Legal operations could be the key to an efficient in-house legal function that scales with your business. So what do you need to know? Get everything you need in this comprehensive explainer.
What is legal operations?
Legal operations means running in-house legal like a business, focusing on competencies like financial management, analytics and service design to make legal efficient, effective and fit for the modern business.
Legal operations is distinct from legal administration in the sense that legal administrators focus on administrative tasks like drafting legal documents, conducting legal research, and responding to client calls. Meanwhile, legal operations cover a more expansive set of skills, from legal data analytics to financial management and technology maintenance.
Our 2021 survey of 80+ general counsel found that a dedicated legal ops manager, or team, is still the exception, rather than the rule - but for legal departments at fast-scaling companies, it's a function that can add a huge amount of value and make it easier for legal to become a true strategic partner to the business.
Legal operations explained in 90 seconds 👇
This knowledge hub collects a series of resources that will help to explain the importance of legal operations, as well as providing practical advice as to how to get started at your company today. To find out more about what legal operations is, what it involves and how it can benefit your legal department, keep reading.
If creating and agreeing routine contracts is a pain point for the efficiency of your legal team, all-in-one contract automation might be the solution. Hit the button below to get in touch and find out more, or read on to learn everything you need to know about legal operations.
Although the various responsibilities and functions that make up legal operations today have long existed, it’s only been in the past ten or so years that legal operations have been recognized as a discrete function.
Despite the fact that someone in the legal team has always picked up certain tasks, like choosing law firms to work with and managing billing, it’s taken a long while for these tasks to be viewed as part of the wider strategy that we today call legal ops.
In fact, it wasn’t until 2016 that the Corporate Legal Operations Consortium was introduced, which acted as the first professional organization dedicated to the study of and community for legal operations. Today, CLOC’s membership stands at over 2000 people.
Legal operations is so important to the future of in-house legal that we wrote a book about it, gathering insights and experiences from expert thought leaders from around the world. They include GCs, heads of legal, heads of legal operations and VPs; their companies have included S&P100 and NASDAQ100 components, fintech unicorns, retail giants and ALSPs.
You can download the book in its entirety here, or we've made each chapter available in full online below. Pick the competency you'd most like to learn about, and read the insights of some of the foremost legal experts that the industry has to offer.
Legal operations competencies
The Corporate Legal Operations Consortium is one of the leading industry bodies working to make in-house legal more efficient, effective, and fit for the modern business. CLOC has a helpful framework of 12 competencies, ranging from foundational through advanced and mature levels, through which to understand legal operations.
According to CLOC, the core competencies of legal operations include:
The financial management competency involves seeking opportunities to maximize company resources and ensure that legal spending is more predictable and sustainable. Typically, this will involve designing and implementing a plan and budget whereby resources are allocated and used responsibly, and seeking opportunities to save time and money during legal processes.
Financial management responsibilities
Typical responsibilities of financial management include:
Developing, adapting and optimizing your budget to ensure efficient and predictable spending
Effectively communicating this budget with all relevant parties to ensure that they understand the decisions set out
Actively seeking new opportunities to save money and negotiate better rates
What are the benefits of financial management for legal?
Financial management enables legal departments to better understand where their money goes, what’s causing tensions with the wider business, and what to consider when making investment decisions.
It’s also advantageous since it brings a sense of predictability and consistency to the legal department, and this allows legal to use their resources more efficiently.
Find out more about financial management
Chapter 1 | A seat at the table Jameson Monteiro, Head of Legal Operations, Assurant How can lawyers speak the same language as their finance colleagues, and win their trust with smart forecasting? Become a budget hero with better financial management.
The vendor management competency involves building and maintaining relationships with vendors that consistently deliver value.
In most cases, this involves deciding how to become a more sophisticated buyer of legal services, from setting better vendor objectives to knowing how and where to find the best vendors in the first place.
