal operations is more or less applying existing business models to the legal function. Despite there not being a one-size-fits-all solution, a sound and futureproof legal operating model that is built upon the characteristics of the company is important. The model should take into account the core structure, the core business, products, services and solutions. In doing so, General Counsels design a legal operating model that enables the company to focus entirely on its business instead of constantly mitigating arising risks.
A step by step approach
Before they embark on a journey of change, General Counsels need to understand the current and desired future situation. That’s where a systematic approach comes in useful. The suggested steps to undertake are:
- Align with the company’s strategy
- Design the legal services map
- Define the desired state of the legal function
- Perform an assessment of today’s legal function
- Design the legal operating model
- Implement the model
Very important to keep in mind is that the core challenge is not only to redefine legal operations. Equally challenging is the behavioural challenge that goes with changing the way the legal professionals work, re-allocating resources, introducing the use of metrics and using new technologies as well as the professional evolution itself.