Legal operations’ largest networking group kicked off its fourth annual U.S. institute Tuesday with insight from major companies’ general counsel.
As many of the conference’s 2,200 registered attendees flooded into the Corporate Legal Operations Consortium’s main hall at the Bellagio in Las Vegas, a video played starring the top lawyers of VMware Inc., Alphabet Inc., Royal Dutch Shell and other corporations as they shared their take on legal ops’ value.
It was an appetizer for CLOC’s opening panel on legal ops implementation and growth, featuring: Oracle Corp. GC Dorian Daley; Gap Inc. GC Julie Gruber; and Westpac deputy GC Nigel Bond. Both Gruber and Bond said they began hiring legal ops professionals when their departments reached a breaking point with an overwhelming amount of nonlegal work.
“We sort of came to … a realization that we needed to bring all these [nonlegal tasks] together and start thinking about this stuff more strategically,” Gruber said. “To let the lawyers think more strategically about the legal aspect of the work.”
She said her legal ops team has taken over department event planning, daily processes and even major parts of Gap’s split with Old Navy, which is becoming its own public company with its own legal department.
Bond said his legal department of 100 professionals started their legal ops team with two hires, who took on responsibilities lawyers were “dabbling in” and ”made a difference” because they were trained professionals, not in-house counsel pulling together process planning in their few spare moments.
The biggest changes implemented by legal ops were often not tech tools, general counsel said. Instead, legal ops professionals were able to implement new processes, streamlining systems in place without introducing new tools. Bond suggested legal ops work with the information technology team to leverage existing company tools before looking externally.
“One of the bear traps we talk about with our legal operations team is to not always default to technology,” Gruber said. “That a lot of what you can do is build process and make better ways of doing things, and ultimately that will make the technological solutions smarter and better and clearer once you get to it.”
She and other panelists said legal ops professionals starting out can gain credibility quickly by solving easy-to-fix problems with quick solutions. That’s something legal team members—and other departments—notice, according to Daley, boosting the value of both legal ops and the entire department.
Because legal ops professionals are expected to come up with creative solutions to ever-evolving challenges, panelists said the role shouldn’t be too closely defined, or given a set playbook.
“[Legal ops] really has moved in a lot of different directions and I think it’s important for us to let it move in those different directions and to experiment, to not be afraid to fail,” Daley said. “Let it be what you most need it to be right now … because in three years it’s going to be something different.”