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Legal 09.29.16 BLOG 

The Rise of the Legal Operations Position

By Eric Elting, Director of Global Legal and Patent Business Development, TLS

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legal operations position

The Rise of the Legal Operations Position

Why has the legal operations position become so important that law firms and law schools are taking notice?

“They make legal departments run more like a business,” states Stephanie Corey, Co-Founder of Corporate Legal Officers Consortium (CLOC).

CLOC President and CEO Connie Brenton believes we are witnessing a “tipping point.” The growing complexity of the role of general counsel has created a business-management vacuum in corporate legal departments—and corporations are increasingly turning to the legal operations position as a way to fill that space.

Legal departments need to be run more like businesses each day. Of the twelve identified goals of legal operations, success is largely measured by cost efficiencies—and a successful penny-watching endeavor can cut costs in a department between 5% and 30%.  The makeup of current legal operations members is broken up between finance, technology, and legal backgrounds.

Legal departments historically were smaller in size and scope. Over time, many have grown; in fact, some can be equivalent to a mid-sized law firm.

Where does CLOC see the profession going?  According to Bloomberg Law, the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC) “estimates that at least a third of GCs at Fortune 500 companies have added the position.”  With two international CLOC chapters opening (Genoa and Australia), the sky is the limit. 

CLOC is working to develop standardized processes, including RFPs for firms and vendors as well as training that goes deeper than the “on-the-job training” most legal operations professionals receive today. Law schools are starting to jump on board; there is already a program at Colorado University, with interest from Stanford, Cal Berkeley, and Northwestern.

According to Jeff Franke, Sr. Director Legal Operations at Yahoo, Inc., 40% to 50% of people in legal operations have gone to law school. His hope is to see the ecosystem expand to outside counsel, leveraging the existing foundation and knowledgebase.

Who else is taking notice?  The ACC Annual Meeting has added a legal operations section, and the International Legal Technology Association (ILTA) included a full day geared to legal ops on the front end of ILTACON.

According to Mary O’Carroll, Head of Legal Operations at Google, as quoted in SimpleLegal, “One of the biggest lessons learned is how much culture factors into success in this role. The culture of the company, and the working style of the GC and the head of legal ops has to be really closely aligned.”


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