Vendor management responsibilities
Typical responsibilities of vendor management include:
Performing effective due diligence in order to select the best firms and external counsels
Negotiating rates and pricing models with vendors to obtain a more advantageous rate
Set up efficient onboarding processes for vendors to ensure you receive value quickly
Discovering new opportunities to collaborate, connect and align with your vendors for more seamless working relationships
What are the benefits of vendor management for legal?
Effective vendor management empowers legal departments to build and maintain more valuable relationships with vendors like external.
It also prevents the risk of conflict in the future, since vendor management teams conduct thorough due diligence on prospective vendors before deciding to work with them.
Find out more about vendor management
Chapter 2 | What makes a sophisticated buyer? Denise Nurse, CEO & Founder, Halebury Learn how to become a sophisticated buyer of legal services: best-practice advice for finding, appointing, monitoring and managing external counsel.
The cross-functional alignment competency involves enabling the legal function to collaborate, support and align with other functions within an organization, such as sales, HR, procurement and finance.
Within modern businesses, it’s critical that the legal function exists not only to inform other functions on what they can and can’t do but also to enable business teams to work on legal matters, like self-serving on contracts.
Cross-functional alignment responsibilities
Typical responsibilities related to cross-functional alignment include:
Seeking ways to align with the functions that have the most direct impact on the legal function, such as IT and finance
Finding ways to improve the communication between functions, as well as raising awareness of different individuals and tasks involved in other functions
What are the benefits of cross-functional alignment for legal?
Cross-functional alignment allows legal departments to work alongside and support other departments on tasks where a different function’s expertise is needed, or where work needs to be reallocated due to increasing pressures.
One of the best examples of this is how cross-functional alignment can empower in-house lawyers to return to high-value work, while their colleagues in different departments can manage relevant contracts with minimal input from legal.
Find out more about cross-functional alignment
Chapter 3 | How to make friends Mike Russell, Lean Leader, Legal Operations, Ingersoll-Rand Make friends and influence people by aligning legal collaboratively with the most important functions in the business - because no lawyer is an island, and everyone needs friends.
Technology & process support
The technology and process support competency involves finding ways to innovate and automate legal processes in order to solve pain points and friction in an organization.
Usually, it involves finding opportunities to automate time-consuming manual processes, which subsequently improves the entire workflow.
Technology & process support responsibilities
Typical responsibilities for technology and process support teams include:
Developing and implementing a robust technology roadmap that determines what technology is rolled out and when
Chapter 4 | The rise of the lawyer-engineers Dean Nash, GC, Monzo Hitting 350 employees and 850,000 customers inside three years doesn’t leave much time for legal tech procurement. Find out how Monzo engineered their legal function for unstoppable growth.
Service delivery & alternative support models
The service delivery competency usually involves identifying the best-suited vendors for specific work and allocating this work accordingly. The purpose of this is that it eliminates the haphazard allocation of work to legal vendors that may not deliver the service as quickly or successfully as required.
Rather, this function urges legal operations teams to observe what their specific needs are and distribute work to the best-suited legal professionals.
Service delivery responsibilities
Typical service delivery responsibilities include:
Building and maintaining a complementary ecosystem of vendors and maintaining this close-knit network of options
Breaking large projects down into smaller, connected tasks and allocating these individual tasks to the best-suited vendors
Eliminating the need to use expensive and poorly suited legal support
Creating a legal services map for the department to determine what your specific areas of need are and how they will be resourced
What are the benefits of service delivery models for legal?
One of the most obvious benefits of service delivery models in legal departments is that they aim to improve the quality of work produced and the speed at which it gets completed. It also empowers the legal department to reduce their reliance on law firms, which can quickly become expensive.
Find out more about service delivery
Chapter 5 | How satisfied is your internal client? Max Hübner, General Counsel & Executive Director Legal Operations, DPA Professionals Find out how to map legal’s needs against its resources, and monitor internal client satisfaction, to deliver the best-in-class legal service your business wants - and expects.
Organisational design, support & management
The organisational design, support, and management competency involve developing a clear long-term vision for in-house hires, allowing those that are hired into the legal department to have a high impact, drive change and flourish in their roles.
