Across business units, companies are strategically looking at ways to become more effective and efficient, leveraging technology and data to improve operations, glean more actionable insights, and derive other important benefits. In-house legal departments are no exception.
Legal operations analysts and legal operations teams are focused on improving in-house counsel’s ability to do their jobs, transforming key operations so that legal teams can deliver their best results. But because this is a relatively new function, it’s helpful to understand what legal operations analysts do and how their work impacts general counsel and legal operations as a whole.
What is a Legal Operations Analyst?
Legal operations teams typically fall within a company’s legal department. However, instead of focusing on specific legal matters, such as individual contracts, intellectual property issues, and so on, legal operations analysts' jobs center around how legal teams go about their work with the goal of driving optimal effectiveness.
Typically reporting to general counsel, the analysts within legal operations teams examine the day-to-day operations of legal teams, looking for opportunities to improve the delivery and results of their services throughout the business.
Though a law background is not a hard and fast requirement for becoming a legal operations analyst, working within this function does require intimate familiarity with the type of work lawyers perform within the enterprise as well as general counsel’s needs. This is likely why employees who advance within legal operations have highly-specific knowledge and education: a review of profiles of directors of legal operations on LinkedIn found that the vast majority – 71 percent – hold law degrees. Another 25 percent hold MBAs, which also aligns with the focus on strategically improving operations. Nearly 60 percent of directors of legal operations have held positions as attorneys, senior legal advisors, or other general legal or counsel roles prior to shifting to legal operations, giving them a firsthand understanding of corporate counsels' needs. These findings highlight the areas of competence within which analysts need to function.
Unsurprisingly, the legal operations function is most common within Fortune 500 companies, though businesses of all sizes and levels of profitability may benefit from the ongoing initiative.
What Do Legal Operations Analysts Actually Do?
The Corporate Legal Operations Consortium identifies 12 core competencies for legal operations analysts. At the foundational level, legal operations analysts and teams are involved in financial management, vendor management-related tasks such as fee negotiations for outside counsel, cross-functional alignment with corporate functions such as HR, IT, and finance, and managing technology related to the legal function.
As legal operations teams progress through the maturity spectrum, their roles become more strategic and impactful, growing to encompass needs such as communications, organizational design and service delivery, and data analytics. The highest-functioning legal operations teams play a broader and more long-term role in legal functioning and tend to be involved in strategic planning, litigation support, and information governance.
How Legal Operations Analysts Impact the General Counsel
Typically, legal operations teams report directly to the general counsel, working closely with legal leads to identify and drive improvements. Essentially, legal operations work like a managing editor or chief of staff, improving processes and other non-legal aspects of the department so that in-house lawyers can do their best work.
Here are three key ways the work legal analysts do can impact the general counsel.
Financial planning and optimization: Much like other types of management experts, legal operations analysts are adept at identifying inefficient processes and bottlenecks that can increase the costs and resource utilization for the general counsel. They may liaise with finance teams to complete tasks such as budget planning and related activities, financial reporting, audits and assessments of vendor relationships with outside counsel, and other such work. This relieves the general counsel of work that does not play to their greatest value to the business – i.e. their legal expertise – but that is still an essential function of the legal department.
Establishing department objectives, benchmarking and strategies: Bringing about process improvements requires a methodological approach, including assessing the current state of operations, developing specific objectives and a roadmap for achieving them, and establishing the metrics which will be used to evaluate and determine success. Whether the goal is shrinking contract cycle times, improving the efficiency of legal reviews to speed new procurement agreements, or something else entirely, legal operations analysts are adept at using data analytics and metrics and working with stakeholders to sleuth out performance-oriented information to create actionable plans for improvement. In other words, they make the general counsel shine by helping their team optimize performance.
Bringing legal departments into the future: The corporate focus on digital transformation is affecting just about every function within most enterprises, including legal. However, the sensitive nature of legal work combined with the fact that lawyers are hyper-aware of risks and compliance regulations can make innovating a challenge for such teams. Legal operations analysts are highly attuned to the needs and concerns of general counsel and their legal departments. This makes them well-positioned to identify technology that can both drive necessary improvements while also satisfying the needs of in-house lawyers.