Follow ACC Docket Online:  

ACC Europe Virtual Roundtable on Advancing and Formalising Legal Operations

ACC Legal Operations and Consilio LLC hosted their first-ever ACC Europe Legal Operations virtual roundtable, featuring “ops” leaders from across the continent: ACC Europe President Hans Albers of Juniper Networks (Amsterdam), Vincent Cordo, Jr. of Shell (The Hague), Helen Fletcher of BNP Paribas (London), Thierry Perrouault of Orange (Paris), and Robin Snasdell and Andrew Dey of Consilio (London).

The topic for this roundtable was Advancing and Formalising Legal Operations. It was the first in an ongoing series, with four more roundtables scheduled in 2019, as well as an in-person event in Frankfurt, Germany on 14, 15 October, 2019.

Here were some of the questions from the roundtable, plus the leaders’ advice and takeaways for in-house counsel seeking to benchmark the current state of the legal operations of their law department.

What is your current legal operations state and how did you get there? What does your program entail?

In many instances, leaders said that the legal operations function grew to its current state naturally. At Juniper, for example, the organization was already using operational and efficiency-boosting tools. The legal operations function came out of efforts to combine attention to contract management and spend management, among other areas.

At Shell and BNP Paribas, the legal operations function currently manages the department’s outside counsel panel program (both setting up the panels and ensuring the most value comes from them). Shell’s team handles requests to pay, invoicing, and review processes tied to outside provider and vendor arrangements.

[Related: Shell Legal – Strategic Selection]

Vendors include a wide mix of companies in the tech space and the consulting space; this includes the Big Four and other market disruptors, like Axiom and Elevate. The legal operations team also lends support to information system management. Meanwhile, Fletcher mentioned that a major role of the BNP Paribas team is directing change management.

The companies participating in the roundtable are all large multinationals, so the need for worldwide coordination was also a key takeaway. Another central theme was that the legal operations role can be very broad and hard to strictly define.

Even law department colleagues may be initially confused. Fletcher recounted that on her first day on the job, someone even emailed her that the sink was blocked — taking operations quite literally!

What technologies are likely to assist legal operations’ responsibilities?

While technology is central to the legal operations role and to improve the efficacy of the law department, panelists cautioned not to run after every “new shiny” (as Albers put it). Instead, they suggested focusing on what will truly help support the business and provide efficient services.

The participants also recommended a balance between custom technology solutions and using “software that’s off the shelf.” On the one hand, it can be a good idea to have the law department design a workflow application that streamlines and automates basic processes. This can save time and money.

[Related: Why ACC Value Champs Depend on Legal Ops to Succeed]

On the other hand, many tools and systems are available directly from suppliers. These tools eliminate the need for software maintenance: the supplier keeps it up to date and ensures that all security considerations are met.

While building your own custom tools may seem appealing at first, it becomes difficult over time to keep the software up to date or to add functionality. With so many tools on the market today, there are solutions that can help any law department.

One area with emerging technology is work distribution management — tracking queries and responses, as well as the quality of responses. This enables you to track who has expertise in a category (either in-house or at the law firm/service provider level).

The group also touched upon artificial intelligence, but, in Albers’ words, in the law department it’s “still early days.”

What functions are most commonly the responsibility of the legal operations team?

Overall, legal operations teams cast a broad net. “Managing the tools and systems of the department” can include:
  • HR for the law department
  • Change management
  • Legal technology
  • Matter management
  • Document management
  • Contract management
  • Financial management, including outside counsel spend, billing guidelines, fee arrangements, e-billing systems, invoice review

Overall, the fundamentals are “very much related to the cost element of the business,” Albers said. Cordo said that when it comes to invoice review, many lawyers train other staff to handle the bulk so that the lawyers need only do high-level review. For contract management, there has been a huge shift towards making more aspects self-service so that clients can change certain provisions without having to run through legal.

The group identified these areas as optional and less well developed:
  • Knowledge management
  • Learning and training and development

Another catch-all term is “driving innovation.” In this area, the group suggested involvement of legal service providers. At Juniper, the law department is constantly evaluating how to improve, and even hosts a legal ops conference where innovation is a key focus. Most recently, they invited their law firms to share ideas and innovative techniques.

The group reiterated a few times that the ACC Legal Operations Maturity Model highlights all these areas.

Why have ops?

