In every complex venture, there’s an unsung hero who’s standing outside the limelight but keeping all the parts moving smoothly. We’re talking about the ediscovery manager who ensures that every case goes off without a hitch. The office administrator who keeps the office stocked and the printers running on a shoestring budget. Or perhaps your brother, who orchestrated the latest family reunion to ensure that everyone was fed, housed, and entertained to their satisfaction—and who made sure Uncle Jerry never had the opportunity to truly wind up into one of his out-there political tirades. I like to call these folks the glue that holds it all together.
On a day-to-day basis in corporations across the country, legal operations professionals are those behind-the-scenes lifesavers, working tirelessly to handle what can seem like everything. While the general counsel is serving as the face of the legal department, legal ops is quietly creating new efficiencies, managing risks, monitoring organizational compliance with myriad demands, incorporating the right technological tools, and proving the value—every day—of that department.
And while pretty much every legal operations manager is a hero in our eyes, there are, as with any job, people who manage to stand out from the rest. These legal operations rock stars have found ways to bring even more proactivity to their jobs, somewhat miraculously predicting the future and helping their organizations turn on a dime to meet new requirements.
Here’s what the best legal ops professionals are doing to improve efficiency across their organizations.
Legal ops can’t afford to take a “wait and see” approach to future challenges. They need to help their organizations prepare for what’s coming before it arrives—which means they need to have a finger on the pulse of everything that might affect the organization, from legislation and current events to emerging technologies. Privacy regulations? Sexual harassment claims? Data breaches? Check, check, check.
Fortunately, legal operations professionals tend to be well positioned for this sort of overarching risk assessment. As proxies to the general counsel, they’re “in on” the organization’s broad strategy and roadmap, so they can see where they’re trying to go and what obstacles might be in the way.
That said, since most of us can’t just whip out a crystal ball to see what the future holds, this fortune-telling takes some work. Dedicate some time to ongoing research, and keep an open mind about what’s interesting or potentially concerning. When we spoke with Joseph Stephenson, then the Managing Director at Hagerty Insurance Agency, last year, he made a suggestion that’s stuck with us and that seems tremendously applicable to legal ops: spend some time every week surfing around looking for problems that are just starting to blossom. As he said, “Grab your coffee, fire up your laptop, and devote a couple of hours to searching and really thinking about what you find. Read articles, do some research, maybe play around with a new platform … You have to look everywhere, and you can’t do that from your own little box.”
There’s one issue we see a lot: proactive legal operations professionals who are just realizing the growing importance of social media, online evidence, and data from collaboration apps like Slack in ediscovery and regulatory investigations. They recognize that they will eventually—if they don’t already—need to preserve that data and export it into review platforms, and that their existing technologies can’t manage that kind of unstructured data. (If this is you, don’t panic!
Nor is solo research the only approach; you can, and should, take advantage of the strong legal ops network to stay up-to-date on trends and developments. Commit to attending at least one conference each year—perhaps the annual conference put on by ACC Legal Operations, a SOLID Summit, or one of the Corporate Legal Operations Consortium’s CLOC Institutes.
One of the major roles of legal operations is to detect inefficient processes and devise better strategies for managing those tasks. But there’s a level up from there—solving inefficiencies that haven’t yet started to affect the organization significantly.
Continuing our example, say you’ve recently begun to work on ways to capture online information for a pending litigation or compliance matter. You know you need to preserve the appearance of and the content on a social media page, so you set about creating screenshots or PDFs—but you quickly realize that these methods are flawed. Expanding every link and interactive element on a single social media page and screenshotting its content could take all day, and you might not have admissible results to show for those efforts. Or perhaps you’ve realized that there are important conversations unfolding on your enterprise Slack that you need to archive or place under a legal hold, and you have no idea where to begin.
In short, proactive legal operations teams try to predict not only what problems are headed their way but also what’s likely to go wrong with their attempts to solve those problems. (Here’s a hint: native-format web capture can efficiently and defensibly meet all of an organization’s regulatory and ediscovery needs.)
Legal operations has another critical role that we haven’t even mentioned yet: that of translator between the legal department and the organization’s business leadership. It’s one thing for lawyers to know their needs and verbalize the value of their department. It’s quite another for the C-suite to understand how either affects the organization’s bottom line.
Enter legal ops, who can translate a vaguely understood need into actual numbers that make the business case for new technology or services. Likewise, legal ops can explain the legal department’s pride in a job well done in not just words but in numbers, demonstrating the monetary impact of legal and justifying its budget outlay.
Whether the legal department needs technology to mitigate risk, lower costs, improve efficiency, or meet other organizational objectives, the purchase of that technology depends on the strength of the business case for it. For example, if legal ops can demonstrate that 60 percent of the organization’s potentially discoverable communications are occurring on Slack and other collaboration platforms—which the organization has no current ability to capture or review—and that the failure to preserve those communications could lead to substantial monetary sanctions, that makes a strong case for the addition of capture technology that can handle unstructured data.
Proactive legal ops managers have more than enough to keep up with already. Between predicting the future, solving both existing and impending problems and inefficiencies, and translating legal verbiage into numbers and charts that speak to the C-suite, you’ve got your hands full.