Blog Post

How Legal Ops was Overhyped and What Must Happen Now to Move the Dial

June 1, 2020

Legal ops serves a ubiquitous function for today’s in-house legal departments. In essence, it seeks to maximize the efficient delivery of legal services. It is a fast-moving, evolving and varied discipline, but at its core, it strives to run in-house legal like a business, focusing on competencies like financial management, process improvement and people management.

So little of an in-house legal counsel’s job actually revolves around legal work. Instead, they get caught up in navigating new tools, hiring, carrying out the multitude of small tasks that it takes to keep a legal department running — in short, they get overwhelmed by legal ops. Having a separate team dedicated entirely to legal ops frees up the bulk of in-house counsel’s time, enabling them to actually do the legal work they were hired to do.

All of this sounds great in principle. One would imagine lawyers would jump for joy given the chance to tackle the major legal issues that their organization is facing. But companies that enthusiastically embraced legal ops aren’t seeing the explosion of productivity from their legal departments that they thought they would.

What happened?

Legal ops absolutely can make in-house counsels’ lives easier — they’re just not given the platform to do so.

Unfortunately, the legal ops team’s suggestions aren’t always adopted by the broader legal department. Often, their voices are drowned out by in-house counsels that prefer to do things the old-fashioned way, or whose first reaction to new processes and technologies is marked by excessive skepticism.

In the rest of the business, change is perceived in a positive light. An organization’s C-suite, R&D department, even the financial department sees the introduction of new techniques and technologies as an opportunity to make things more efficient and productive. But with the legal department’s laser focus on minimizing risk, change can seem like an invitation for a crisis.

As a result, many legal ops teams are forced to play it safe, cautiously avoiding cutting-edge tools and methodologies. Rather than play a transformative role, legal ops teams resign themselves to eking out incremental improvements to the status quo, squeezing narrower and narrower efficiencies from their existing operations.

But change is the one constant in the modern business landscape, and this incremental approach is simply neither fast nor agile enough for legal departments to keep up.

How can we fix this?

Legal departments need to realize that sometimes the best way to minimize risk is to take a risk. When the legal ops team can’t weigh in on decisions about process improvements, new tools and technologies and more innovative ways of doing things, legal departments quickly find themselves in a position where the cost of inaction becomes exorbitantly expensive.

With a seat at the table, legal ops can help contextualize the legal department’s role within the greater business. Part of that means introducing the legal department to the practices that are already widespread in modern business: innovation, digital transformation and the aggressive pursuit and assessment of technology.

In this way, legal ops can elevate the legal function from a cost center and necessary evil to a value driver and a risk mitigator.

If your business is ready to adopt a more robust and future-orientated approach to legal ops, contact us now to find out how we can help.