To appreciate the growth in legal operations, just look at the leading industry group, Corporate Legal Operations Consortium (CLOC). Its ranks have swelled from 15 members in 2010 to roughly 1,900 today.

The proliferation of legal operations professionals can be explained, at least in part, by the changing role of the general counsel. As we’ve documented in this series, GCs are no longer simply legal advisors waiting on the sidelines.

GCs are now cast in crucial business advisory roles, tasked with guiding their companies through a digital and interconnected world with increased complexity in laws, regulations, and geopolitics. At the same time, they must ensure their own department—which often stretches around the world—hits budget targets and fully leverages digital tools that drive efficiencies.

That’s where the legal operations professional—a partner to the GC who can drive the needed change in the GC’s departments—comes in. Legal operations professionals have an ambitious remit. The CLOC has developed 12 core competencies that every legal department should aspire to have, including mastery in financial management, vendor management, data analytics, and knowledge management. Performed well, the role of legal operations professional can supercharge the legal function.

“It’s a critical partnership,” says Áine Lyons, Head of Worldwide Legal Operations and Chief of Staff for VMware’s General Counsel. “The GC and legal operations lead work together to demonstrate to the CEO the value the legal function brings and to raise the profile of legal as a business enabler.”

Make legal operations hiring a priority

Many GCs are making a legal operations professional a priority hire. Lucy Endel Bassli, VP Deputy General Counsel of Legal Operations, Contracting and Corporate G&A for Snowflake Computing, was one of the first hires by Chief Legal Officer Margo Smith.

“GCs are realizing that bringing one legal ops person on means they can optimize legal resources,” says Bassli.

Just what a GC should be looking for in their legal operations hire is a matter of debate. While some argue that a legal background is not necessary, Bassli thinks it is.

“You need to find the hybrid—either a freakish lawyer like me who still likes lawyering and data equally, or a data professional who has been in and around legal, or a lawyer who has practiced at some point in time,” she says. “There is still a pretty broad gap when it comes to implementing business practices into a legal practice.”

Consolidate the legal operations function 

Many legal departments have long included individual lawyers with responsibility for tracking or improving certain internal processes and data. In that sense, “legal operations” is nothing new.

What’s new are the strategic focus and drive that come from having need for a dedicated person to oversee legal operations and innovation in a holistic way. Many legal departments are coming to that realization amid budget and resource pressures. 

That’s what happened with Sky Legal, where Hayley Stallard is the company’s first Director of Legal Operations & Innovation, a role she took on in November 2017. Over her previous 17 years as a lawyer at the company, she led various initiatives addressing culture, behavioral change, and ways of working, as well as process improvement to transform how the legal department operated.

The legal team realized it needed a more strategic and centralized approach, says Stallard. “It becomes inefficient to multiply resources within teams, and makes business sense to have one person overseeing and joining up the dots,” says Stallard. “We now have a clear vision and strategy for how we are going to create the Legal Department of the Future, and better data to inform our decision-making. We don’t have people operating work in a silo, as they perhaps used to. Everyone collaborates together and has a valuable part to play in our innovation journey.”

Is your role being redefined?  

The pressure on GCs to run an efficient legal department has never been greater. Are you taking advantage of the movement to professionalize legal operations?

This post is part of a thought leadership series, “The GC {Re}Defined,” which explores how technology is reshaping the role of the GC.

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