Legal Operations, most simply put, is the business support of the legal function
Today’s corporate legal departments are consistently asked to take on additional areas of responsibility, support continual company growth, and to do more with less, all while offering world-class customer service. Legal departments are no longer able to be viewed as just a cost center; they have to be able to market themselves, act as the ultimate business partner, and ensure that all the functional divisions of the company understand the ways in which the legal department adds value and contributes to the company’s overall success.
Legal operations can be present in law firms and in-house legal departments and most often includes these aspects:
- Hiring & Career Development
- Knowledge Management & Collaboration
- Organizational Design
- Vendor Management / Law Firm Engagement
- Tools / Technology
- Process Improvement
- Project Management
- Business partnerships (HR, Finance, IT, Operations)
Ideally, each legal department should be run as if it were its own business. This has not necessarily been the case historically, but it is the goal. 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.
All of the areas mentioned above are now responsibilities of general counsels and legal departments, regardless of company size and revenue. Additionally, these areas of expertise are just starting to be introduced into law school curricula.
Many departments or firms may not officially have a legal operations function, but there are likely to be people who are supporting aspects of legal operations, whether realized or not. This is not the ideal state, but is often the precursor to establishing a defined organization or role to discharge the legal operations function.
The extent of investment, prioritization and focus on legal operations functions is dependent on:
- General counsel or law firm’s priorities
- Department maturity (how long has the department been around and what is already in place?)
- Size of department/firm
- Company maturity