July 20, 2023
July 2023- Avoiding Common Roadblocks to Successful Legal Operations
Legal operations as a functional area isn’t new, but many organizations are still establishing their programs or actively working to advance their current program to its next stage. In doing so, it’s always necessary to begin with a strategy, budget and, importantly, executive support. Even with those priorities, however, there are challenges faced by many organizations that often prevent growth and success. Understanding how to avoid those challenges and how to deal with them when they do arise can make the difference between failure and success.
Here are four tips to move your program to the next level:
Prioritize business process improvement, rather than leading with technology.
Don’t implement any new technology before fully understanding the core problem it’s intended to solve. Conduct due diligence to identify and understand the root cause, the people, the workflow, the data environment and the long-term financials associated with the problem or inefficiency. From there, a needs analysis will determine stakeholder goals and requirements which should inform any product reviews and decisions around new technology solutions.
Too often there is a tendency to put the solution before the problem. But people and processes are far more important to a successful operation than any one piece of technology, and without a deep understanding of a problem as viewed through those two lenses, legal ops stakeholders run the risk of the dreaded tech implementation failure.
Speak the language of your CFO.
Don’t underestimate the importance of effective communication when embarking on the development or advancement of your legal operations program. This begins with gaining support from business leaders beyond the general counsel, particularly those who oversee areas of finance.
Prepare a business case for the CFO and present it in business terms, conveying an accurate picture on ROI, NPV, financial modeling and operational risk criteria. These are standard tools used for allocating budget and headcount, so understand how to convey the needs of legal operations in these terms. Speaking the same language as these influential business leaders will help move the initiative forward.
Take a broad view of resource allocation.
A successful legal function requires an ecosystem of skills beyond those of lawyers. Today it includes operational experts, technical specialists, data analysts and project managers as well, and matching all those resources with the appropriate work avoids overspending. Consider how using a mix of internal employees, alternative legal service providers, law firms and other providers – domestically and offshore – can help maximize resource allocation.
Legal operations teams, including leadership, should have multidisciplinary backgrounds and experience outside of legal departments to bring new perspectives, scrutiny into current practices and fresh ideas about alternative ways of delivering results.
Understand the importance of managing change.
The discipline of change management is among the biggest organizational headaches not receiving adequate attention, especially within large entities encountering the difficulties of digital transformation exercises.
Change is hard, even in the best of circumstances and among people who typically embrace it. When advancing your legal operations program, don’t underestimate how difficult it might be or underinvest in change management, because those mistakes are often the ones that derail carefully created strategies.
Clearly communicate the strategy and reasons for change, instill a sense of urgency in the process and then provide training to help employees adapt to their new working environment and surrounding expectations. Seek out both the naysayers and influencers; make naysayers a part of the solution and incentivize influencers to help with the effort. Communicate early and repetitively about expected behavior and benefits, gather and measure clean data, request frequent feedback and make strategic adjustments as necessary. Lastly, positive reinforcement and celebrating wins are critical to success.
Awareness of potential pitfalls and proactively planning for them require time, effort and dollars that should be included into any legal operations business plan. Brian Corbin, QuisLex vice president, legal solutions and operations excellence, addressed these challenges in two recent articles. Read 4 Pitfalls To Avoid In Legal Operations (and How to Deal With Them), published in the June issue of ALM’s Cybersecurity Law & Strategy newsletter, and Four Legal Ops Traps That Can Stunt Growth, published in the June issue of Accounting and Financial Planning for Law Firms, to learn more.