What Is Legal Operations? Top Functions and Benefits
February 15, 2022
Legal operations, most simply put, is the business support of the legal function. It involves a multidisciplinary approach to managing a legal organization or department, with the goal of improving efficiency, productivity, and profitability. Though core competencies can vary, they often include such functions as organizational planning, project management, people management, and legal technology.
What is legal operations?
Legal operations functions encompass all tasks required to achieve success from a business perspective and support teams in providing high-quality and efficient legal services to their internal or external clients.
Legal operations can be present in law firms and in-house legal departments. Ideally, each legal department should be run as if it were its own business. A properly functioning legal operations program ensures that the legal organization is scaling, is strategically focused, is delivering on commitments, and has a seat at the table with the other business units within a company.
Legal operations programs cover areas such as hiring and career development, knowledge management, technology, project management, and more, which are now responsibilities of general counsel and legal departments, regardless of company size and revenue. Many departments or firms may not officially have a legal operations function, but likely already have people supporting aspects of legal operations, whether recognized or not. This is often the precursor to establishing a defined organization or role to discharge the legal operations function.
Legal operations is a relatively new field in law, but its core tenets have existed for as long as law firms and legal departments have been around.
What are some key legal operations resources and functions?
Organizational planning is essential to effectively running a legal organization and involves developing goals, as well as the strategies and policies to support those goals.
Once you have identified your goals and the necessary strategies and policies to support them, you’ll need to decide how to define success and determine the tools for tracking and measuring whether you are succeeding based on your defined metrics. There are many ways to measure success, and the appropriate tools may change based on factors such as the size and structure of the company or team, financial and policy goals of the business, political and cultural issues, and personalities involved.
Outside Legal Services
Whether you are a law firm or a legal department within a larger business, you likely utilize outside legal services. The cost associated with these services may be significant; in fact, for many legal departments, outside legal services could be the largest line item in the budget, made up primarily of outside counsel fees. Effectively managing outside legal services processes can significantly reduce costs and improve efficiency and quality.
A widely recognized aspect of a legal operations professional’s role, legal technology covers a range of technologies. Some were designed specifically for use by legal professionals while others are general technologies used both inside and outside the legal industry.
The practice of law is frequently experienced through a series of tasks that make up a broader project or matter, and effective management of the project or matter can mean the difference between a positive and a negative experience by the numerous individuals involved.
At the end of the day, you are only as good as the people who support you and your department. While frequently overlooked or only attended to when things are going wrong, the importance of effectively managing this incredible resource cannot be overstated.
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Learn more about the essential legal operations functions, including the many tools and resources Bloomberg Law offers to help legal operations departments function smoothly.
Why is organized project management essential to success?
While the tenets of project management may seem overly formulaic or complex, legal ops professionals and their organizations stand to benefit from using project management processes.
Only 37% of respondents to Bloomberg Law’s 2021 Legal Operations Survey said their law firm or legal department uses project management processes – and even fewer use related processes such as Agile or Six Sigma.
Project management is broad, and its principles can further legal operations projects as well as other projects, including matter and case management. Legal project management processes can assist legal ops professionals to more seamlessly:
- map a step-by-step way to navigate projects
- design project documentation, such as communication, change management, and project plans
- choose methodologies by which to manage the project
- follow best practices for project planning, execution, monitoring, and closure
Read the full article to discover more about the value of project management for law firms and legal departments.
What are the benefits of implementing legal operations practices?
According to Bloomberg Law’s 2021 Legal Operations Survey, both law firm and corporate in-house lawyers most often report improved efficiency, reduced cost, and improved workflows as primary considerations when deciding which legal operations practices to implement. In addition, both revenue and efficiency are frequently mentioned as top priorities.
Another key area that legal operations can impact, according to respondents, is diversity. Nearly three-quarters of respondents report having diversity metrics in place in their organization, with the focus most frequently on race/ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation.
This webinar covers the findings from Bloomberg Law’s third annual Legal Operations Survey, which asked attorneys from both law firms and in-house legal departments about the state of legal operations in their organizations.
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