It also involves ensuring that the employees in your legal team have a positive experience, whether that’s down to progression opportunities, culture, or providing sufficient support.
Organisational design and support responsibilities
The typical responsibilities involved in the organisational design aspect of legal operations include:
Developing and implementing an overall, long-term vision for the legal department’s current and future employees
Ensuring that the hiring processes used are fair and objective, but also that they attract a diverse pool of candidates with well-aligned skillsets
Provide an environment where legal staff have the opportunity to develop, often by investing in mentors and professional development courses
Support the legal department’s mental and physical well-being by implementing initiatives that promote a healthier work-life balance
➕ What are the benefits of organisational design & support for legal?
The organisational design and support function in legal operations is what enables a legal department to be equipped with the most talented and engaged individuals and to ensure that they want to remain at your organisation. It empowers the legal department to do their best work, and to be accountable, accessible and collaborative.
Find out more about organisational design & support?
Chapter 6 | Creating an empowered legal team Natalie Salunke, VP Head of Legal Europe, Fleetcor Find out how to manage a globalised team and maintain consistency as a business grows organically and acquisitively, in a legal industry that’s never been more complex.
The communications competency involves the task of communicating the benefits and the vision of the legal department internally and externally, sometimes with input from marketing and corporate affairs specialists. The overarching goal of communications in legal operations is to ensure buy-in and adoption through a variety of channels.
The responsibilities of the communications function are broad, but they often include:
Sharing change communications (e.g technology pilots and training) through social channels and in-app messaging tools
Optimizing the tone of communications to make them more effective and engaging
Finding ways to communicate difficult information as early as possible and as persuasively as possible
Using modern technology to communicate the right messages in the right way and at the right time
What are the benefits of communications for legal?
Communication is essential within legal operations since it’s crucial to communicating value to and engaging with relevant stakeholders, which can result in favourable outcomes for the legal department, like influencing stakeholders to buy into a specific legal project or removing certain obstacles.
Communication is also essential to ensuring that the legal depart can network with and discuss their work with other departments that might otherwise be unfamiliar with the work that happens in legal, and how important it is.
Find out more about communications
Chapter 7 | Thinking outside the inbox Jason Macarthur, Head of Legal Solutions, DWF Breaking the habit of a lifetime and overcoming the inbox is a big ask for any lawyer. Find out how to rethink communications for the modern business - and keep stakeholders onside.
Data analytics / Business intelligence
Interestingly, when CLOC updated their list of legal operations competencies in 2020, they changed the competency’s name to ‘business intelligence’, as opposed to ‘data analytics’. However, the purpose of the competency within the framework of the legal operations remained largely the same: to make better and more informed decisions by utilising data.
Identify the most relevant and impactful data to collect, monitor, and analyse
Conduct thorough data analysis to determine the best course of action in the long term as well as the short term
Seek to uncover patterns and hidden opportunities to improve, based on the data collected
What are the benefits of data analytics for legal?
Lawyers are not renowned for their love for numbers, and so having a data analytics function in-house can introduce a more data-driven approach to decision making. In turn, the legal department can make more calculated decisions, rather than decisions based purely on intuition.
Find out more about data analytics
Chapter 8 | The foundation of a successful legal department Lucy Bassli, Founder, InnoLegal Services Data, and its smart, tactical use, will be the foundation of the next generation of successful legal departments. Identify the crucial analytics to monitor - how, when, where and why.
The litigation support competency involves supporting on the review of large volumes of documents, either by reviewing them in-house or outsourcing the work to external providers. Often, litigation support relies on eDiscovery solutions to quickly flag and identify
💼 Litigation support responsibilities
Some common litigation support responsibilities include:
Maintaining the hygiene of databases in preparation for litigation risks
Reviewing and retrieving documents and records in the event of litigation risks
Implementing an eDiscovery software to minimize the manual labour involved in litigation support
➕ What are the benefits of litigation support for legal?
