Changing the makeup of the legal department

If you want to look to where real change is going to happen in terms of the structure and performance of legal departments and law firms in the next five years, consider the work being done at the Corporate Legal Operations Consortium.

If you want to look to where real change is going to happen in terms of the structure and performance of legal departments and law firms in the next five years, consider the work being done at the Corporate Legal Operations Consortium.

I was fortunate to attend its recent annual institute in May and it was a completely energizing and refreshing series of sessions and conversations where in-house counsel, law firm lawyers, law school professors and other business professionals came together to have candid interactions about how they need to work better together to push the agenda on process improvement and innovation.

CLOC can be a game changer, many say, because there are no-holds-barred discussions happening that address how to better address the need for change by implementing a combination of people, technology and process. It endorses a complete tearing down of the silos that separate the lawyers from the non-lawyers in organizations (“non-lawyers” being a term CLOC members would probably love to see outlawed).

CLOC is a non-profit organization of legal operations professionals that focuses on strategic planning, financial management, vendor management, data analytics, technology support, governance, litigation support and cross-functional alignment.

The sessions at CLOC included presentations from large legal departments such as Yahoo, Nike, Pfizer, GE, PayPal, Cisco, Google and others who have brought data analysts, technology professionals and business enablers into their departments to make them run better and produce useful data on where spending is happening and where risk can be mitigated.

In October, I wrote about the newly hired legal ops role at Air Canada, but I hadn’t investigated it much beyond that. About two years ago now, Scott Morgan, director, legal operations, law branch with Air Canada in Montreal, joined the airline’s legal department after 25 years working in large law firms such as Stikeman Elliott LLP and Norton Rose Fulbright Canada LLP where he was chief operating officer for six years. A chartered professional accountant by training, Morgan was focused on the finance and operations aspects at those firms. Air Canada reports it’s already seeing the return on investment.

Leaders of in-house departments have evolved to a point where they are handling so much of the business of their departments — billing, patent asset portfolios, litigation, staff development, external relationships and information technology matters — taking them away from their legal day jobs. They’re starting to see that it could be managed better if someone else was focused full time on those tasks. In some cases, I met paralegals who had taken on various aspects of operations roles, or in other cases, the individuals had business backgrounds.

The message at CLOC was in order to be successful in the future departments need to embrace all the other professionals in the legal and law firm ecosystem because without them things can’t move forward. As Lucy Endel Bassli, assistant general counsel for Microsoft Corporation, said on one panel, “There is a fundamental problem that we still think of our profession as attorneys and everybody else.” Lawyers need to start drawing on the expertise of other allied professionals.

CLOC was refreshing because people in attendance were speaking about collaboration in a new, no-nonsense way. Legal ops will be influencing how things get done in the future.

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