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Legal ops at a crossroads

Editor's Box

As we launch our sixth annual Innovatio Awards recognizing innovation in-house this month, I am excited to announce that this year we are adding a category recognizing excellence for legal operations — a multi-disciplinary team approach to managing the challenges of legal departments both big and small.

While some feel legal ops is still in its infancy in Canada, I have a sense that the momentum is there and work is taking place in both small and large legal departments. Of all the legal conferences I have ever attended, the Corporate Legal Operations Consortium Institute was easily the most groundbreaking I have been to, generating more interest and energy in the future of the legal profession from a variety of stakeholders.

I attended the last two CLOC annual conferences in Las Vegas and it was something to behold. General counsel from big companies such as Google, Facebook, Cisco and Adobe took to the main stage to talk about how things needed to change in terms of tearing down the walls between lawyers and “non-lawyers.” Law firms, law professors, vendors and other legal service providers lined up to be part of this ecosystem that was being fostered.

Under the leadership of its in-house counsel founders, many from Silicon Valley, CLOC saw its numbers rise to more than 1,000 companies in 2018 from about 80, including 25 per cent of the Fortune 500. Those legal departments, with the director of legal operations, wield a purchasing power of US$50 billion.

The CLOC Institute conference started in 2016 with 500 attendees and grew to 1,000 in 2017. In 2018, the spring conference attracted more than 2,000 attendees and 700 organizations from 37 countries. There were sessions on coming up with a standard for cybersecurity and developing and managing (monetizing!) IP portfolios.

Last year, a Canadian CLOC chapter was started in Ottawa and a Greater Toronto Area chapter held its first meeting in September. While the legal operations role has existed in large companies such as banks and telcos for many years, CLOC brought to the forefront the idea that professionals who manage data analytics, knowledge management, strategic planning, accounting and more can all contribute to the success of a well-run legal department.

In early January, the co-founders of CLOC — Connie Brenton, senior director of legal operations at NetApp, and Jeff Franke, former assistant general counsel at Yahoo Inc. — announced they were stepping down. Mary Shen O’Carroll, director of legal operations at Google, was elected to serve as CLOC president. Elevate Services CEO Liam Brown summed it up well when he said the founding CLOC group did a good job of building a “sustainable ecosystem.” They started with a small group on the West Coast of the U.S. and set out to build a broader community.

“I see the work that Connie has done has galvanized and provided a lightning rod for legal operations as a profession and all of the people in that ecosystem to come together. Whether a law department, a law firm, a technology company — this is a place you can come together to share experiences,” says Brown. “They identified  the beginnings of a trend early on, helped encourage the trend by providing a place to come together, embraced open standards and sharing and then made it a place where it didn’t matter if law company, law firm or law department — you were part of a community.”