By bringing litigation support in-house as part of a wider legal operations strategy, you can eliminate the ever-increasing costs associated with hiring private practice lawyers to source specific documents.
With a strong eDiscovery tool in place, your legal department can rely on fewer external counsel and reduce the time it takes to respond to litigation risks considerably.
Find out more about litigation support
Chapter 9 | Digital tools solving digital problems Glenn O’Brien, Former Director of Electronic Discovery, Liberty Mutual Electronic discovery has changed the game in litigation, but has it progressed far enough? Find out whether today’s tools are adequate for the emoji era.
IP management was one of the core competencies previously outlined by CLOC as integral to legal operations. It involved allocating a team or individual to manage the main aspects of intellectual property (IP) within a business, whether it’s capturing important data or safeguarding IP without the need to rely on external counsel.
IP management responsibilities
The responsibilities typically involved in IP management include:
Capturing data from interactions to identify where your company’s IP rights are best protected, and when to apply for new registrations
Conduct strategic planning into how to expand your company’s IP portfolio and eliminate risk
Educate commercial teams about how to protect IP rights in daily tasks and transactions
Ensure that information relating to IP is readily available to other departments
What are the benefits of IP management for legal?
By creating an IP management function as part of your legal operations team you can minimize the costs otherwise associated with hiring expensive external counsel to defend your IP.
Another benefit of the IP management competency is that it enables the rest of the business to better understand how to protect IP, rather than this being knowledge that’s reserved for in-house legal.
Find out more about IP management
Chapter 10 | Protecting what matters most Faye Moran, Senior Legal Operations Manager, Marks & Spencer Few in-house practice areas can directly influence revenue more than IP, but how can you best realise that value in an in-house environment that demands more for less?
The knowledge management competency involves ensuring that the legal department can find, access, and retain relevant knowledge in a more efficient manner.
In many legal departments, this information can be difficult to source, and is usually unstructured and shared through word of mouth. However, a knowledge management function seeks to build a culture of sharing and a single source of truth for certain information.
Knowledge management responsibilities
The typical knowledge management responsibilities in legal operations include:
Compiling contract playbooks and other guides around legal processes, and keeping these up to date
Ensuring that the messaging and advice on different issues is consistent across the legal department and beyond
Setting up provisions to ensure that information isn’t lost when team members leave or are absent
What are the benefits of knowledge management for legal?
Effective knowledge management ensures that legal teams can minimize risk when commercial teams self-serve on simple contracts and that tasks are carried out with consistency and accuracy.
It also eliminates the need for other departments to rely on legal for information, which can transform legal into an enabler rather than a blocker.
Find out more about knowledge management
Chapter 11 | How to make your team smarter Founder and Chairman, LegalWorks Nordic How do you build an in-house knowledge management system from the ground up, and why should you? Read reflections from the front lines in the battle to preserve legal knowledge.
Information governance and records management
The information governance competency involves designing effective information policies that make it easier to access, manage and protect documents. This is integral to ensuring that any sensitive or confidential information is adequately protected and that corporate records are stored securely - both online and offline.
Information governance responsibilities
Typical responsibilities relating to information governance include:
Creating and maintaining information policies that are free from legal jargon and accessible to anyone that needs it
Ensuring that all employees have an appropriate understanding of and access to important policies and procedures
Monitor and restrict access to specific information, like confidential documents, for example
➕ What are the benefits of cross-functional alignment for legal?
Information governance competencies are beneficial since they enable businesses and legal teams to eliminate or reduce the risk of breaching regulations and corporate standards by misusing or leaking certain information. It allows in-house departments to maintain higher levels of contract compliance and create a framework for keeping data secure.
Find out more about information governance
Chapter 12 | Keeping your corporate memory Rohan Paramesh, VP Head of Legal, Habito Optimising your information governance can have an immediate upside for a company seeking to grow quickly and make better decisions - find out how to make it work for you.
Strategic planning in legal operations is the task of setting meaningful strategic goals and priorities that deliver against the needs of both your legal department and the wider business. This competency seeks to eliminate reactive and short-term decisions in favour of more calculated decisions that better align with the company’s objectives.
