What does a strong legal operations function look like? How many people should be on your legal ops team?
Developing a strong legal operations team is critical to optimizing the performance of any legal department. But that sparks some questions: What does a strong legal operations function look like? How many people should be on your legal ops team? What levels of experience should they have?
Pratik Patel, VP of Legal Business Solutions at Elevate, sat down with Inside Counsel to discuss the organizational requirements and focus areas critical to creating the best possible legal ops function. According to Patel, legal operations is the heart of the law department. The legal ops team helps the lawyers store information and develop standard processes that can drive efficiencies and enable them to be better advisors.
“Without the legal ops function, lawyers are forced to design and develop the business aspects of their function in self-service models or in silos, often leading to limited or non-existent process or innovative use of technology,” he said. “Without a legal ops function, the result is often overworked teams and inefficient practice of law.”
A strong legal ops function should have two things, according to Patel - a strong core team and a focus on core competencies that align to their business objectives. In terms of team, it all starts with a head of legal operations. This role typically reports into the general counsel as sort of a COO of the law department. And the legal operations head is usually supported by two or three legal operations managers, focused on technology, spend and process improvement.
In terms of core competencies, strong legal ops functions tend to have a methodical approach to tackling a variety of areas.
“Because gaining approval for a large legal ops team is a struggle for most departments, we now see more and more companies leveraging companies like Elevate to provide managed legal operations support,” he explained. “This allows law departments to keep legal ops leadership and strategy in-house while maintaining a cost-effective solution for support related to high volume legal operational tasks such as new matter creation, vendor onboarding, legal invoice review, reporting and analytics and contract administration.”
A General Counsel who gets legal operations and shares the mindset that legal operations is critical to the success of the law department. The absence of this will drain a legal operations team, who are already embattled with change management hurdles. Secondly, the legal operations team must have a dedicated person who is focused on managing spend, which is the biggest business challenge of most law departments. Thirdly, it is important for the legal operations team to provide a method and platform for lawyers to intake, track and triage work.
He added, “A big challenge facing law departments today is justifying the cost and spend of the department, and the first step should be to know what work comes in and out. Right-sizing the department to the most valuable work should be the goal.”
And lastly, it is important for the legal operations group to establish simple principles of legal project management into the DNA of how legal matters are managed with outside counsel. Patel noted, “Building opportunities for transparency and trust across the internal and external legal teams should be foundational to what the legal operations group provides for their lawyers.”