More and more, the legal department is depended upon as a partner to help the business achieve its objectives. To meet this challenge, legal departments must focus on process improvements and metrics to track progress in the same way other business functions do. This strategy has already been adopted by many larger legal departments, who have seen great success in developing ‘legal operations’ functions to accomplish these goals.

In a smaller department, however, the General Counsel is already spread thin and working with limited resources. The concept of developing legal operations can appear far from the top of the priority list.

But this approach is self-defeating. Adopting a legal operations approach helps solve the key challenges facing smaller legal departments. Limited budgets, stretched legal resources, demanding business colleagues, increasing regulation – these are all challenges that can be better faced with a robust legal operations function. Rather than adding to the workload, legal operations projects and technologies free up valuable lawyer time, in addition to delivering a real return on investment for the legal team.

Where to begin?

Where you start is a matter of prioritization. Develop a simple strategy by assessing the most immediate challenges facing the legal department. Spend reporting, budget control, limited in-house resources: consider the priority of these issues. To overcome these challenges, establish a vision for expected business outcomes (e.g. 10% reduction in legal spend, 20% reduction in contract turnaround times etc.).

To succeed with your strategy it will be necessary to leverage new technologies and processes. Developing a culture of innovation in the department is an important goal here. The legal team should have ownership of the project and also share in the benefits of its success. For example, eliminating time spent on administrative tasks means more time can be spent providing legal advice.

Early wins

Early wins are vital. Start by setting realistic and achievable goals and undertaking a project that will deliver a real return on investment. Legal spend management (which can result in a reduction of legal spend by 10%) is a good place to start. Having demonstrated what is achievable, the legal department can then progress to launching and executing more mature projects in areas like knowledge management and compliance.

Metrics matter

Your strategy will inform the key metrics you measure (such as tracking law firm adherence to industry standard billing guidelines). In turn, the metrics you measure will drive behavior change and help you achieve your strategic goals (for instance, tracking billing guideline adherence can contribute to you achieving your goal of reducing legal spend by 10%).

New technologies mean that it is easier than ever to start tracking these key metrics without lengthy implementation projects.

Legal operations matter

Adopting this simple approach can help you develop a high quality, low cost legal department without diverting time from your key role supporting the business.