The Rise and Rise of Legal Operations

The Rise and Rise of Legal Operations

We explore the growing discipline of legal operations and speak with one of New Zealand' first dedicated practitioners Kathryn Low.

With great titles like Head of Legal Innovation and Digital Enablement, VP of Legal Operations and Technology and Associate General Counsel Worldwide Legal Operations, there is a growing discipline in the in-house legal profession of legal operations. More than 80% of professionals working in this field are US-based but it is expanding rapidly worldwide. Who is performing this role and where they come from is explored in THIS article from LawGeex.

The definition of legal operations is from the Corporate Legal Operations Consortium or CLOC and encompasses the following 12 core competencies:

Foundational

Financial Management, Vendor Management, Cross-Functional Alignment, Technology & Process Support

Mature

Litigation Support & IP Management, Information Governance & Records Management, Knowledge Management, Litigation support and IP management

Advanced

Service Delivery & Alternative Support Models, Organisational Design, Support & Management, Communications, Data Analytics

Of course it is somewhat easier to have a dedicated legal operations function in the US when a legal function might employ 200+ lawyers (or 800+ at Amazon or 1000+ at Microsoft). However in New Zealand this is an emerging discipline and one that often sits as part of the remit of the General Counsel or Deputy General Counsel alongside their day job or is outsourced.

In New Zealand, only a handful of progressive legal functions have dedicated legal operations professionals and we speak with lawyer Kathryn Low, Associate General Counsel – Legal Operations at Housing New Zealand Corporation and one of the rising stars of this new discipline.

What does your role as legal operations professional at HNZC involve?

The legal operations role at HNZ is still relatively new, however my initial focus has been on looking at the technology and processes/systems that we have in place. I’ve been working with our internal IT and procurement teams to get our contract automation programme embedded into the legal team and focusing on matter management, understanding costs, external spend, work flows and knowledge sharing.   

What are the benefits that a focus on legal operations brings?

In-house legal teams are so busy and spend a lot of time fighting fires or running from one issue to the next which doesn’t leave any time to think about how work could be done more efficiently.  Having a specific role for legal operations means that someone can take a step back and have an objective look at how we are working and what changes could be implemented to work smarter and integrate with other internal systems.  We have also found that having solid data about what we are doing and how we are working helps us to make informed decisions about structures and systems that we may not have otherwise made.   

What advice would you give other legal teams thinking about managing their legal operations?

If you’re thinking about changing the way your team is working, having a person who has at least part of their role dedicated to legal operations can make a big difference.  Using technology and innovations that are available in the market to work smarter can save the a lot of time for the lawyers in the team but someone needs to have the time and bandwidth to be able to make the changes and work with other internal stakeholders to get technology and process changes on board.   We have found that we no longer need to hire as many staff as originally anticipated due to our contract automation programme and have been able to change the way we work with technology. However, before I came on board the lawyer who was responsible the programme was struggling to juggle these changes with her already full daily workload.  Implementing operational change can help give you more control over your workload, visibility of expenses and an ability to engage with new technologies so it’s definitely worth investigating!