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  • Writer's pictureRhianne Armstrong

Getting started with Legal Operations

Updated: Apr 9


Legal Operations is a bit of a buzz word at the moment and it is often entwined with legal technology and the idea of doing more with less. In this article we explore what “Legal Ops” is, who needs it and how to get started.


1. What is Legal Ops?

Legal Ops can mean different things to different people. A general description might be “everything that an in-house legal team needs to think about, apart from actual legal advice”. This could include:


  • managing outside counsel and billing

  • standardising access to the team for the wider business

  • financial planning

  • technology road maps

  • KPIs for the legal team

  • data analysis

  • knowledge management


An established Legal Ops team might also be looking at the wider strategy of the legal team, their scope of work and where they can add most value to the business.


2. Do all legal teams need Legal Ops?

To a certain degree, yes - all legal teams need some form of Legal Ops. How big or small the legal team is will determine how wide or narrow that scope is. On a very basic level it’s helpful for all legal teams to have a standard way that the legal team can be contacted, along with how outside counsel invoice you. A bigger team may want to look at other areas such as what is the scope and boundaries for advising the business (e.g. legal will get involved with contracts over £1million or if it involves data protection/IP) otherwise use playbooks and knowledge areas to guide your business users through a negotiation.

Even a legal team of one person can standardise more routine aspects of their role, such as:


  • how the business get in touch

  • creating email templates for standard replies/request for more information

  • creating document templates for most commonly asked for documents – NDA, Supply Agreements, Terms and Conditions

  • creating a playbook of commonly negotiated clauses and their initial fallbacks

  • standardising advice and the language used in an accessible place

  • ensuring contracts are stored centrally and are easily accessible


That said, its usually a good idea to gather data first to really understand 1) where its worth getting efficiencies 2) where it will be easier to gain buy-in and 3) the types of area or people more open to change, rather than just implementing new processes for the sake of it. An easy way to start is to keep a note of requests coming in, ideally electronically.


3. I have a legal team of sub 10 – what can I do?

The nature of in-house legal teams mean they can never be big enough to manage all the work coming in so the key is to look for quick wins and if budget is tight, look to use or adapt what tech is already installed (or being used by other teams such as IT) before buying separate, potentially expensive point solutions:


  • start tracking work: This could be using Excel, SharePoint lists, Google sheets or whatever system you have access to. Include a status column to help answer questions about what legal are doing and where work is currently sitting in the process.

  • help the business to self-serve: look for particular pain points or common tasks e.g. NDA drafting. Use standard templates/playbooks/Word placeholders/Microsoft Forms or Power Automate to standardise or automate these as much as possible. Create training materials to educate the business on access to standard material and preferred processes and record the sessions for ease of reference or to reuse with new hires.

  • Manage outside counsel and invoices: put billing guidelines in place and start to consider how to automate invoice review and approval. Review whether you can ask more from your outside counsel - beyond legal advice. Often law firms are happy to use tech to deliver your work, and adapt it to fit your requirements. They are usually keen to understand your business strategy and see where they can help you plan for the future e.g. through horizon scanning reports.


Consider linking any new systems and processes using a Legal Front Door.


4. What would be the next step (without a big investment?)

Once the initial processes are in place then take time to tweak areas that are still creating bottlenecks or need improvements – e.g. where the legal team are waiting on information from the business, are there other processes in place to ensure that information is provided upfront to speed up the time a contract sits “with Legal”?


Consider investing in specialised technology for certain parts of the process where are pain points remain. This might be an approval system, locking down of contracts or a more accessible way to interact with the legal team. Speak to your business users to find out what their priorities are and how they find the processes before investing too much time and money on technology.


Always look to maximise any investment – collect data on usage of standard templates, site visits and number of legal requests initiated and answered and visualise these statistics to inform future decisions on further funding or increases in headcount.

Once the new processes are up and running, keep refining and reiterating, for example, minimising missed opportunities by tracking renewal dates or trends towards other services.


Summary

In summary, all organisations can greatly benefit from some form of Legal Ops. This can have a positive effect on the legal team’s work intake, accountability to the business and awareness of the rest of the business teams as a whole. For those smaller organisations, much can be done with existing tools to add efficiency to the process of contacting the legal team and raising awareness of how the business can self-serve for common tasks. As the business grows, Legal Ops processes can be enhanced and augmented with specialised tools for specific areas of need. Being able to provide reporting and analysis on the performance of the legal team can help with securing funding for further investment in the team – be that in the form of resource or tech tools.


Look out for our follow-on article about Legal Front Doors and how to make the legal team a more cohesive entity for the business to interact with.


Our expert legal technologists and automation lawyers at echo.legal have a great deal of experience in implementing processes and technologies to create or enhance a Legal Operations strategy. If you’d like to discuss how we can work with your legal team, law firm or business on an automation project, contact Julie.Saliba@echo.legal or Will.Sumners@echo.legal.



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