In a perfect world, legal departments would deliver high-quality results at lower costs while focusing on high-value work. In reality, in-house lawyers have a lot on their plates and have to make do with limited resources. Over the past few years, legal departments have realised that legal operations (also known as “legal ops”) could be the missing puzzle piece.
Maurits Annegarn, Segment Manager Legal Software at Wolters Kluwer recently hosted a webinar for in-house legal professionals in the Netherlands together with two founding members of Law & Ops, Harm Cammel, Partner at Voxius and Rob Henham, Head of Legal Operations & Programs at Irdeto. The webinar focused on how legal teams can adopt legal operations, best practices for setting up a legal operations function and how to gain stakeholder buy-in.
What is legal operations?
Legal operations is a discipline that focuses on the organisational aspects of running a legal department. However, Harm Cammel points out that the key is to “deliver good services efficiently and in a way that’s practical for both the lawyers and the clients who are using the services.” Therefore, figuring out what the organisation’s needs are and the needs of the client are crucial, and it’s more than just answering legal technical questions. Legal operations is about setting up an effective operating model and what makes that model effective in the eyes of the client.
Maurits Annegarn highlighted a common misconception surrounding legal operations – it’s not just a matter of implementing a technology solution and expecting all processes to be streamlined. In fact, technology is just one of the resources that you can leverage to set up a legal operations function.
Where should organisations start with legal operations?
It’s tempting to start with the resources, but legal departments should take a step back and examine the needs of the business and the processes that are in place. Harm shared an example of an organisation in the retail sector that was rapidly expanding into other European markets. That meant the legal department needed to set up a structure that supported opening up a few stores per week and understanding what the strategies, objectives and legal implications were.
For instance, in some countries where this company operated, the retail sector is more prone to litigation. Armed with that knowledge, the legal department was able to prepare for litigation in a timely manner, know what the time to market is, and set up an operating model to support it. For this organisation, it meant setting up a network of external law firms that can support the legal department during litigation and making sure these firms work from a brand protection perspective.
Rob Henham suggested a parallel approach that involves going out into the organisation and talking to colleagues to find out what their pain points are. He’s found that most of the pain points fall into the bucket of legal operations. He says, “legal operations is most successful when people are motivated, and people are motivated when problems they encounter in their day-to-day work are resolved.”
This approach requires balancing sweeping changes with individual complaints. Harm explains, “it takes a lot of time to change things, so you want to do it step by step. With each step you should be adding some level of comfort and efficiency.” Change management starts with understanding the adoption rate of change within the organisation. Too much change in a short amount of time increases the likelihood of losing support from stakeholders.
Getting stakeholder buy-in for the legal operations function
It’s crucial to gain buy-in from both the business leaders and the people working with it. Getting approval from business leaders can be accomplished by aligning the legal operations strategy with the business strategy. Using the example of the retail organisation again, Harm explained that their objective was to decrease the time-to-market, meaning opening up stores faster. The legal team needed to remove roadblocks to getting things done, which in turn, drives revenue development. For the legal team, this meant optimising the contract process so they cut down on the time it takes to open a store. As a result, the time taken to open a new store was reduced from three months to two, which speeds up revenue growth.
Maurits agreed that examining existing processes is a good starting point, but how does the legal team make stakeholders aware of the inefficiencies?
Rob suggested collecting stories of where processes are going wrong. For example, the legal department missed an important contract deadline because it took two weeks to get sign-off. While there are benchmarks and data that can support the business case, they are often intangible. “Getting buy-in isn’t about data, it’s about promising to have a better experience with legal,” he says.