Players in the legal industry have realized for the past 10 or 15 years that many of their peers and competitors have a legal operations executive or consultant. Increasingly, they're seeking their own.
Indeed, throughout legal, the role of Chief Operations Advisor or COO is growing for some very good reasons, including:
- Not every lawyer is experienced in business finance, team-building, personnel matters, diversity and inclusion, strategic planning, and legal technology.
- Even if leaders of corporate law departments and law firms are experienced in the above subjects, they often don’t have the time to devote to such matters. Lawyers in private practice and in corporate law departments should be practicing law — not planning budgets, finding career development opportunities for staff, selecting and implementing the best technology systems for their organizations, or managing processes that result in true D&I.
If anyone is concerned that there are too many seminars on legal operations, or too much repetition about the subject, a meeting of the Legal Operations Executive Leadership Forum in Tarrytown, New York in early March, hosted by the Corporate Counsel Business Journal, should put their concerns to rest. That event and the discussions it sparked clearly demonstrated that the value of legal operations experts is more pressing than ever.
As a legal operations professional who has attended or spoken at many conferences such as this one, I can tell you that this meeting had several presentations of extraordinary interest and speakers of deep and varied experience. The particular topics upon which I was speaking included attracting and retaining talent and adopting systems so that an organization’s D&I efforts actually stick. Both topics spurred heavy engagement from the audience, and I know that I also learned from my co-panelists and audience participants, which is the best kind of panel.
The event also featured a number of other crucially important topics, including the need to empower your own team and plan your own organizational structure to be able to handle any unforeseeable troubles, presented by Mark Smolik, general counsel & CCO of DHL Supply Chain Americas; how to handle change management, by Darren Guy, Head of Legal Operations for AIG; and leveraging data management from Juliana Spofford, Chief Privacy Officer at Dun & Bradstreet.
It is clear that more needs to be communicated and more legal operations expertise needs to be utilized in order for our profession to remain relevant.
We also heard about some up-to-the-minute technology tools, including one that easily helps firms and law departments choose the least expensive and most appropriate tech solutions for their problems, and systems that find the electronic documents you need in a fraction of the time typically spent.
One reason why this legal ops meeting was so rich in information was its offering of speakers from different perspectives. There were dialogues and disagreements among attendees and experts, which makes for high audience engagement and learning.
In one clear example, one presenter argued that emotional intelligence can be taught, while others in the room disagreed. Far from being a stumbling block for the presentation, these kinds of debates and discussion made an event like this all the more valuable as ideas are worked through in real time.
Another session addressed the best and worst ways to select and manage outside counsel. Panelists from one of the participating law firms noted that many firms are trying to do the right thing about diversity. While I agreed, I also pointed out that most law firms can implement more specific processes to track and improve their own cultural metrics, resulting in increased profitability. In fact, I pointed out that many firms are thirsty for better tools to retain diverse talent and help their people do the right thing when it comes to developing a transparent and appropriate culture at work.
Several women in the room observed that even when policies are in place in law firms and corporations, hurdles such as stigma, lack of partner and leader knowledge about the policies, and unwillingness to enforce programs such as parental leave and remote work can make the best of programs meaningless, or worse — depressingly ignored.
It is clear that more needs to be communicated and more legal operations expertise needs to be utilized in order for our profession to remain relevant. It is also clear that meetings and discussions with leaders who share practical lessons-learned about legal ops must continue. Whether it be in the area of proven cultural best practices, organizational optimization, profitability enhancement, smarter use of technology, or innovative business development, the need in the legal industry is great.
Law is profession, but it is also a business; and legal organizations should go forth to find their business advisors and legal operations conferences.