Strategic planning responsibilities
For legal ops specialists involved in strategic planning, the typical responsibilities include:
Identifying the short and mid-term actions that are necessary to achieve long-term objectives and goals
Communicating the overarching objectives to the legal team and the departments beyond legal to ensure a coherent approach to these goals
Finding ways to embed your company’s values into the strategy and ensuring the strategy aligns with both these values and stakeholder interests
What are the benefits of strategic planning for legal?
The strategic planning aspect of legal operations ensures that the work being done by the legal team is high value and meaningful to the overall business strategy, but also that it connects seamlessly with the projects being undertaken by other departments.
Find out more about strategic planning
Chapter 13 | Survive and thrive in the new normal Mick Sheehy, Partner, PwC NewLaw; Regional Leader, CLOC Australia How do you deal with more-for-less as a long-term, strategic imperative? Learn lessons from a GC who did just that - and saved 40,000 hours of low-value work in a year.
Legal operations in 2022
A mature legal department with effective legal operations should have developed a high level of competency in each of these core areas. Successful legal operations teams will often draw on non-legal talent to drive these areas forward - putting finance experts in charge of budgeting, IT people in charge of the tech stack, procurement professionals in charge of vendor management, and so on.
It’s worth noting that CLOC released an updated version of their legal operations competencies in 2020. They introduced some new competencies that weren’t previously covered in our ebook, as it was published prior to the changes. The CLOC competency wheel now looks like this:
The new version of the CLOC core competencies includes practice operations and training and development, as well as project management.
These updated competencies replace the IP management, litigation support, and communications competencies, but all are worth considering when setting up a legal ops function.
The ACC Maturity Model
The ACC Maturity Model is yet another way to measure and determine how sophisticated legal operations are within a legal department.
The Association of Corporate Counsel has a well-respected and widely used framework for legal operations too. Its ACC Maturity Model sets out in some detail the different disciplines that fall under legal ops, guiding you through every stage you need to navigate to reach maturity.
The popular reference tool offered by the ACC allows legal operations leaders to identify how mature their functional areas are and place themselves within one of three stages of maturity for each. These stages are early, intermediate and advanced.
Depending on the size, budgets, and aspirations of each company’s legal department, this functions as a way to identify areas of improvement and set targets with the goal of progressing into the next stage of maturity.
For each functional area, the ACC Maturity Model sets out criteria for each stage of maturity, allowing legal operations teams to quickly and efficiently identify what their strengths and weaknesses are and how to progress.
The functional areas measured by the ACC model are as follows. You can click on each area to view the detailed maturity model criteria.
“Awareness of the fully loaded contract cost is a fantastic tool to help you make a business case for additional headcount, or for using an ALSP for future similar transactions”
Legal operations resources
Get the guide: Legal for Scaleups
You've just joined a high-growth tech company as its first lawyer. How do you get from square one to a dynamic, robust, scalable legal function? We gathered expert insight from legal leaders at some of the world's fastest-growing businesses, including Intercom, Babylon Health, Onfido and Monzo, to find out. Download it here: Legal for Scaleups.
Get the guide: How to hire a high-growth legal team
Find out how high-growth businesses like Monzo, Zoopla and Habito create their legal dream teams. This guide explores the different roles that legal leaders hire as the business expands, how to interview them, and the pros and cons of each profile. Download it here: How to hire a high-growth legal team.
Get the guide: Contract automation - start small, win big
You don't need to pursue a massive transformation project to see efficiencies and ROI from contract automation. This guide takes a deep dive into three documents (NDAs, MSAs, employment offer letters) that businesses often choose to start with. Can your business win big, by starting small? Download it here: Contract automation - start small, win big.
Legal operations manager roles
If you're interested in becoming a legal operations specialist, there are plenty of roles out there for process-minded lawyers, or indeed individuals from non-legal backgrounds. Juro's curated jobs board is a great place to start - access it here.