Lucy Bassli likely needs little introduction. For those who do not know her or her work, you should. She spent a little over 13 years at Microsoft, most recently as Assistant General Counsel, Legal Operations and Contracting. She made news recently by leaving that role to start her own business and to become Chief Legal Strategist at LawGeex. She is a renowned expert on contracting and what is now known as legal operations. She also has a clear and evident passion for “moving legal services into the modern era by focusing in legal department efficiencies, alternative legal service providers, metrics and data-driven process improvements.” She has spoken extensively on these topics and, on a personal note, she has been someone I have long admired. I had the pleasure of recently speaking with her about her work.

How would you define legal operations?

Right now, it is being defined very broadly and rightfully includes a long list of functions, capabilities, professions and skillsets. In short, I’d say legal operations is running a legal department like a business. Typical business practices include data-driven decisions, tracking and measuring progress, setting goals and timelines, workforce planning and resourcing, budgeting and forecasting, to name a few. All of those common principles are now being more commonly applied to law departments in corporations.

What was the impetus behind your implementation of legal operations at Microsoft? How did you go about implementing such a department?

At Microsoft, we had legal operations in various parts of the department, and they were quite robust. For example, my contracting operation grew out my commercial transaction practice. My regular lawyer job morphed into an operation sort of organically. Then we thought that perhaps that sort of operational experience can be leveraged more broadly across the department, so I moved groups to a place where I could influence other legal teams to consider process optimization, outsourcing tasks, automation, etc. Once my role was solidified, we worked on creating a virtual team of operations professionals who would engage more frequently to share best practices. So, even though we were still in different parts of the department, we began to create recurring opportunities to share ideas and leverage resources, like vendor management, technology solutions, information management solutions, etc.
You have said that with “the right process optimization and resource stratification, technology can amplify efficiencies to an unimaginable level.” How would you define process optimization and resource stratification?

Any review of the current way in which work is done and subsequent improvement in that process is a step towards optimization. Reaching a truly optimized process is hard, and nearly impossible. Business changes so fast, it is necessary to continuously reevaluate and change processes. As part of the process review, often a natural outcome is the question of whether the right people are doing the work, and if that is the best use of their time. Part of the process review forces the discussion about aligning the right work with the right people. The first step is really to appreciate and accept that the work of lawyers can also be reduced to some basic process flows. The analysis and creative thinking cannot, but the steps that an attorney takes to gather information, request more details, review documentation, engage other experts, etc, are all steps in their daily process, which can be mapped and reviewed for efficiencies. Having the right experienced project managers engage with attorneys on assessing their processes can result in an eye-opening outcome that quickly identifies opportunities for quick wins. Some of those quick wins can be to move certain tasks performed by an attorney to others in the department, like searching for documentation, or summarizing certain data points. Once a process is mapped, it is easy to ask questions like “Why would an attorney spend time researching online for {fill in the blank}?” If that is a step in the daily work of an attorney, that is one that can easily be moved to someone else. Seems very basic, but until the process is mapped it is hard to make these objective decisions.

How has legal tech played a role in legal operations?

Technology in the back office of legal operations (infrastructure and foundational) has been quite successful in taking tasks off of legal professionals that were administrative and tedious. Those technology solutions, like information sharing, collaboration, knowledge management, spend management, and almost any other type of {fill in the blank} management system has enabled attorneys and other legal professionals to spend less time on certain tasks. Now, legal tech is beginning to really impact the work lawyers do related to their legal training and experience: contract review, risk analysis, pleadings, legal research, and other areas. In either place, the one thing legal tech has done well is force the conversation of innovation. Even when legal tech is not the right answer, it’s the catalyst for discussion about change and improvement.

What would be the first piece of advice you would give to someone who wanted to implement their own legal operations department?

Figure out a pain point for the department and identify a champion for change. Start there. A department starts with one person.