The Care and Feeding of a New Kind of Customer: Working with Legal Departments of the Future [Q&A]

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Roughly 60 percent of your new legal buyers are women .... We don’t buy services the same way companies have traditionally been buying ... We have a different mindset, and know there are different ways of working.

“We need law firms—our most critical external service providers—to develop their service delivery models and their use of technology at a much, much more rapid rate,” says Connie Brenton, Chief of Staff and Senior Director of Legal Operations at NetApp.

As keynote speakers at LMA Legal Tech West Oct. 22, 2019 in San Francisco, Brenton and NetApp’s Emily Teuben will share their perspectives and insights about how law firms need to reinvent themselves to better serve and successfully support the in-house legal departments of today and, even more importantly, tomorrow.

Susan Kostal of Stet sat down with Brenton and Teuben in advance of their keynote. Brenton is founder, former CEO and former Chair of CLOC, the Corporate Legal Operations Consortium. Teuben is Senior Legal Operations Manager at NetApp. This interview was edited for length and clarity.

Q: What do legal marketers need to understand about the legal operations function in today’s modern legal department?

Brenton: There are a few things. First, while some of the operations people at firms—like the pricing professionals—know that legal ops functions exist at most medium and large companies (and many small companies), the attorneys at firms don’t. As a result, firms are not engaging legal ops and making that connection, but continue to focus on their traditional relationships with their in-house contacts. That’s a missed opportunity.

Second, we don’t seem to be speaking the same language, or are focusing on the same things. We know firms are using AI for e-discovery, to track profits, or predicting litigation results, but we don’t see them using technology in more of a business.

...pricing teams and the internal legal ops teams have the same mindset. This is a perfect opportunity to collaborate.

Third, firms still generally don’t get that legal ops teams and in-house legal teams are tasked with securing the right quality of legal service at the right price: not every matter needs to be perfect and needs to have expensive resources assigned to do the work. Firms that take the time and make the effort to determine what level of quality and what kind of spend should be associated with a matter are gaining a competitive advantage and will advance that advantage over time.

Q: What’s an example of a way firms are talking past their clients, rather than with them?

Teuben: Pricing is a great example. The firms have the numbers, but they aren’t often willing to share the data with the client. The pricing teams and the internal legal ops teams have the same mindset. This is a perfect opportunity to collaborate. Bringing the data out from behind the curtain and sharing it would contribute to a high degree of transparency, which breeds trust.

Q: How is the modern legal department changing?

Brenton: We continue to get better and refine our efforts in the 12 core legal ops competencies, especially staffing/optimizing sourcing models. We are getting better at aligning the right provider at the right quality and price. And in-house teams are getting more and more comfortable with using ALSP’s and others to address service delivery needs.

The legal operations ecosystem is evolving rapidly, in terms of people, process and technology. Historically, an in-house legal department was primarily lawyers. At NetApp, 20 percent of our team are not lawyers. They are contract and project management experts. Most of this is driven by the changing role of the GC. When I started at NetApp, we didn’t even have a budget. Now the GC reports directly to the CEO. We are one of the only departments that goes across the enterprise. We used to be the “Department of No,” and now we are problem-solvers. Ten years ago it was all about guarding the company. Today it’s all about guiding the business.

Q: Law firms are often all about numbers increasing, whether it’s about body count, number of offices, revenues, profits-per-partner, etc. But in-house, the success story is often the opposite; budgets and head counts are shrinking. It’s a decidedly different mindset.

Brenton: We are the legal department of the future. We are the beta testers. Soon, everyone will look like us. We are innovators. Our in-house legal department used to be 90. Now we are a department of 45. In legal ops, we used to be a department of seven. Now we are a department of two.

...there is still a lot of opportunity across the industry to deliver better service at lower cost

Teuben: I would add that in-house teams face some tension, too, in terms of maximizing headcount and budget to justify promotions, bonuses, etc. The CEOs and CFOs of many companies have not yet figured out how to properly incentivize their legal teams to leverage the best resources--right quality at the right price--which sometimes means smaller in-house teams. Generally, for legal professionals in-house, promotions and comp are tied to the size of the team and budget you manage, as well as the volume or size of deals, etc. These rough measures for value add lead to suboptimal decision making in some cases.

So there is still a lot of opportunity across the industry to deliver better service at lower cost—which is why you see the Big 4 and others entering the space.

Q: What are firms and legal marketers missing?

Brenton: A few things. Roughly 60 percent of your new legal buyers are women. Among CLOC members, more than 60 percent are women. We don’t buy services the same way companies have traditionally been buying. We buy differently, we look at things differently. We have a different mindset, and know there are different ways of working. Budgeting is handled in legal ops. We are your new buyer, and it’s all about right quality at the right price

...one of the completely unintended consequences of successful legal tech implementations is that we’ve gotten much closer to our internal clients.

Teuben: Technology is a game-changer. It has an important function, but one of the completely unintended consequences of successful legal tech implementations is that we’ve gotten much closer to our internal clients. And firms can do that, too, with their clients.

Q: What’s one thing you hope attendees will take away from your address, and the conference as a whole?

Brenton: There’s a radical change going on in in-house legal teams. GCs have different roles and are looking at service delivery differently; GC teams are becoming more sophisticated buyers and the best of them are using technology and data to make better decisions (cost and quality); and most importantly, not only are legal ops teams here—and here to stay—but we are constantly developing more and more refined and sophisticated approaches to addressing all of the 12 core competencies—so all players across the industry should be doing so, too. We see a lot of that—mostly from tech companies, ALSP’s and now the Big 4—but the opportunity is vast.

We need law firms—our most critical external service providers—to develop their service delivery models and their use of technology at a much, much more rapid rate.

Teuben: Just start increasing your current knowledge base. The resources are out there.

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Connie Brenton and Emily Teuben deliver their keynote The Care and Feeding of a New Type of Customer: Working With Legal Department of the Future at LMA Legal Tech West Oct. 22, 2019 in San Francisco. Click here to register.

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Susan Kostal helps lawyers and law firms with legal marketing and content strategy. A former legal affairs journalist, she crafts collateral, directs content campaigns, advises on and creates web content, and ghostwrites for lawyers. Learn about her firm, Stet, at www.susankostal.com, and connect with her on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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