It was quite an experience visiting Las Vegas for the first time at the world’s largest gathering of legal operations professionals—the CLOC Institute 2018. Attending events of this scale and quality is always hugely rewarding. Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been reflecting on some of the key themes, ideas and concepts that emerged from the 4-day conference. Here are my top five, and in the horological spirit of CLOC, I’ve given them as a countdown.

5. The legal operations community is alive and kicking

What the CLOC leadership team has achieved over the past 3 years is truly remarkable. CLOC was founded in December 2015, but now boasts 1360 individual members representing 688 companies (an impressive 151 of which are Fortune 500 companies). The conference rooms at the Bellagio were busy with around 1,600 attendees—a mixture of General Counsel (GCs) and legal operation professionals, law firms, alternative service providers, consultants and legal technology vendors.

It may just have been Vegas but the energy among this community was palpable. The conference schedule was packed full of fascinating sessions and vendor demos covering a range of topics. The Grand Patio was buzzing for the duration of the conference with people taking some time out from the sessions to connect with fellow legal operations professionals and vendors, share experience and best practice, and discuss opportunities for collaboration. The CLOC leadership should be very proud of what they have created—a thriving legal operations community dedicated to helping corporate legal teams operate at peak efficiency.

4. The maturity of legal operations varies greatly

One consequence of having such a broad and diverse community of legal operations professionals is that everyone is at a different stage of maturity. Some of the most engaging sessions of the conference involved professionals at the top of the curve, such at Jen McCarron (Head of Legal Technology at Spotify) and Jason Barnwell (Assistant GC, Law Firm Engagement and Legal Operations at Microsoft). Equally, I had some fantastic discussions with other in-house lawyers or legal operations professionals who rated themselves and their organizations as beginners (and sometimes intermediate) on the maturity scale and could only aspire to the sophistication of other organizations.

This presents a couple of challenges. The first is for CLOC, which will need to continue to ensure that all legal operations professionals are supported and have access to the resources they need to optimize the performance of their legal teams, no matter their maturity. Like a herd of buffalo, the group will only be able to move as fast as the slowest member. The second is a challenge for vendors and legal service providers who will need to ensure they are catering for a range of maturities amongst the corporate legal community. One thing is clear—there will be no ‘one size fits all’ model.

3. There’s a growing spirit of partnership between legal tech vendors

I certainly can’t begrudge CLOC for putting on so many awesome sessions. While it did mean there were quieter times in the exhibitors’ hall, it also offered vendors the opportunity to connect with each other. At most conferences, vendors will stare at each other from the safety of their booths, jealous of their competitor’s screen size or the quality of their free giveaways (“Check it out…they’re giving away drones”). Not so at CLOC.

We vendors were mixing and mingling, leading to some awesome conversations. No matter the size and maturity of corporate legal teams, they are looking for the best tools, solutions and services to help them optimize the performance of their legal team. There is rarely a ‘one stop shop’ solution—people and teams need the flexibility to combine the tools and technology that work best for them. These solutions are often more valuable than the sum of their parts. It was therefore great to talk to other vendors about the possibility of collaborating to deliver greater value to corporate legal teams.

2. Corporate legal teams are taking the lead

I have been working in legal innovation and technology for four years now and was a lawyer for five years before that. My experience is that law firms have traditionally controlled the narrative when it comes to improving legal service delivery for their clients. This is understandable, law firms are trying to differentiate themselves in a crowded market, as well as create “sticky” relationships with their clients. However, what is best for a law firm is not necessarily best for the client. So, it was refreshing to see law firms playing a supporting role at CLOC, with legal operations professionals and corporate legal teams taking center stage. With the rise of legal operations and organizations such as CLOC, corporate legal teams are now taking a lead when it comes to determining what is best for their own operations. Why should they wait for their external counsel to deliver the change and efficiency they need? Corporate legal teams are setting the agenda and driving genuine change within the industry and it's amazing to see.

1. But, strategic collaboration between law firms and legal departments is strong

While legal operations professionals and corporate legal teams have taken the initiative for re-engineering the in-house ecosystem, they still need to work closely with their external counsel firms. There is much value that can be derived from closer collaboration, both for the legal team and the law firm. The best way to ensure that external counsel is delivering value to a legal department’s strategic objectives is to work with them to design a framework for engagement and a model for delivery. Secondly, many leading law firms have strong credentials when it comes to re-designing legal service delivery and delivering business change, which creates an opportunity for corporate legal teams to leverage this expertise for their benefit. This will be of greater importance for smaller or low maturity teams which may lack the internal resources to accelerate their legal operations journey.

A great example of this collaborative spirit was given in the session ‘Developing a Strategic Plan for Maximizing the Value of Outside Counsel Engagement,’ which covered how Microsoft is redesigning its approach to engaging outside counsel to create greater value for its legal team. Jason Barnwell of Microsoft and Judy Jennison of Perkins Coie discussed the importance of partnership and how they have worked together to create their “Total Team” model, which has driven efficiency in the instruction and legal intake process between Perkins Coie and Microsoft’s Corporate, External, & Legal Affairs (CELA) team. The Total Team model has led to a greater business/client focus, closer partnership, fee predictability and improved collaboration, communication and scoping between Perkins Coie and CELA. With great outcomes like this—let’s hope we see more collaboration between in-house teams and their external counsel!