Legal Operations - Let's Get Practical
The second in a two-part series from Damien Sullivan of www.cogneticlegal.com
Last time we explored whether Legal Operations is really a thing and we took a brief look at why Matter Management is one of the foundations for those planning their Legal Operations house.
This week we take the next step to start thinking about how to balance the daily workload and prioritising legal operations gains that will deliver measurable payback. No time to waste; let’s get practical.
How do we manage the balance between fighting the battles and winning the war?
One of the hardest things for in-house teams is prioritising time to step back and look at the overall battle plan. There will always be another hand-to-hand battle to fight but planning how to win the war is the key. Positive change requires an investment of time. Whether you do it yourself, or have some external help, think about creating an environment and a forum to build a plan that has buy-in from the whole team. Without that plan, you can expect that the team will keep doing things the same way and producing the same results. I’ll say it again;
positive change requires an investment of time, but like any investment, you want to have confidence in the returns.
If you feel you can’t take the whole team to work on this on a regular basis, consider forming smaller working groups that can allocate time to work together and drive change within the team. Below I suggest one way to frame these workshops to produce practical, implementable outcomes.
What are your top 3 Time Eaters?
Unless the team all believe in the mission, at some point forward momentum will breakdown. How do you get the team to really commit? Understand their pain. Understand what would make a difference on a daily basis and keep it simple. If the priorities match the pain points and you can objectively show there are gains that your team will feel, it goes a long way to creating buy-in.
By the way, if you get this right, there are also huge upsides in engagement with your team if they feel you’re listening to their concerns, and they have a hand in driving innovative improvement. You’ll further trust and start to build a culture of innovation.
I should note, the approach outlined below simplifies things by focusing on actions that will deliver the biggest efficiencies in timesaving. Of course, there can be other important factors, but, again, you have to start somewhere.
Ask what are the 3 things that you do most frequently. Whether a type of matter, a particular agreement, a process, whatever it is – make a list and put them in order to pick the top 3. If picking the top 3 feels like too much for now, no worries - just pick the top 1. Either way, let’s call this our list of “Time Eaters”.
Do some math. Figure out on a yearly basis how often each of Time Eaters occur, and how many team hours each occurrence takes. Very rough numbers will do. Use this to double check your top 3 ordering.
Now the fun part, take each of the top 3 Time Eaters and break down them down into stages; from inception to completion. You might pick just one Time Eater for each workshop. I won’t go into all the various methods you can use to do this – but post it notes on a white board will do (and yes, there are also virtual ways to do just that while we are all remote).
For each stage you’ve identified, ask whether it would save time if you had:
An FAQ, training or guidance note to enable self-help;
A template document which might be an agreement, standard communication or reply – whether for the legal team or for the internal client;
A playbook on preferred positions for negotiation – whether for the legal team or for the internal client;
A standard operating procedure or workflow for the legal team or for the internal client. Don’t get too worried about what a workflow means – for now, just think about it as a little more detailed version of the process map that you’ve already outlined but going a bit further to include an agreed process or set of steps for how to deal with this type of matter.
Let’s call each of these a “Time Saver”. By the way, likely the above could also drive savings in money or improvements in how the team or the internal clients navigate the issue. Keep track of those thoughts too, but we are simply doing a timesaving assessment for now.
For each of these 4 questions above, see if you can (very) roughly figure out:
How long it would take to create each of the Time Savers.
How much time each of these Time Savers might save the next time the relevant Time Eater comes along.
Remember, every business plan and financial model involves certain assumptions and estimates. You’ll have to make a few along the way. Keep track of them, but don’t let this stop you from moving forward – innovators push through these barriers all the time.
Now let’s calculate our return on time invested. In other words, when does the aggregate time saved in dealing with the Time Eaters equal the time spent on creating the Time Savers. If math isn't your thing, no worries - I’m happy to share a simple payback calculator I put together in Excel. Just shoot me a message with your email. Everyone will have different time horizons, but here’s a starting suggestion for how to think about returns. If the payback is:
Less than 6 months, it’s a no brainer, do it! You’ll be reaping rewards soon and from then on, it’s all upside;
6-12 months, that’s still pretty good. In most cases if this was a purely financial investment, you’d still jump at it;
12-24 months, you might want to ask whether there are other priorities that can generate return sooner. You still may want to proceed if this addresses a core problem that will provide benefits other than just timesaving.
More than 24 months, it might not be worth chasing unless there are other factors beyond the time. For example, does it significantly address other factors like cost, risk, engagement.
I should acknowledge that I deliberately haven’t addressed the financial cost of Time Savers here. Maybe implementing your Time Savers requires purchasing tools and maybe it doesn’t. The first objective here is to understand the priorities that deserve your attention and then you can move into the tactics of how to implement the Time Savers. That’s where questions of cost come up; but for now, I will say this – there are plenty of no to low-cost options to consider that might well deliver the bulk of the gains.
Where to from here?
So, let’s recap:
Matter management. If you are comfortable with your answer to the Matter Management questions posed last week, great. If not, then you have priority #1 on your Legal Operations priority roadmap. The next step will be to make a list of what you want from a Matter Management system, and then get to work on considering the options – whether using your existing platform like 0365 or an off-the shelf system. As you do this, keep repeating to yourself “What problem am I trying to solve and why” – it’ll help keep you from being distracted by shiny toys you may not need.
Address the Top 3 Time Eaters. Your legal ops workshop or working groups will enable you to create a clear, prioritised list of Time Savers. Even better, you and your team will understand the gains to be achieved through implementing the identified Time Savers. So, you understand the problem, you know the solutions, and you know the payback. The next step is to get tactical and develop a game plan for implementing the Time Savers. Keep it simple and try and get the attainable quick wins done and implemented first. It will build momentum and deliver early gains.
Remember, the key is just make a start!
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.