The LDO: A Growing Trend in Legal Departments

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on February 22, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Does your legal department have an operations professional? If not, it could soon. The legal department operations professional, or LDO, is becoming a key role in many legal departments, according to the 2016 Thomson Reuters Legal Department In-Sourcing and Efficiency Report.

Twenty-one percent of departments have an LDO, according to the report, and that number appears to be growing. As corporate legal departments handle more work in house, with little commensurate growth in resources, an LDO can free up attorneys to focus on legal, rather than operational, tasks.

Meet the LDO

What just does an LDO do? Most LDOs are focused on internal financial planning, project management, and managing outside counsel, according to the report.

LDOs are generally tasked with helping legal departments achieve the benefits and efficiencies of running the department more like a business. Their roles are often strategic in nature with a focus on operations, and their responsibilities include department strategy and goal setting, along with organizational structure and people and vendor management. In addition, their role may include overseeing the deployment of new technology and driving change management; some departments employ more than one LDO professional.

With an LDO handling operation issues, lawyers can stick to the legal work, thus creating, according to the report, "a meaningful opportunity for departments to drive greater efficiencies."

That's particularly important given that changing roles and business growth have left a good number of in-house counsel complaining that they're being stymied by too much work. And while more work continues to fall on the corporate legal department 74 percent of respondents said they were not expecting the size of their department to grow. That makes finding efficient practices and allocating resources effectively even more important.

The LDO isn't just about offloading your budgetary and management tasks onto someone else, though. They often bring change throughout a department. Speaking to Thomson Reuters Legal Solutions, Connie Brenton, chief of staff and director of legal operations for NetApp's 80-person in-house team, says you need a certain amount of staunchness to make it as an LDO:

You have to have thick skin to succeed in this role. This is a job for those who can drive constant change while enduring others' resistance to it. Adaptability and a tolerance for risk are also essential to creating efficiency and effectiveness in such a complex environment. Things don't always go smoothly or how you expect, but those who don't waiver in their efforts to achieve the vision set with the GC will see big wins.

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