At the CLOC EMEA Institute in London earlier this month, we caught up with legal ops leaders to take the temperature of the industry and find out what 2019 has in store for legal operations.
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Hi!👋 Who are you?
I'm Bruce Braude, director of legal operations solutions at Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner.
Great to meet you! Legal ops roles are still fairly new to UK law firms. Why are they more needed these days and what are the main focuses of your day-to-day work?
It depends on what you mean by legal operations at a law firm. My role is less to do with the internal operations of the firm, and more about consulting to the client base. So it’s the same domain as legal ops in-house, except I'm coming at it as an external expert. Within law firms there are strategic technology roles, head of innovation roles, and so on. I was doing that kind of work previously, and now in this role I apply it to clients in a consulting sense. Partners were asking me to do this kind of work informally, and now we’ve made it formal. We also have a process optimisation team and complementary skills at our US merger firm and we have now brought this all together into a full consulting service.
How do you think the UK legal ops landscape is changing - catching up with ‘legal ops’ as a mature function like in the US? Has the technology picture changed much in recent years?
I’m not sure I'd agree that the UK is much behind the US. The term ‘legal operations’, and the perception of CLOC, yes; but there are GCs here doing really interesting things, comparable with the best legal ops people in the US. As a whole I think legal ops globally is at a relatively early stage. There are a few companies and legal departments that are really far ahead certainly, but the bulk of legal departments are at least engaging with it, and the bulk of clients are looking at legal operations in some way. Size does matter - bigger places are more likely to have legal ops roles and functions - but most of the clients of law firms like ours are looking at legal operations as something to improve.
What are the common trends you see emerging when it comes to the issues affecting clients, and also the themes of the CLOC conference?
Metrics are definitely on everyone’s mind. At the basic level, getting a handle on what's currently happening in legal - whether that's matter management, spend management, contract lifecycle management - data drives all those systems and tracking is essential. So that focus looking at the right systems is certainly increasing, particularly around things like billing and fee management. Getting a data-driven grip on the status quo is crucial so that legal teams can enhance their processes and make changes.
Another key theme is finding ways to enable in-house lawyers to address day-to-day routine work using self-serve for the business, with automation - freeing themselves up to handle more strategic work that’s more valuable for the business.
Technology is part of that, but GCs are recognising that it's not just about technology. While a given solution to a problem might have a tech element to it, it must be part of a broader solution. GCs want to look at the whole business case, particularly as the legal tech hype cycle is starting to die down a little. GCs are seeing startups enter the market, and are aware of the potential, but are looking at those solutions a little more maturely and focusing on the core problem they are aiming to solve, rather than rushing to technology as the answer.
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How are the changes to in-house legal processes and legal operations reflected in hiring?
GCs, and lawyers in general, are certainly getting a better understanding of legal operations as a multidisciplinary function. That’s reflected in the diversity of roles and the diversity of backgrounds you find in these teams, whether that’s people with backgrounds in technology, or operations, or finance. Legal functions are increasingly looking for newer roles, like data specialists, or recruiting MBA-type generalists who can merge a number of skills creatively.
Finally, your background is partly in financial institutions - do you think finance has any lessons for legal, as it looks to become more efficient in its operations?
If you take the core of finance, which is about quantifying and pricing risk, then you can see how that’s beginning to be a key part of legal, with its growing focus on data. An element of that quantification must surely be the element of legal risk, and I think that over time we’ll see the pricing of that legal risk start to come through in the pricing of the services that a given contract is trying to address. That’s one way in which legal will perhaps echo finance in the years to come.