Wolters Kluwer together with Law & Ops, recently hosted a roundtable for in-house lawyers, that explored the rise of the legal operations role.

The legal industry is shaking things up. Changes that have seemed distant are now accelerating, an increased demand for the delivery of legal services, and tech-savvy legal teams. Are all these changes due to legal operations?

Wolters Kluwer together with Law & Ops, recently hosted a roundtable for in-house lawyers, with panellists Cindy de la Fuente, , Leonie van Gulik, and Douwe Groenevelt, all Co-founder of Law & Ops and experienced (in-house) legal operations professionals.. The discussion was moderated by Maurits Annegarn, Segment Manager Legal Software at Wolters Kluwer.

The roundtable explored the rise of the legal operations role, including skillsets required for legal operations professionals and how to start with legal operations.

What is the role of a legal operations professional? 

Although legal operations has been around in the U.K. and the United States for several years, it recently started to gain ground in the Netherlands. Legal operations focusses on the why, what and who of legal teams and how that translates into practice: 

  • Why do you need legal services? 
  • What kind of legal services do you provide as a legal team? 
  • How will you deliver legal services? 
  • Who should do the work?

Where your focus areas lie will ultimately be determined by the strategy of your organisation and the maturity of the legal team, as in, the extent to which the legal team is integrated with the rest of the business and acts as a true business partner as opposed to being reactive.

Skillset for a legal operations professional

Since legal operations is dedicated to bringing about innovation and change, the panellists agreed that one of the most important skills of a legal operations professional is good change management. A legal operations manager should be able connect with different stakeholders and build bridges between them and the legal team. Other important skills include process management and communication.

Whether a legal operations professional needs to have a legal background remains a hotly debated topic. Law & Ops recently conducted a poll in their LinkedIn group and asked members whether a legal operations professional should have a legal background. Their poll revealed the majority of the people that replied would prefer a legal operations professional with a legal background. However, one of the panellists said they would prefer someone without a legal background because, “in a team full of lawyers it’s refreshing to have somebody that can offer a different outlook. The team is likely to have a siloed perspective if everyone has a legal background.”

How to introduce legal operations

When setting up a legal operations role for the first time, there’s not a single blueprint that works best. One of the panellists mentioned when they first started out as a legal operations manager they spoke with the business to figure out what the pain points were and what improvements were needed most. The panellist recommended starting with quick wins to enhance credibility and get the rest of the legal team on board.

To illustrate, at one panellist’s previous employer, the invoicing process was unstructured because everybody received invoices in their own inboxes. The organisation lacked insight into outstanding invoices and the spend.

As a solution, they created a database of all the external law firms and linked each firm to a specific matter. When the pandemic hit and the organisation was forced to reduce their external legal spend, it was easy for them to save money and have a strong position to negotiate, which would have been impossible without the database. The team came up with a vendor evaluation process every half year, where they would rate the law firms against criteria that they established. Based on those ratings, they could see what the preferred firms were.

It’s often thought that legal operations is synonymous with legal technology, but legal technology is just one of the elements of the legal operations role. One of the panellists cautions that, “the risk of starting with technology, instead of strategy, processes and people, is that legal departments ultimately don’t make the most of the tool because they haven’t thought how to embed it properly into their delivery model.” As an example, one of the panellists shared what happened when they purchased a tool for contract template creation. The legal team spent hours fitting the database with dozens of templates. In the end, the company ended up using a single NDA template.

Another panellist chimed in that legal teams are often keen to implement tools, but “fail to realize there are a number of steps that need to be completed first in terms of efficiency gains.”

How to get budget and win stakeholder approval

The legal team needs a number-based narrative to win over stakeholders. While this may seem like a daunting place to start, especially if there aren’t any numbers to show, it can be done with a simple exercise. One of the panellists explained that the legal team can create an overview of what kind of work the team is doing. When the exercise is repeated a few months later, the team can demonstrate how many matters have been created, the development over time, if there were any busy periods and where the team spent most of its time. “You can show stakeholders how much time the legal team is spending on low-value work. You have the numbers to prove that if the company can move towards a selfservice business model, the company would benefit.”

In addition to getting other internal stakeholders on board, the rest of the legal team are important stakeholders too. One of the panellists found that translating the numbers into time saved works best. “If you can show how you can save time, the legal team will be more willing to change their way of working.”

The panellist promised to save the legal team one hour a day by the end of the year. They completed several projects and calculated how much time they’d save with each improvement. Currently they are at 33 minutes per day. Then they translated that into the average salary internally per lawyer, so it was easy to demonstrate the savings to the legal team. 

Legal operations in the Netherlands is still in the early stages but there is room for legal operations to play a significant role in legal departments.

Looking for ways to maximise productivity and focus more on creating value? Get the guide “How to build a legal operations function,” and discover how to set up legal operations role and how technology can help.

Law & Ops is on a mission to demystify and accelerate the development and adoption of Legal Operations. To stay up to date with the work Law & Ops is doing, follow their Linkedin page here.