Legal Operations is both a growing as well as an increasingly important field. The recent creation and rapid rise of CLOC (Corporate Legal Operations Consortium) has put a spotlight on the field. I recently spoke with a leader in that field, Stephanie Corey. She co-founded and has been a member of the executive team of CLOC and recently co-founded a legal operations consulting firm, UpLevel Ops.
How did you get involved in the legal operations space?
I got involved in legal operations by accident, actually. I originally started down the path to be an investment advisor. I had my brokerage licenses, interned at Merrill Lynch and got a job at a small investment firm out here in California after finishing up with grad school in Pennsylvania. But I hated it. I hated balancing people’s accounts, making cold calls and spending my day talking to people who had more money than they knew what to do with and having to pretend that I was impressed by all those trappings. So I moved to a start-up mortgage banking company and helped run their finance and accounting department, and I had way more fun. After doing that for a while, when it was time to move to my next role, I found an opening at HP, who was hiring a “Financial Operations Manager” for their legal department. This was back in 1999, and the rest is history for me. Over the course of my 11 years at HP, both the role and the industry changed dramatically, and I was lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time to ride the wave. I spent almost 18 years in-house and left just a year ago to start a legal operations consulting company with my former General Counsel, UpLevel Ops, which has been going really well, illustrating that this is the right thing at the right time.
How would you define legal operations and why is it important?
The easiest way to define legal operations is that it’s the business of law. It’s the data-driven approach to managing a law department. Budget planning and management are top priorities, as are outside counsel engagement and management, which are front and center to the legal ops role. Legal ops managers also manage the technology strategy and implementation as well as annual strategy and planning with the GC and leadership team. Over the last few years, this role has become increasingly more important because Legal departments now have to run like the businesses they support. Legal Ops teams are supporting this transformation by decreasing costs while improving service quality through productivity improvements through re-engineered processes, by unburdening lawyers and paralegals of non-legal work, by providing better technology and making sure it is used consistently and smartly, tracking operational excellence and benchmarking against peers, and demonstrating LD cost savings and value to executive management.
What has been the biggest challenge you have faced in implementing legal operation principles?
I’ve been doing legal operations for almost 20 years. At first, it was tough to get the in-house lawyers to think of this role as strategic rather than just administrative. But once it was obvious that the GC heavily relied on me in this role and I was empowered to lead significant programs, that was easy enough to overcome. In addition, once the attorneys realized they no longer needed to manage any of the business aspects of the legal department, they were quick to accept the role and see the value-add. Though the term non-lawyer is still used quite a bit, as though that’s a bad thing.
I think the challenge going forward is to get outside counsel on board. We’re definitely starting to see movement in the right direction.
Lawyers are often resistant to metrics. One common argument is that a lot of their work cannot be quantified, e.g. drafting/reviewing an agreement etc. What is your counterargument?
Recently, I’ve seen a shift in this thinking. More often than not, I now have lawyers ask me what metrics they should be measuring and how they can do that. I think lawyers are naturally competitive by nature, so determining how to measure output and finding ways to improve it have not been much of a struggle for me. That being said, my experience is mostly with in-house lawyers, and perhaps this feeling is different in firms.
I don’t know that I’ve ever used metrics to measure lawyer performance, but I frequently use metrics to illustrate where a process is, and how it improves (or doesn’t) over time. We track spend metrics such as:
% of legal spend to revenue
Internal v. external spend
Budget to actual
Spend with specific firms
Budget & accrual accuracy from OC
Contracting metrics such as:
Open matters (by attorney)
Types of agreement, to see which are most common agreements worked on: TCV, GBU, region/country and complexity (L, M, H))
Time to close a matter/cycle time (Turn-around-Time)
Key dates – pricing, cancellations, key provisions
And other metrics in these areas: Staffing/Headcount, Ethics and Compliance and matter information.
Of course, attorney performance is implicit in many of these metrics, but I think it’s a mistake to tie them directly. It’s hard enough to get formal measurements adopted without tying performance to them.
What would you describe as being the core principles of legal operations?
Legal ops professionals are constantly striving for improvements in processes and technologies to streamline the delivery of legal services. Our goal is to make the legal department as efficient as possible, all while acting as the trusted advisor to the General Counsel and working to keep the legal team happy. We connect all the dots between the practice groups and act as the glue that holds the department together.