How to Intentionally Design World-Class In House Legal Operations

The rise of in house legal operations is changing the way organizations approach and structure their legal function. As the discipline of legal operations continues to evolve, so does the conversation on what world-class operations should look like and how to intentionally design them to meet that status.

Last month, we sat down with Brad Rogers, Onit’s Vice President of Strategy and Growth and a former leader of operational excellence in Fortune 500 companies, to discuss what it takes to build world-class legal operations in today’s demanding legal environment. (You can find his full podcast here.)

In our first installment, we discussed the goals of an in house legal operations transformation journey and how to secure the funding to build the legal ops function your organization needs.

Now, we turn our attention to what that legal ops function should look like.

Legal ops should deliver productivity back to lawyers, significantly reduce and reallocate legal spend and future-proof the environment your lawyers are working in. But what would that legal ops function look like if it were intentionally designed?

Brad laid out three elements that are crucial to world-class legal ops: technology, support services and partnerships and business discipline.

In House Legal Operations Technology

Technology is a major factor in any legal ops transformation journey. We live at a peak time for innovation, with capabilities for legal professionals that are constantly evolving through advancements in areas like AI.

When you’re building your in house legal operations function, you should be thinking about your entire technology ecosystem – that means not just your foundational tools like matter management, e-billing and document management, but the surrounding technologies as well. You want to structure a solution set for your lawyers, not simply gather a collection of disparate tools for them to learn how to use.

A successful transformation journey requires a road map that connects all your capabilities to give you a better understanding of the nature and trends of your business. Once you understand that, you can start considering things like how AI would enhance your capabilities even further or where there are additional workflow efficiencies to be gained.

Support Services and Partnerships

One of the most beneficial capabilities a mature in house legal operations team can bring is the ability to leverage support services and strategic partnerships. When you’re first building out legal ops, however, this might look a little different.

You might start by approaching the lawyers and telling them to refer any nonlegal work they’re handling to legal ops. Even further, you can help them identify that work and cement your legal ops department as a valuable support team for legal. Going forward, legal ops should be involved in projects from the start and serve as proactive problem-solvers. Lawyers should be practicing law, not focusing on things like project management and business improvement. A strong legal ops team should also offer support for billing, which historically leads to significant lost time and inefficiency for legal departments.

The final aspect is managing the legal department’s internal partnerships with other departments, such as HR, risk compliance and security, and its external partnerships with vendors. Legal departments shouldn’t have to do everything by themselves. The point of legal ops is to let the lawyers focus on the law while ops handles the rest.

Business Discipline

One thing people often overlook when building world-class legal operations is the ability of in house legal operations to harness the power of data – both your internal data and data that exists outside the organization. Data analysis is key to understanding your business and trends in the market, allocating resources and making strategic plans for your organization.

Legal ops should be looking at all the available data and making informed decisions for the business. This can include outsourcing work, vendor management, strategic hiring and more. The goal is to get as much nonlegal work off the lawyers’ plates as possible to allow them to practice better law. Every legal department has hidden factories – pockets of inefficiency – that prevent them from being the most effective, disciplined legal function possible. Legal ops should ideally always be looking for those areas and figuring out the best way to eliminate or transform them.

For more legal ops insights, you can listen to the full podcast discussion with Brad here. You can also subscribe to the Onit podcast anywhere, including through Apple and Spotify or any service you use to listen to podcasts.

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