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Legal Operations - Is it a thing and am I doing it already?

Legal Operations – Is it a thing and am I doi


ng it already? The first in a two-part series from Damien Sullivan of www.cogneticlegal.com Some in-house legal teams have made impressive progress up the Legal Operations maturity curve in recent years. Innovative minds and fabulous, accessible tools have collided to provide measurable, tangible improvements in how those teams anticipate and respond to the needs of their internal clients. Equally, though, many teams of all sizes (including solo General Counsels) are still trying to find a foothold on the Legal Operations climbing wall. Some are trying to figure out what Legal Operations really is and whether it provides gains worth their time. Others know the potential, but are trapped by being unable to allocate resources or define their strategic priorities.

In this two-part series, I’ll try to simplify the discussion and help you create a roadmap of where to start.

Legal Operations – is it a thing? Taking a leaf out of the book of the Corporate Legal Operations Consortium, at the most fundamental level legal operations is the People, Processes and Tools that in-house lawyers use to serve their client – the organisation they work for. The reality is that every in-house team deploys people, processes and tools to do their work. So, they are all “doing legal operations” already! I think the discussion becomes more interesting when we consider this question:

What processes and tools best enable our people to do their job effectively, efficiently and in a way that creates greater engagement and satisfaction – both for the legal team and their internal clients?

The question frames the broad discussion, but where to from here for time-strapped in-house lawyers? In truth, most in-house lawyers probably already know they haven’t optimised their processes and tools. They know this holds them back on a daily basis, and I’ve definitely been there. Most teams don’t have dedicated Legal Operations staff to execute alongside their lawyers. So, the biggest challenge can be finding the time to hit the pause button and figure out how to make some measurable inroads.

In this two-part series, I introduce some practical questions to get you on the road. These questions are designed to help frame a Legal Operations priorities workshop, a team meeting dedicated to Legal Operations, or even just for the solo in-house counsel to kick around with a colleague or peer. A candid discussion of these topics will be a great starting place for building a Legal Operations priority road map. There are plenty of other questions to ask, but these few questions are a great place to start - and that is in fact the key; make that start!

Throughout these discussions, keep a laser focus on this over-arching question:

What problem are we trying to solve and why?

Try and catch yourself if you jump to solution mode too quickly, plenty of us do (particularly lawyers). There will be time for that, but if you enter that mode too quickly you might compromise your full understanding of the problem you’re trying to solve.

Question 1 - How do we track what we are working on? How do we capture and analyse that data? Let’s loosely label this Matter Management. I think we can all accept that from a risk management and reporting perspective it’s important to know what matters the team is handling, their status, who is managing the matter, and who are the key contacts. From a continuity perspective, a good question to ask is:

Where would someone look if the lawyer handling a matter left tomorrow – could someone else readily pick up the ball and run with it?

There is real organisational risk if you can’t answer that in the affirmative.

The value in exploring this question goes well beyond basic continuity risk management though. Any well-run business understands where customer demand comes from and how it allocates resources to meet that demand. The same should be true for in-house teams. You want to be sure that the people, processes and tools you have at your disposal are tactically deployed in the right areas to meet demand.

For me this is a fundamental cornerstone of Legal Operations – understanding what you’re doing, why and how you allocate resources to doing it. If you have a system in place that enables you to do this; well done! – you’re already up the curve. If not, then I would suggest it’s worth going a little deeper into what Matter Management processes and tools you really need to solve that problem. The foundations need to be solid before you build the rest of the house.

There are some great tools available – and no, in many cases you don’t need to have a huge budget to implement. You might even find that you can meet the basics with tools that already exist within your organisation. I won’t answer all those questions here, but by now you should have a good idea of whether finding that answer is priority #1 on your Legal Operations priority roadmap. The next step for that will be thinking carefully about what you want from your Matter Management system – remember, what problem are we trying to solve and why… Damien Sullivan is the Founder & Principal of Cognetic Legal & Consulting. He has invested 25 years as a lawyer in Australia and the U.S., including 8 years as Group General Counsel of an ASX listed multi-national. He is a Regional Co-Lead of the Corporate Legal Operations Consortium. Cognetic offers a range of legal and consulting services including consulting to in-house teams to help create and implement their Legal Operations strategies. damien@cogneticlegal.com www.cogneticlegal.com

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