I recently had the opportunity to attend LegalWeek West in San Francisco, and the experience was incredibly rewarding. This was the first time that the LegalWeek conference provided a LegalOps educational track. Bringing together some of the leading innovators in the LegalOps field, it was exciting to hear their take on this burgeoning area of the legal industry. In addition to a review on the evolution of legal operations as a functional business area, speakers focused on benchmarking and metrics, as well as guiding change within an organization. As with most conferences, several themes emerged throughout the day, providing insight on the current state of legal operations.
While nearly two-thirds of law departments are using legal service providers, one-third of law departments say that their current technology is ineffective. These seemingly incongruous statistics lead to several conclusions: (a) legal service providers are not providing effective tools, (b) law departments are not implementing the correct technology solutions they need, or (c) a combination of both. For LegalOps professionals, identifying which issue is impacting their department can lead to radical changes in the effectiveness and efficiency of the legal team. This leads to the next theme.
As the legal operations role has evolved, so has the approach to identifying and implementing technology. The technology itself isn’t the answer: automating a bad process doesn’t fix the process. Legal operations has adopted techniques from IT project management, focusing on both process mapping and roadmaps.
Process mapping concentrates on a single process, identifying the players involved, the pain points, and the desired outcomes of a potential technology solution. Process mapping includes interviewing end users, getting input from other departments such as Finance and IT, and encouraging user adoption and change management from the ground up.
Alternatively, a roadmap spans several years, identifying the types of technology needed, setting priorities, and estimating costs. Each process map fits into the roadmap, and as new processes and technologies are identified, the roadmap is revised. If one attorney in the legal department keeps pushing for a contract management program, but the 15 other lawyers won’t use it, the roadmap will help justify why that solution is a lower priority than the e-billing service that will impact all of the attorneys on the team.
As legal departments are run more like cost centers, they are being asked to manage costs effectively while also taking on an increased volume of work. By identifying areas of inefficiencies (through process maps and roadmaps), legal operations professionals can more accurately identify legal service providers offering effective solutions. Additionally, they’ll be able to quantify the required outcomes from their vendors. While providing savings to a legal department’s bottom line will always be a critical factor in a decision, other impacts – such as removing mundane tasks from in-house lawyers or streamlining routine processes – will also improve the overall function of the legal department.
I left the LegalOps sessions at LegalWeek West with my head buzzing with ideas, and I’m sure the other attendees did as well. As legal operations grows into a more structured concept, conferences like LegalWeek West and CLOC will continue to provide platforms for law departments, legal service providers, and law firms to learn and work together. I, for one, can’t wait to see that happen.