5 ways to make your mark in legal operations

Legal operations manager – it’s the function that’s seeing remarkable growth in companies across the world. With the Corporate Legal Operations Consortium leading the charge from the US, more and more forward-thinking companies are embracing legal operations, and ambitious candidates are taking the bull by the horns and diving into the legal ops role.

With any new role, the key is to demonstrate your value – and fast – to establish your importance to the company and justify your existence. And with a role as new and undefined as legal operations, this is especially important. Since day one at Juro, we’ve been working with in-house lawyers to help make legal operations more efficient; so if you find yourself looking for inspiration on how to push legal ops forward, here are five ways to make your mark and show that all-important ROI to the people upstairs.

It’s day 1 of your new life as a legal operations manager. What does this mean and what should you do?

1. Needs analysis: identify your problem

It’s tempting to dive in and stake everything on a big software purchase, to plant a flag in the ground. But is that going to solve your problem? How well have you framed the problem and is this based on gut feel or data? If your major bottleneck is one specific part of the legal workflow, automating an entirely different part isn’t going to make much difference. Your mandate is to increase efficiency in operations, but if you haven’t exposed the root cause of that inefficiency – ideally with data pulled from your historical workflow – your solution isn’t going to cut it. It’s not easy to do all this legwork (especially when the data you have to work with may be thin) but time invested in assessing what problem you’re solving, and for which stakeholder, is rarely wasted.

2. Make sure stakeholders back your solutions

However you choose to redraw legal operations at your company, the processes will break down if you don’t have buy-in from key stakeholders. Hold workshops with potential users (both from the legal team and from the business) to get a handle on how they work, how they’d like to work, and what they’d prefer to do more and less of. Make sure you ask unbiased questions and keep sessions short and sweet. Understand their needs, their strengths and their skill gaps; use frameworks like user story mapping or run a legal design sprint (more on this here). You’ll need stakeholders ready to jump in on day one – it’s a good idea to ensure they know what’s coming.

3. Take the time to build your business case

Researching and shortlisting new tools to improve legal operations takes time; purchasing and implementing them often takes even longer. Make the business case as robust as you can and get budgetary approval at the earliest opportunity. We find the best legal ops managers run this in parallel so when the legal team is ready to push the button there aren’t any hidden delays. Get finance on board early (and make sure they stay there!). With GDPR on the horizon, there’s never been more scrutiny on data protection and security. Get IT involved early and ensure that the cloud providers you adopt are serious about data. Make data-backed projections of how the new processes will create efficiency and value, and over what timescales. You can also set benchmarks that your new tools have to meet, regardless of which ones you choose, to make it easier for you to judge your KPIs further down the line.

4. Actively manage adoption of new processes

The worst thing you can do is buy a new solution, force an install on everyone’s computer, send out an email saying people should use it now, stick a lovely 2-hour training session in everyone’s busy diary, and just expect people to use it. Although you know the efficiencies will come over time, it’s a big ask to expect everyone to ditch the way they do things now and take time they don’t have to do something different. It’s much better to manage the process actively: each team should have a champion for the new process, and users should quickly see hard data about the efficiencies they’re generating. For example, it’ll make HR much more likely to adopt new contracting workflows if they can see that sales are closing contracts twice as fast. Share your wins with the business (and also your failures – transparency will help you win trust). It’s also your chance to correct any mistakes that sneak into the new workflow before they become engrained.

5. Build a data-driven organisation

Changing the culture of your organisation might seem a bit of a stretch. But data is the foundation upon which sound business decisions are made in a whole range of functions, from sales and marketing to HR and compliance. There’s no reason why legal should be any different. If you can point to hard evidence about which contractual clauses tend to be negotiated, and which tend to be waved through, it will point out all the low-hanging fruit to your in-house team and provide quick wins all round. If you can show decreasing legal spend early, your GC will thank you. By setting accessible KPIs, establishing regular, useful reports, and using tools that provide the right data to feed them, you can set the tone in legal and share it around the business. If your key aim in legal operations is to show ROI – for yourself and for the business – then there are few things more important than generating usable hard numbers.

Legal operations roles are here to stay – and quite right that they are - but to really thrive in them you’ll need to push hard to drive change. Try these tips to secure backing for this important role and ensure you thrive in the new world.

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