Legal Operations: How to Speak “Lawyer” about Process Improvements


Legal operations and process improvements can be tough if you are not speaking the same language. Does the following sound like something you would say?

“I'm new to legal operations having come from a business background. Legal has a completely different mindset and even getting people to recognize that we have processes, let alone that we need to improve them, can be difficult. How do I speak to lawyers about process improvement?”

If so, you’re in good company. This comment represents a theme I have heard at various legal operations conferences that I have attended. My background as a lawyer turned executive puts me in the position of speaking both lawyer and business professional. Here are some things that, in my experience, have been helpful for legal operations or business professionals entering the world of legal, to know.

First, know that the need for a process is not a presumption. Often in the business world, there is general agreement that things should follow a process. That is not the same in legal. There isn’t a presumption for, or against, a process. It isn’t something that is thought about very much and since legal work is different for each matter (i.e. each contract is unique, each litigation is unique), there is a predisposition to thinking things should be done uniquely each time. This predisposition can be overcome but it does warrant an explanation, which is different from the status quo in the business realm.

Second, recognize that many lawyers think in terms of risk and not just traditional financial ROI, as many business professionals are taught. For example, a change in a process can be seen as risky because it represents the unknown, so there may be hesitation to change despite a clear financial benefit. The way to overcome this is to consider and quantify the risks of any current process and changes to that process. Much in the way that you would traditionally quantify a financial ROI of anything you’re doing (or not doing), add in the risk factors and mitigations.

Third, many lawyers like to see the world in steps from beginning to end – not with a whole bunch of uncertainty in the middle. So, laying things out in a detailed methodical way (e.g., how you will get from where you are now to the final result) will resonate with lawyers. If you do not know all the steps, at least showcasing what you have thought through or when you will have more details will be helpful in overcoming any skepticism.

Finally, make sure you’re using a shared language. The meaning of words is very specific in the legal world. How a term has been defined in a contract can be the subject of an entire lawsuit and can make or break a business, so lawyers take definitions very seriously. Making sure everyone is on the same page with respect to the business language you are using can go a long way in avoiding unnecessary confusion.

I hope these ideas help you connect with your lawyers and make the necessary changes in your legal operations department.

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