Reflections on Legal Ops: A Prescription for Clearer Vision in 2020 and Beyond

Blog by Mike Russell, Lean Leader – Legal Operations, Trane Technologies

Cobra recently convened a panel of experienced legal operations professionals to provide insight to the volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous times that have become the new normal. Indeed, this VUCA – a common military acronym for the world in which they operate – can help us decide where to expend resources to attain results in times of uncertainty.


One of the first concepts tackled by the group was simply, “who does the work?” Advanced legal departments are finding success through transforming their operating model in conjunction with external partners, with impressive results – operating cost reductions by 30% and outside counsel spend savings in excess of 20%.


The panelists also focused on process-oriented thinking. Here, savings across all manner of resources are achieved through simplification (eliminating waste & reducing touch points, in lean terminology). Interestingly, while there is no doubt the term unprecedented is frequently used to describe 2020, indeed, there have always been extremely impactful rare and unpredictable outlier events that disrupted business as usual throughout history. It is how we respond to such disruptions that force us to evolve, rather than reverting to status quo.


Focusing on the human side of work/life balance formed another area of discussion. Resiliency does not mean just “snapping back” to the way things were, but rather taking time to check in with team members and understand their mental state – how are they and their families doing in spite of all that is going on in the world?


It’s the same ‘what’, just a different ‘how’ – One of the great things about the nature of legal operations is that by definition, it brings new ways of working – reaching the desired outcome or output, but getting there differently.


The first attendee poll asked, “If the choice is yours, how likely are you to meet with someone face to face?” with a range from Definitely Not to Why Not?.  Though the sentiment was spread out it generally tended toward the lower end of the scale and 32% of the audience chose “Not Likely”.  This tracks with other industry polls and points to potential changes in how we get together in the future.


So much of the way legal services are procured and managed has changed in the last decade; this new catalyst for further change strongly supports what has already been happening in several areas, including:


  • Technology – not just ELM platform, but the analytical insights gained from the systems and data
  • Business discipline frees up attorneys to perform the highest valued tasks
  • Disaggregation – decomposing legal process into discrete tasks performed by the right resource
  • Innovative operating models – a team approach to multi-sourcing


Where do we go from here?


Given the full impact of Covid-19 is still arriving and cannot yet be known, the ability to continue meeting client needs and enabling business functions is paramount. There is no doubt the availability of a broad spectrum of resources is key to corporate legal department – and law firm – ability to respond and resolve issues. Could the next wave of multi-sourcing come from the expanding need for legal operations expertise?


Legal Ops Outsource Providers (“LOOP”) are likely to be the conduit for access to fractional resources with a specific set of skills in a just-in-time service delivery mechanism. Such an a la carte model with a uniform set of standards will be impactful to legal departments of all sizes and complexities. This would mirror how the legal services work itself is already procured – insourced, outsourced, or a mix of both.


With such flexible resources creating elasticity and thereby productivity, it gives a legal department a place for work to go when resources are reduced, eliminated, or simply unavailable. Moving to this model might be compared with the decluttering and downsizing that typically goes with a household move, for example; retain only what is needed in-house and seek flexible resourcing for the rest.


Thankfully, most organizations have had relatively long-standing capabilities for remote access and offsite work. This infrastructure will certainly continue to be enhanced with increasing use over time, balanced with those who have the bulk of their application delivered as a service, i.e. cloud-first IT. Service level agreements and support teams from the software providers will be even more important – organizations should review existing hosting agreements and consider points of negotiations for upcoming contract renewals.


As we anticipate returning to our offices, the second poll asked “What are your major concerns around returning to and working in an office environment?”.  Attendees’ biggest concerns were:

  1. Proximity to others
  2. Uncertain health history of co-workers and others
  3. Cleaning and sanitation in the office


Looking around the corner, it is clear there is no return to what was once normal.  I think we will see a massive shift in organizational design for both physical workspace and location of talent. The good news is considerable cost savings opportunities from reduction in real estate footprints, in addition to opening up access to a much larger pool of global talent when geography is less of an issue.


Naturally, it follows that this will extend into legal service providers and law firms, whose traditional guild model continues to be eroded by the needs of modern business. Transformation is the way ahead.

At the end of the session, a rapid roundtable provided each panelist a chance for parting words.  These included:


“Think of your people as human beings”

“See the opportunity in what’s next”

“Be creative – color outside the lines”


“These are the times that try men’s souls…The harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.” – Thomas Paine


Be sure to tune in to Cobra’s next webinar If Not Now, When? Driving Equality and Inclusion in Legal Operations on August 6th where we discuss the positive impact of equality and inclusion with a panel of industry experts.

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