Updated: May 3
Tommie Ferreira is a legal tech leader and legal operations expert. She is the immediate past Director of Legal Operations for Peloton and currently is Head of Legal Operations for Cedar as well as a fearless Diversity and Inclusion champion and leader.
How do you define legal operations?
I think that really depends on a few points:
Your organization’s structure
Your department’s objectives
And what falls into your area of expertise: what was on the job description and what’s expected in the role.
Legal operations might be heavy on the budget management side or it might skew more strategic, meaning the legal ops head functions as the legal team COO or chief of staff to the GC or CLO.
In my experience, and in my roles, it’s been quite a mash-up: budget management, strategizing the objectives of the legal department, developing the technology roadmap, figuring out the challenges and breaking them open, developing process to scale, and sometimes it’s notarizing a document or planning an offsite. Legal Ops are a creative breed and our roles can be expansive— but the goal should always to be to align with the legal leaders on expectations and those expectations should probably roll up to the company’s objectives, and then go do the rock star stuff and deliver on it.
How has legal operations evolved since you first entered the space?
How hasn’t it? I kid, I kid.
Legal Ops is on a tear, the trajectory is a straight up rocket ship and there’s just no stopping it. Ten years ago we of course saw a lot of paralegal roles, incredible executive assistants, legal secretaries, contract managers, office / department managers, many of whom did not possess a JD. I think today we see much of the same skill set being used of all the titles, but many of those skills come under a different, evolved title of legal operations. Find me a paralegal that isn’t building a more efficient process, isn’t organized, project managing the sh*t out of something. Now overlay that skill set with technology or the means to identify, implement and iterate on technology and you have yourself a legal ops manager. We also see a lot of (former) engineers in our space marrying that technology expertise with the needs of a legal org.
The evolution, I think, has been in defining legal ops as a function, designing roles that leverage already existing skill sets (of paralegals, contract managers, etc), absolutely crushing it as a value add to the legal org and broader org as well (looking at you, you sales people, you love the way we iterate on contracts management ) and legal leadership teams acknowledging the value and telling all their GC friends so the function remains common place. A lot of the evolution has been the plug from legal leadership.
Tell me a little about your legal operations journey.
My career is definitely not a linear through line yet looking back now all the roles I’ve held have positioned me for my current role and yet it feels like it was all by happenstance. The simplest answer is: paralegal, contract manager, head of legal ops — and yet — the journey was so much more. The theme of my journey is people, process, technology. It’s seeing around corners, building friendships, implementing technology, and solving problems. Legal Ops people might call themselves paralegals they might be the artists formerly known as engineers or program managers but at our core I think we are all intellectually curious do-ers with an insatiable desire to “make stuff better.”
What do you think is a persistent myth that exists about legal operations? And how do you break through it?
Not sure if this is a myth, or if I’m making it one, but I do think there’s still the question of, “what is legal ops?” that maybe Sales Ops or Dev Ops don’t contend with. I think that’s our sweet spot, because we (me, you, all our contemporaries) get to have a hand in building it, which, let’s looks back on this in 25 years — it’s going to be wild to say, “I think we might have played a tiny role in shaping an entire function, industry, practice…”
What types of things can individuals do to help prepare them for a career in legal ops?
We are a vocal bunch, come talk to us. Seriously. I’ve never seen professionals so keen to elevate each other like legal ops. I take meetings at least once a month with a new grad, or folks just figuring it out. My answer will sound like a classic lawyer response (I am not an attorney) — but truly, it depends. If you are a recent MBA looking to get started you might want to focus on the roles that work most with spend, budget, etc. but if you are a former engineer it might be the role where you are designing workflows or creating enterprise systems to serve legal services to your whole company. Join CLOC or another group that gets you around people - ask them about their journey. Listen to podcasts, read blogs such as this. The beauty is, there’s no shortage of content and the luxury problem is figuring out where your strengths are and then marrying them to the type of Legal Ops role you are most interested in.