Optimizing operations as in-house attorneys struggle with increased workloads is best tackled by general counsel who can hitch the solution to the broader organization’s workflows and technology efforts, legal ops consultants say.
In the past, it wasn’t uncommon for general counsel to take a workbench-like approach in which they stitch together specialized legal technologies, if they had the budget for that, but the best-in-class approach today envisions something more broadly integrated.
“The current philosophy is, we need to assemble multidisciplinary professionals who work alongside the legal teams and to really differentiate all these business problems that [in-house teams] are facing, across the gamut from legal operations all the way up to investigations, litigation, helping people deal with vast quantities of data to answer questions from the tax man, for example,” said Ben McGuire, a partner and managing director at Simmons and Simmons, in a Bryter webcast.
Not only does broader integration help optimize the legal team to better respond to what the organization needs, it reflects the reality that few in-house legal teams have the resources to build and maintain their own technology tools.
“I’ve only spoken to one [general counsel] ever who said, ‘I own my own stack. I’ve got a budget for my own stack,’” said Tara Waters, a partner with Ashurst, a law firm that provides legal ops services.
Before jumping into any effort to optimize operations, general counsel should step back and assess the highest value they can deliver to the broader organization. Once they identify that, they can start to revamp their workflows and technology with guidance from the broader multidisciplinary team.
That might mean handing off routine attorney tasks, like contracts, to other parts of the business, automating other tasks, and even adjusting the organization’s risk tolerance to take more chances based on the real areas of exposure the business faces based on data analysis.
“The biggest payoff by far is moving from a state of risk abatement to risk acceptance,” said McGuire.
By looking at your data, you might learn that certain types of contracts have rarely if ever represented real risk to the organization, and if that’s the case, it makes little sense to continue dedicating attorney time to them.
“You don't have to negotiate every clause,” said McGuire. “‘It’s taking us days and days and costing us a fortune to negotiate this clause because we think there’s a risk of somebody coming after us,’ but if you actually looked back … and assemble that data, [you might] say we have never faced any litigation in this space.”
Some general counsel, after assessing their processes, are coming out with a menu approach in which they share with the broader organization what they will and won’t do.
“‘These are the 50 things we do and the other 150 things we did in the past that we don’t do anymore,’” said Philipp Glock of KPMG Law. “We’ll outsource it or we’ll give it back to business – some kind of contracts or whatever. There might be some things you don’t do at all: ‘These are templates; we’re not looking at them anymore.’”
Legal ops role
It can help to have dedicated legal ops staff to work with the multidisciplinary team and outside consultants because they’re positioned to help identify and implement workflows, processes and technology that are well-aligned with the broader organization.
“Plugging in directly to [a legal ops team] is always helpful for [consultants] like us,” said Waters.
The legal ops function has largely grown up in tandem with legal technology, so it’s fitting that many technology companies included the function in their legal departments from the start.
“New in-house teams formed at tech companies, probably more on the west coast of the United States, we’ve basically seen these teams saying, ‘We can build [this function] from scratch,’” said Michael Grupp, CEO and co-founder of Bryter. “These teams have operational support from the get-go.”
A Bryter survey shows most general counsel, if they don’t have a legal ops team or a legal ops staff person in place, would like to have such a function or plan to add one. About a quarter say they have no plans to go that route.