Adapted from original post on Lawsites.com.
Chelsey Lambert and I had were fortunate to attend the Annual Corporate Legal Operations Institute hosted by the Corporate Legal Operations Consortium, otherwise known as CLOC. The spectacular event was held at the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas, April 22-25, 2018.
There were certainly legal operations professionals in attendance, joined by a couple thousand colleagues from general counsel, in-house legal departments, eDiscovery professionals, law firms, and wide array of others that were simply curious to see what all the excitement was about at this young but quickly growing consortium.
Here’s my little video compilation of the sights and sounds and experiences at the Conference:
Over the past several years, more and more corporate legal departments have either hired or explored the idea of hiring a legal operations manager/director. The goal of the role appears to focus on aligning the activities of the legal department into a core business function of the company.
There still doesn’t seem to be a standard, agreed-upon definition of “legal operations” just yet since the responsibilities cover a wide-range of areas including the general efficiency of legal work, cybersecurity, privacy, compliance, eDiscovery, policy management, and definitely the streamlining of relationships between the corporate legal department and outside counsel and service providers. As one observer at Above the Law put it, legal operations apparently covers “every aspect of running a legal department except for the dispensing of actual legal advice.”
It occurs to me that some law firms have gone down a similar road in hiring a Chief Administrative Officer, or Chief Operating Officer, but legal operations in corporate legal departments appears to delve a little deeper into the processes and workflows rather than just administrative duties. In one panel, the general counsel described the role of the legal operations professional as a “chief of staff” for the legal department.
This was John Schultz, General Counsel and Head of the Office of Legal Administrative Affairs at HP Enterprise who went on to state how his legal department focuses on the three “E’s” of Excellence, Efficiency, and Economy. When he first hired his legal operations professional, he thought the role would mainly revolve around Efficiency, but quickly realized how integral that role positively and invaluably impacted their Excellence and Economy.
Based on a recent report from LawGeex in association with CLOC, it appears that only about 21% of Fortune 500 companies have a legal operations role but it has certainly grown rapidly over the last few years and that number is absolutely expected to grow rapidly in the next few years.
It Ain’t Just About the Tech…
One of the most refreshing experiences was the broader focus for the educational sessions at the CLOC Institute. In the Thomson Reuters piece “Rise of the Legal Department Operations Manager” Connie Brenton highlighted the importance for legal operations professionals to “develop strong relationships with general counsel staff and cross-functional colleagues, both inside and outside the legal department” which I interpret as the necessity for polishing up your people skills.
Ms. Brenton just happens to be the Director of Legal Operations at NetApp, and one of the founders of CLOC, so it’s no surprise that there were sessions at the Institute that went beyond the meat and potatoes logistics of running a legal department. For example, on the last day there was a two-hour session called “Projecting Credibility and Confidence” featuring Cara Hale Alter of the communication training firm SpeechSkills. It was interactive, inspiring, and helpful. We don’t usually see those kind of sessions at legal-related conferences.
In fact, I found most attendees were not in Vegas to simply see what was new, or what options were available in the market. Attendees specifically pressed exhibitors on how they could use their technologies and services to be more efficient, and how to better utilize the tools they already owned to accomplish their goals. By the end of the Institute, I started thinking of this as corporate legal “optimization” rather than “operations” just because that seemed to be the focus of everyone I spoke with.
The Tick-Tock of CLOC
There was no denying the excitement or the energy in Vegas at the CLOC Institute. And there’s no denying the commitment of everyone I spoke with that the role of legal operations is necessary, pivotal, and here to stay – they believe that CLOC is the right place for them to ensure an efficient legal team now and for the future.
I got caught up in the excitement, and I am keenly interested to watch how the role of legal operations evolves and more specifically how technology is utilized and assimilated into that position. It’s not about the technology, it’s about how people use the technology. And if legal operations is best situated to effectively employ technology to achieve the goals of efficiency and scales of economy, then it’s a success.