When building out a company’s legal operations function, ops chiefs should start by figuring out what key business objectives legal department leaders want the in-house team to achieve.
Neshade Abraham, the global head of legal operations at Etsy, said a high percentage of general counsel prioritize legal ops providing assistance with reducing outside counsel spending.
Meanwhile, other legal chiefs may want to turn around contracts more quickly to better support business partners and hope to see the legal ops team help make that happen, he said.
“It's a lot of education from your perspective to know where that first investment should be,” Abraham said. “You really need to make sure that your goals, objectives and strategy are aligned with the business.”
He spoke during a recent Lawtrades webinar about legal ops that also featured Janine Dixon, legal operations manager at Meta; and Cindy Kaneshiro, director of legal operations and chief of staff at Nutanix.
The discussion was moderated by Eric Frank, a legal operations consultant at Lawtrades, which is a platform that connects in-house legal departments with freelance legal professionals, including legal operators.
Dixon said that when she was the head of legal operations at Fannie Mae, one of the first things she did was meet with key business stakeholders to find out what their pain points were.
The feedback she received provided guidance about the areas in which her team would focus.
Along those lines, Kaneshiro said she advises legal ops leaders to try to find out which business-critical workflows are eating up a lot of attorney and paralegal time, such as non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) where no automation is being used.
The information gathered can inform which areas are ripe for legal ops investment and spark conversation about what type of legal team the department will be moving forward.
“Are we that modern team where we're trying to build leverage and efficiency and utilize technology?” Kaneshiro said. “Or are we just going to be triaging and adding attorney heads every time something new comes up?”
CLOC ‘Core 12’
The legal ops leaders also said it can be helpful to see which of the Corporate Legal Operations Consortium’s list of a dozen functional areas legal department leadership would want them to prioritize.
The CLOC “Core 12” include technology, practice operations, information governance and financial management.
Dixon, CLOC’s Washington D.C. regional group leader, said legal ops managers would be wise to identify the functional areas where they can quickly generate the most meaningful change in how their legal department’s attorneys work.
“You really want to take a look at what's the most impactful and then get to those things first,” she said.
Technology that would be nice to have, such an AI-powered contract management system, may need to wait, Dixon added.
Being ready to pivot
The three legal ops leaders agreed that having both short-term and long-term strategic plans are helpful. However, they said a willingness to pivot is essential because business needs can change quickly.
Abraham, who previously worked as a legal operations manager at Amazon, gave the example of a company starting to engage in a new business sector.
The legal ops team would likely play a role in assisting with lining up outside counsel to support the transition.
“It's great that you can have a strategy in place, and your ideal vision of what the department could be,” Abraham said. “But one shift in the business could really change the rest of your plans for the remainder of the year. So, allowing for some flexibility in your vision is the message I’ll convey here.”