As law firms begin to emulate their clients when it comes to creating legal operations roles, they may want to join the push to increase such training in law schools.
Despite legal operations becoming popular in corporate legal departments, there is not a specific track for those jobs in law schools. However, experts in the field say the time is coming when law students will be learning more about jobs in legal operations. And some are already headed down that path.
Nathan Wenzel, CEO of SimpleLegal, a legal operations software platform, said there is a lot of interest in the field. With the rise in organizations such as Corporate Legal Operations Consortium, or CLOC, and the legal operations arm of the Association of Corporate Counsel, or ACC, more legal departments are becoming aware of legal operations functions and demanding the services of legal operations.
Wenzel said the program would be easy enough to have at law schools because it combines a number of programs that are already available on campuses such as business, technology and law.
“There are not a ton of law schools bringing this in as a rapid degree,” Wenzel said. “Vanderbilt has an interesting program.”
Caitlin Moon, director of innovation design for the program in law and innovation at Vanderbilt University Law School, said the program started in 2015. Moon became director of the program last year.
Moon said creating a curriculum for legal operations has not been too difficult. She explained that for decades there have been people doing the work of legal operations, but the function did not have a name. She added it is a slight challenge in keeping up with the ever-changing technology and innovations legal operations professionals are adopting.
“I think this is a prime example of just the world we live in. We are constantly finding new and better ways of working and we’ve got to figure out ways to identify what those things are and to teach them in a very agile way,” Moon explained.
Vanderbilt Law School is working on a course specifically designated for legal operations. Right now the school offers courses on legal project management, human-centered design for law, legal technology and law as a business.
“That comes closes to what we currently offer that fits squarely within the legal operations bucket,” Moon said of the law as a business course. “That discusses the current state of the legal industry as a business. Then we spend a lot of time on the current opportunities and challenges across the industry.”
And when it comes to legal operations, there is plenty of opportunity and the pay for those opportunities is quite high.
“Salaries for these positions are quite high,” Wenzel said. “It is an incredible valuable and highly leveraged role.”
According to a blog post CLOC published Friday, the average compensation in 2017 for a legal operations professional—including salary, bonuses and stock options—is $163,000. The post further states that respondents who did not lead their legal operations function average $139,000. The data further shows that legal operations professionals with a J.D. degree make an average of 59 percent more than those without one. Those professionals with an MBA make 29 percent more than those with only a bachelor’s degree.
Moon said it is only a matter of time before there is a demand for a higher degree in legal operations at law schools.
“If we think about it from the law department standpoint, the GC spends more time focusing on operational issues more than legal issues,” Moon said. “The other value from someone who is going to go to an AM Law 50 or 100 firm, their clients are very concerned with operational issues. So if you understand the operations piece you’re much better situated to be an effective counsel.”