Good People, Bad Process:  Building a Legal Operations Team

by | Apr 30, 2015


Good People Bad Process Building a Legal Operations Team

Several corporate legal studies suggest that even while legal departments are primed to take on more work the growth in workload will encounter significant resource constraints: staffing and budgets are to remain flat.

The only reliable way to do more with less is to do things differently.  That’s why D. Casey Flaherty is an advocate for legal operations and will provide a keynote presentation on the subject at the annual LexisNexis CounselLink customer conference which is titled “Showcasing the Value of the Legal Department.”

Mr. Flaherty maintains there are three fundamental building blocks of legal operations: people, process and technology.  People are the most important aspect of the three and for GCs looking to implement legal operations, it’s best to begin with people first.

Also see these two previous posts with D. Casey Flaherty
Metrics Strengthen Inside and Outside Counsel Relationships
Defining Legal Operations and Assessing Maturity

4 Considerations for Building Effective Legal Operations

But people are rarely the problem. Legal departments, especially those that have grown in headcount, “most likely have good people trapped in bad processes,” he said.  That’s not to say the existing process was ill-conceived – a process may have been designed well to fit existing conditions but the department has outgrown it. Scale matters and departments reach a point “where it’s time to change.”

Mr. Flaherty suggests GCs take these four considerations in account when building a legal operations team:

1.  Be sure the legal department is ready for real change.

“People say they want change, but what they really want is incremental improvement,” says Mr. Flaherty.  “They are looking for better outputs from the same inputs.”  Most organizations need a learning opportunity – a catalyst that prompts the legal department to evaluate how it gets things done.  For some a proactive assessment of legal operations is the basis for change, while for others it’s the reality of tackling more legal work with flat or even declining resources.

2.  Obtain buy-in from the legal team. 

Effective legal operations can truly add value to a corporate legal department but it requires real change.  Change, in Mr. Flaherty’s view, requires legal personnel to do things differently, to be “embedded in new workflows” and adopt new technology.  While the concept may sound inviting in principle, people are inherently resistant to change in practice.  GCs seeking to implement or improve legal operations must be able to sell his or her staff on the vision and benefits in order to obtain buy-in from the team if the project is to be successful.

3. A mandate from the top.  

If corporate legal seeks to earn staff acceptance that the notion of legal operations is worthwhile, then leadership too must demonstrate commitment.  Commitment comes in the form of a mandate from the top that is clearly communicated to all levels of the department – in word and deed.

4. Legal operations require capital investment.  

Too many organizations believe that technology works like magic – throw some shiny new tools at the challenge and then watch productivity improve.  It’s a surefire way to squander finite time and resources according to Mr. Flaherty who points to studies that suggest for every dollar invested in technology, an organization needs ten more dollars to invest in process re-design and training.  Because of the need for real change, returns take time, too.  Mr. Flaherty also points to studies that suggest that returns on an investment aimed at radical improvements in efficiency take anywhere between 5-7 years to be fully realized.  There is low hanging fruit and some quick gains to be made. But continuous improvement requires sustained commitment.

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The 2015 CounselLink Annual Customer Conference will be held in Miami, FL on May 12th and 13th.  A full agenda and conference information is available online. See you in Miami!

If you enjoyed this post, you might also like:
3 Outcomes of Improving Legal Department Operations

Photo credit: Flickr, Jetstar Airways (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Contributing Author

Contributing Author

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