Like chief legal officers (CLO) and other senior legal executives, today’s general counsels (GCs) constantly run against the proverbial clock.

They have their hands in everything from risk management and mitigation to corporate compliance. They serve as key strategic advisors to CEOs, delivering accurate and actionable legal advice — in the most efficient and effective ways possible. At the same time, they spend inordinate amounts of time performing ministerial tasks — and sometimes, even take a break to grab a bite or drink a coffee!

With so many demands on GCs’ time and attention these days, it should come as no surprise that legal departments around the world have increased their legal operations altogether. Together, both teams have worked toward vastly improving legal functions. The success of legal department and operations, though, is dependent on legal technology solutions. End-to-end legal automation systems, for example, help GCs and legal teams remove obstacles to everyday legal functions, and handle virtually any legal document, process, or scenario. With them, they can better stay on top of buy- and sell-side contracts, not to mention compliance requirements and corporate governance.

Defining ‘Legal Operations’
When it comes to the practice of law, legal operations is more of an overarching philosophy or approach. It is a perspective that GCs and legal teams should become integral part of companies’ operations. Legal ops is also characterized by sound, strategic thinking around workflow systems, for instance. This is still viewed as fairly progressive work by legal departments and companies, but is increasing in awareness and popularity. In-house legal counsels, after all, have a perpetual need to simplify their day-to-day work processes instead of scaling up resources. (And legal ops can certainly help with that!)
Plus, far too frequently, legal professionals pick up a contract and say, “we’ll just put it in the round file.” They may doubt they will need to look at an agreement again. But there may be internal investigations, which require the support of external legal counsel, down the road. Clearly, these costs are saved with an internal legal operations process, which pinpoints inefficient checks and balances from the outset.

What’s more, legal operations professionals are quite successful at getting key resources and assets — for particular projects — in the right areas, at the right time.
Looking at the Legal Ops Landscape

Today, 63 percent of in-house legal work is rather routine, according to Gartner. Further, legal departments spend roughly 30 percent of their time completing administrative tasks. So, if legal has a budget of $1 million for salaries and overhead, for example, it may spend as much as $300,000 every year on contract administration.

On the other hand, GCs and legal professionals who spend more time on higher-level work add intrinsic value to the business. (This is what lawyers are really paid to do!) That means that prioritizing legal operations and leveraging legal tech are practically self-funding proposals.

Supporting the GC, Legal Departments, and Companies

In many cases, legal operations leaders have legal backgrounds, themselves. They are fully aware of legal terminology, ethical obligations, client requirements — and the daily pressures faced by in-house lawyers. Some legal operations professionals have financial backgrounds — focusing on things like budgeting, financial reporting, and cost controls, — while others have more technical expertise, and are experienced in troubleshooting, technical project management, systems implementation, and the evaluation of technology solutions.

Either way, these legal ops leaders are highly proficient in solving problems, managing projects and change, and advocating on behalf of departments. Ultimately, they help GCs, law departments, and companies achieve several important goals, including:
*Adoption and implementation of advanced legal tech
*Quicker delivery of legal services

*Better cost controls and financial performance on the part of legal

*Increased alignment with the organization’s strategic priorities
*Improved satisfaction among legal and business professionals

Selecting the Right Legal Tech Solution

After the selection, adoption, and implementation of legal technology, legal operations professionals assist GCs and legal teams even further. Following the initial deployment of a legal management platform, for example, legal ops can help streamline and simplify the legal digital transformation process, not to mention improve the usage of new systems across the organization. It can directly address matters, like the improvement of processes, the integration of tools, and the management of technology.

Asking the Right Questions
Naturally, however, there are key questions that should be answered before bringing aboard legal ops professionals. What are you trying to achieve by implementing a legal operations function? What is the legal operations manager’s main focus? Is the company, as a whole, prepared for a new role in the legal department that is not a lawyer?

Once these questions are answered fully — and legal departments and operations are professionally intertwined — GCs and other legal executives can have more time to guide departmental activities and provide strategic advice to senior leadership. Legal ops professionals, meanwhile, can bring their own experience — whether legal, financial, or technical — to address legal issues and increase the quality of service within legal departments.

The simple truth is that legal documents lie in the ‘hub and spoke’ of everything that companies need nowadays. Legal departments must work closely with legal operations to maximize their ability to gather and use this all-too-important data, and provide legal or business analytics to various teams.

By doing all of the above, legal will no longer be seen as a reactionary force within their organizations. On the contrary, through the use of legal ops, it will become more proactive than ever before — and a significant contributor to the business.