Andrew Dey of Consilio and Albers of Juniper Networks stated that even departments who say they don’t have a legal operations function most likely already have lawyers or other staff people doing operations work. Many GCs who wish to create an operations function may have already had some of these principles in place, and for some time.

However, there is a huge benefit to having someone dedicated to the function. If a lawyer only does legal operations work on the side, “it will always fall to the side if a big deal comes in or a big transaction needs to be closed,” Albers said. This would interrupt any progress made in the management of the department.

Fletcher and Cordo also reiterated that legal operations initiatives will be more successful with dedicated people to move them forward. Fletcher said that without an ops team, there can be “project fatigue,” where the department starts many projects but then no one has the bandwidth to move them forward.

[Related: Legal Ops Can Transform the Practice of Law, but Only if Everyone Embraces It]

Cordo emphasized wanting to get the most value out of the lawyers on staff ⁠— meaning that the operational aspects of their jobs should be moved out of their wheelhouse. He also stated that an operations team adds incentive to be nimble to the law department. Law firms today constantly try to maximize their profitability by leveraging who is available and can do the task. A dedicated operations team can help make that reality in-house.

The legal ops team will have the best handle on market disruptors. They will be able to assess who is available in-house before spending a single Euro. Having dedicated people with that mindset will revolutionize the law department.

What are some of the things that should be considered when determining the appropriate size and skillset of the legal operations team?
At BNP Paribas, the approach to the makeup of the legal operations team is to combine ex-lawyers and legal staff, plus non-lawyers, to achieve the best range of skills. This is the perfect combination, per Fletcher. Lawyers understand the day-to-day challenges of the team and quickly gain the team’s trust.

But “non-lawyers bring in new perspectives.” Because of the nature of the BNP Paribas industry, the legal operations team also has dedicated risk analysts for risk management, and this analytical background has proven very helpful. The team also brings together former management consultants, IT experts, and data analysts. The team even includes lawyers who can code, enabling the ability to quickly roll out a new tool.

[Related: Innovating with Legal Technology: Advice from Vendor CEOs]

Cordo emphasized that while it’s important to have people on the team who can play specific roles, it’s important to show value as a group. You need a team of people who can work together, communicate together, and appreciate the diversity of thought so you can expand upon and leverage each team member’s strengths.

Within Juniper Networks, Albers said it’s important to him to have legal operations employees who understand how tools and technology work and how software works, but who also know how to perform a certain function in the department.

To whom should the legal ops lead report?

Unequivocally, the group recommended that the head of legal operations should report to the general counsel (GC). Other scenarios include a deputy GC, a dotted line to risk, a chief compliance officer, a head of human resources, or the chief financial officer. But the most common ⁠— and most suggested by the group ⁠— is the GC.

Albers shared an idea he heard at a recent conference: In more mature law departments, legal operations is sometimes combined with overall business operations. For example, a company would combine its finance and HR processes with legal processes. All are support functions in the organization, so combining them is an interesting idea.

It’s unclear at this stage if there are overall benefits to the organization other than some increased efficiencies. But, it could prove to be an interesting idea for very mature organizations.

How does legal ops prove its value?

To conclude, the group addressed the penultimate question: How can legal operations leaders and their teams prove their value to the law department, and ultimately to the company? Data collection and analysis is the first step towards proving your value, the group said. You can start by analyzing the data you have, then identifying any possible reductions in time or cost.

[Related: Boost the Business with These Legal Ops Tips]

Then, of course, the implementation state is crucial. Prove that your ideas can save the law department money. Albers noted that many GCs don’t know exactly what their departments are spending, so they don’t know where to begin. But a legal operations team can help with this, can create a robust invoice review system, and can then track their savings.

A final takeaway was to look at cost savings as reinvestment opportunities. If you save five percent on outside counsel fees, reinvest that in the department. Spend it to set up new tools and systems, or in anything else that otherwise builds a successful department.

Top 10 Takeaways from ACC Legal Ops EU Virtual Roundtable

Download the Top 10 Takeaways from the ACC Legal Ops EU Virtual Roundtable.

About the Author

Lee Betancourt is the senior director of communications and public relations at the Association of Corporate Counsel.

The information in any resource collected in this virtual library should not be construed as legal advice or legal opinion on specific facts and should not be considered representative of the views of its authors, its sponsors, and/or ACC. These resources are not intended as a definitive statement on the subject addressed. Rather, they are intended to serve as a tool providing practical advice and references for the busy in-house practitioner and other readers.