What is legal operations?
Legal operations is a multi-disciplinary function that optimizes legal services delivery to an organization or entity. The duties of a legal operations specialist will vary based on the department and organization. They often focus on budget, technology, vendors, data, professional talent, communications, organization alignment, major transactions, litigation, diversity, and other management. If you are interested in learning more about legal operations, consider joining the Corporate Legal Operations Consortium (CLOC) (https://cloc.org) or Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC) Legal Operations (http://m.acc.com/legalops/
Why is it important for a small or medium size department GC to lead legal operations?
Small and medium size departments must solve major problems, often on a budget and with limited resources. By using sophisticated legal operations tools and principles, even the smallest department can transform into a large army of effective professionals with a wide and deep reach within its organization. As legal generalists and business leaders within their companies, general counsels are perfectly positioned to spearhead legal operations for small and medium size departments.
Why does strategic implementation of new technology matter?
Technology may be a good way for small and medium size departments to gain efficiencies relatively quickly and on a budget. It can help you streamline contract review and execution, keep records, maintain options information, investigate employee related matters, consolidate immigration services, collaborate with outside counsel, manage knowledge, review legal vendor bills, and much more. To do this well, a legal department must inventory the needs of the organization, identify ways to leverage existing technology, and implement new technology intentionally.
What is your favorite legal technology?
I love using a ticketing system to streamline and prioritize legal services. Ticketing can minimize transition and training disruptions caused by personnel changes, company growth, and management transitions. There are many vendors that provide various ticketing solutions. Utilizing your company’s existing technology, such as Salesforce or Zendesk, can be a relatively easy, quick, and cost-efficient way to implement a ticketing solution.
What other technology solutions do you like?
I like leveraging DocuSign to quickly execute NDAs and contracts. Its pre-configured templates and workflow speed execution. It’s a great, cost-effective way to standardize and automate the execution of many contracts and agreements. With DocuSign, a department can separate important contracts from the noise and focus its energy and resources where it really matters.
Any other legal tech solutions that you love?
I also like eShares, a cap table management platform, to streamline cap table management, corporate governance, 409A valuations, and compliance. It’s also a good way to make sure that employees, law firms, investors, and other stakeholders access consistent, accurate information.
How else can you drive efficiencies and contain costs in a small legal department?
Don’t be afraid to do what works for your department, even if it’s unconventional. A major decision every legal department faces is whether to do certain work in-house or outsource. If you decide to outsource, the second major decision is where. Although the conventional approach is to outsource to a traditional law firm, other options can work just as well. For example, we have had a lot of success working with Envoy Global (formerly VISANOW.com). Their services help us to streamline workforce processes, improve services to our employees, and efficiently provide immigration services. This is an efficient, cost-effective way to support our growth needs in the competitive Silicon Valley labor market.
In-house legal departments are increasingly hiring junior attorneys. How do you approach hiring in your department?
After deciding to hire a legal talent for my team, I reflect on whether I need a specialist or a generalist. I also reflect about the seniority and experience level of this hire. Similarly, I reflect on the department’s ability and capacity to train as needed. For many small and medium size departments, hiring a generalist is often the preferred route. We don’t have the luxury to specialize. Additionally, budgetary constraints often lead to more junior hires who require on-the-job training. On the bright side, hiring a junior generalist candidate gives us access to a much bigger, more diverse pool of candidates. When I hire someone in this category, I explicitly look for someone who is eager, loves learning, and will value this opportunity. I have been very lucky with all my hires using these criteria.
There’s also a trend toward implementing internship programs. What’s your position on hiring legal interns?
We have a vibrant legal internship program, which I have previously implemented in numerous other organizations. Every semester we have two to five interns from local law schools working on our team. They often stay for one to three more semesters. In addition to training future legal talent, which is in itself rewarding and satisfying, there are numerous other benefits to implementing an in-house legal internship program. Legal interns bring a new and positive energy to the team. They also provide an opportunity to give management experience to the junior lawyers on my team. Finally, they help us refine our practices and complete numerous projects that we would otherwise never have time to think about. It’s a win, win, win all around!
What’s your secret legal operations power?
My network of other professionals and general counsels from small and medium size departments is absolutely my secret power! We are all exploring new territory and there’s a lot of collaboration, collective learning, sharing, and camaraderie. I have learned so much from my network and I’m grateful to be navigating and shaping the legal profession alongside so many brilliant peers.
Where do you see the future of legal operations in the small legal department?
While we have seen a lot of legal tech innovations already, I’m certain that we will see even more in the near future. This will increasingly impact small and medium size departments. Right now, major legal departments are utilizing legal technology that may be cost-prohibitive for small and medium size departments, such as GC dashboards. This will change as these technologies scale and legal departments of all sizes will be able to benefit.
What’s your advice to other general counsel from small and medium legal departments?
Bigger doesn’t always mean better when it comes to legal departments. Small and medium size departments can leverage technology and legal operations principles to have a meaningful presence, wide reach, and large influence on their organizations and industries. Be creative and pursue solutions that work for your unique department.
What are the implications of legal operations on the legal profession as a whole?
I see the proliferation of legal operations as a sign that legal departments are more integrated parts of business, as opposed to the oddballs they used to be. I also see it as a way for lawyers to become true business professionals who just happen to understand law well — we will no longer be limited to “just” legal work! Consequently, it’s also a way for attorneys to have more rewarding legal careers, where they can spend more time on what matters and provide strategic, impactful advice.