Legal Ops Taking Aim at Changes in 2017

By William Vogeler, Esq. on April 27, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

'Legal ops' can conjure up the image of a sniper, clothed with clandestine legitimacy and a laser-focused rifle.

It's a fair analogy, as legal operations professionals gain more power in corporate legal departments around the world. Ten years ago, not many corporate counsel knew they existed. Today, they are key members of legal teams trained to work fast and cut costs.

With the formation of the Corporate Legal Operations Consortium, there are more than 600 card-carrying members of the organization. This is an account of who they are and what they can do:

General Counsel's Right Hand

In a meeting with legal ops leaders at Google, Yahoo, and Oracle, as reported in the ABA Journal, Connie Brenton described how the consortium started in 2016. Brenton, who is president of the organization and director of legal operations at NetApp, said they organized to network, share best practices, and exchange information about technology.

"Legal operations has already fundamentally changed how we purchase legal services," she said. "We are no longer working faster and cheaper; we are working with different types of resources in different ways."

Also known as legal department operators, or LDO's, they typically focus on financial planning, project management, and working with outside counsel. Chis Coats, vice president of legal operations at Oracle, said the role of the legal operations leader is to be the right hand to the general counsel.

"You have to have the technological knowledge of what the legal team needs, be a negotiator, and take all the legal data and Big Data, analyze it and put it into metrics so that your GC can actually make business decisions, which are very different from the legal decisions they make every day," Coats said.

From 12 to 500

After getting organized, defining roles and core competencies, the group planned an institute to bring professionals together from various areas -- law firms, technology providers, universities, in-house executives and regulators. Within 12 weeks, they had 500 people sign up. The second annual conference is set for May 9-11, 2017.

Jeff Franke, assistant general counsel of global legal operations at Yahoo, said the industry has been evolving for years. It came to a head at the first conference, Franke said, "bringing order to chaos" last year and focusing on changing legal departments this year.

"What are the different expectations we have from law schools?" he said. "What are the different expectations we have from law firms, as well as from regulators? We're going to expand the conversation."

Mary O'Carroll, head of legal operations at Google, said members come from small and large companies. Some legal departments have no more than five staffers, while others have 1,000.

"And, it's grown in its reach to be much more international now," she said. "We have regional groups that have exploded and we can barely keep up with the demand for starting them, which are all over the United States, as well as in Australia and the UK."

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