Taking the Reins of Legal Department Operations
Throughout his professional life, Bill Young has found ways to put both his J.D. and his M.B.A. to good use, specializing in operational management of in-house legal departments. Now, as president of the recently established Institute for Law Department Excellence (ILDE), hes on a mission to enable in-house attorneys to practice law, and to help those in key operations roles to learn from each other.
If you are going to enable your lawyers to do lawyering, Young says, they cannot be spending 25 to 40 percent of their time on administrative stuff.
Young led that charge as the first person hired to oversee legal department operations (LDO) at Dynegy Inc., a Houston-based energy company, in 2007. There, his focus was not only on managing legal spend, but on aligning the department more closely with the business overall needs.
ILDE is sort of the manifest writ large of attempting to wrestle the challenges I was facing, says Young, who spent four years in-house at Dynegy and is now a product-line executive with Bridegway Software. Youngs former boss at Dynegy, Kevin Blodgett, now general counsel at Rockwater Energy Solutions, sits on ILDEs advisory board. So does Jeff Paquin, former chief operations counsel at Abbott Laboratories.
As a networking and educational organization, ILDE will offer an ongoing curriculum for members on topics like benchmarking and analytics, and establishing credibility. The organizations first on-site conference will take place in the Chicago area on May 29.
Young says one of ILDEs main goals is, to elevate the role of legal operations both within an individual company and across the space in general.
If 10 years ago the idea of LDO was new, today its an area thats become much more commonalbeit one that means many things to many people.
Theres a huge range of expectations and skill sets, says Jeff Paquin, who pioneered the LDO role at Abbott Laboratories (a winner of Corporate Counsels 2012 Best Legal Departments competition). Those differences are reflected in the salaries in this field, which he says can vary from $50,000 to $500,000.
A GC has to decide, what exactly do they want the [LDO] role to be? adds Paquin, an adjunct law professor at Pepperdine University and co-executive director of the Chief Litigation Counsel Association
Depending on the department, Young says, LDO can encompass a gamut of responsibilities, including: budgeting; tracking spending and influencing spending decisions; establishing processes for efficient work-flow; serving as a liaison to accounting, audit, and IT departments; and even negotiating with outside counsel.
At Dynegy, for example, We went through an extensive and successful law firm review, Young explains, to create a list of preferred counsel. The end result was getting the number of firms down to a more manageable number.
Youngs former boss, Kevin Blodgett, says the head of legal operations can play a critical role in a legal departments success. And he sees a big opportunity for LDO as in-house departments continue to face pressures to streamline and reduce costs.
On the costs front, there seems to be a growing comfort level with the concept of outsourcing or offshoring a number of different processes, including e-discovery and potentially contract management, Blodgett tells CorpCounsel.com in an email. Selecting and managing these nontraditional vendors is a great opportunity for LDO leads to further demonstrate value to the organization.
Young says one of the challenges ILDE will deal with is simply the fact that there arent many people who have a background in all the facets that could comprise an LDO role. But at least now, through ILDEs online workshops and in-person events, members will have exposure to others in a similar position and can use the groups resources to develop solutions.