How to Tackle Your Legal Operations Projects: Key Takeaways – CLOC 2020 Global Institute Snapshot

By: Kassi Burns, Esq., RCA
VP of Legal Professional Services, Cobra Legal Solutions

One of my prior CLOC Global Institute blog posts summarized highlights from sessions on storytelling with contract data. This post will share key takeaways from the session How to Tackle Your Legal Operations Projects, which really gets to the heart of legal operations: project management. In that session, Katrina Gowans (Origin Energy), Matt Duncan (QIC), and Libby Jarvis (Herbit Smith Freehills) shared their experiences, largely working within Legal Project Management (“LPM”) methodologies, touching on wins and challenges.

The focus of Legal Project Management is taking a look at legal operations through the lens of large matter management. CLOC outlines four stages to the LPM framework: intake, planning, execution, review. Each of those stages will assess inputs and outputs (or activities and results), undergo an ARCI analysis, and confirm criteria for success. Matt uses the LPM methodology where possible because it can be used regardless of project size; on small projects it can be used as a sanity check while it can also be easily scaled out for bigger projects. Libby appreciates how LPM let’s you assess project issues as they emerge. This can also be used as a comparative methodology when working with another group who uses a different project management process, potentially identifying gaps in a project plan.

The intake phase is not just the process by which a project is initiated, but also where prioritization assessments occur. Libby noted this as an important consideration as your legal ops group gains momentum within your organization. Legal ops departments often have a hard time saying no and run the risk of taking on more than can reasonably be handled. Her team realized this was a blind spot and built out systems and processes at intake to protect themselves so they were able to stay nimble and take on new work. They worked to avoid becoming the “Ministry of Everything” by building out a weighted criteria and prioritization matrix based on value, strategic importance, and complexity.

The planning phase can often be rushed because attorneys tend to be more resolution than solution focused. Matt recently had a planning process that was slowed down by other teams who wanted to make sure it was done well, knowing it required substantial input from the finance team. This was a good reminder to not rush through this phase and have respect for other groups and their functions, which will likely result in more buy-in from all of the stakeholders. That being said, Libby reminded the group to avoid over-engineering in this stage, which can put things at a standstill.

Execution is where hard work from planning really kicks in. The strengths of collaboration and metrics come to the forefront, letting you start to show cost savings from the project. Reporting is an important part of this phase, so be sure to assess what needs to go to who at what time. Libby advised to be aware of bottlenecks or barriers, so you can push what needs to go, and free up level of executive buy-in, to keep things moving forward. Matt recommended that as a legal function you are visible and contribute to regular updates (e.g., executive updates) to build trust in your organization and have greater impact.

The review phase is the management and learning phase. Katrina said that legal operations has taught her a project is not over once it’s turned on. Everything needs a resource plan, an owner, and an opportunity to learn from a project. Matt cautioned the group to not let legal ops be the maintenance team for a project. It’s important to relay that impact with stakeholders so they persist with the change that’s been implemented. Libby’s team had success when they combined retro-review on projects with a pre-mortem for “business-as-usual” mode.

Closing thoughts to this session reiterated prior points. Be thoughtful with stakeholder communications and be attentive with your audience. Avoid becoming the resource – come up with the strategy and ideas but don’t necessarily be the doer. This gives you more time to assist with other projects which will then maximize legal operation’s impact within your organization.

For more information on maximizing your legal ops, read the blog post Trust the Process

If you missed it, check out the first installments in this blog series, Contract Data Storytelling: Key Takeaways – CLOC 2020 Global Institute Snapshot and Strategic Planning for New Legal Operations Leaders: Key Takeaways – CLOC 2020 Global Institute Snapshot

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