ESG Panel
LegalDecember 05, 2022

Three takes on legal operations value, in the experts’ own words

At the 2022 ELM Amplify user conference in October, our opening session included a panel discussion on value in legal operations. Moderated by Brad Blickstein, Principal at the Blickstein Group, the conversation featured insights from three distinct perspectives: general counsel, legal ops professional, and industry analyst. Below are some of the key observations and comments from each of the panelists.

The general counsel perspective

Mark Smolik is the Chief Legal Officer for DHL Supply Chain Americas. He is keenly aware that his legal department is funded by the company’s revenue and always has an eye on the value his team is delivering, as well as how they are seen by the rest of the company. “In order for me to have a dollar to spend, the sales team has to generate $30 in revenue. That's literally almost 200 deals [on average] that have to close just to fund my department. I am really trying to make sure that throughout the organization, below the CEO, below the CFO, throughout the operation, their perception is their reality. And it is based on doing what you say when you say you're going to do it.”

As someone who is frequently asked to demonstrate the value of his department, Mark looks to the legal operations specialists on his team. “There's something that you all have that folks like me need and the business wants: data. The trick is in mining that data to tell the story. Whether you want to look like a hero or you want to up the overall reputation of the department, take that data and find a way to connect with the business to help tell the story.”

The legal operations perspective

Jennifer Phillips, Associate Director of Legal Operations at Novartis, also emphasized the importance of showing the legal department’s value. “Regardless of where you are on the [technological] maturity spectrum, there are ways that you can start defining your value. And if you haven't done it yet, do it as soon as you get back because it's exactly what your organization needs in order to understand how it will run in the most efficient way possible, bring the most savings possible, cost avoidance possible, and even drive your revenue generation. Those on the mature side have to continue to push the envelope and see where they can keep chipping away and driving that value even more.”

One important way Jennifer and her team drive value is through operational efficiency. “It took a lot of collaboration internally, making sure that the whole department knew who was responsible for what. Because at the end of the day, our job as professionals in legal operations is to ensure that the attorneys have the time that they need to focus on the strategic high value work. And so, when you talk about numbers and metrics, it's sometimes hard to find those numbers. But a lot of times, the value is in the fact that everything is working – and working efficiently.”

The analyst perspective

Ryan O'Leary, Research Director at IDC, used his knowledge of the industry as a whole to provide additional context for our conference attendees. “We're seeing a sea change, a shift from reactive to proactive. I think the old moniker of [the legal department as] the “department of no” is going away. That was a function of being a reactive department where someone would call because something happened, and they needed to triage an incident like there was a trash can on fire. But now everyone's trying to put in sprinkler systems, to be a little bit more proactive and demonstrate a partnership with the board in terms of driving strategy and not just being down the hall when needed.”

Ryan has observed that this type of shift doesn’t need to happen in one big change but can be incremental. “When we talk about improving the service that the legal department is delivering, I think a lot of focus unnecessarily gets put on big stuff. I think especially when you have an ELM solution, you can use that system to look behind what the legal department is doing, find where even the smallest of inefficiencies are, and eliminate that. There's a lot of emphasis on big overarching concerns like ‘How does the board feel?’ when even just removing one frustration point on a daily basis can lift up the whole organization.”

Thanks to all of our panelists for enriching the ELM Amplify 2022 program and sharing their insights with our audience.

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