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Legal operations: The business side of law

Thursday, September 05, 2019 @ 8:30 AM | By Mimi Bowen

Mimi Bowen %>
Mimi Bowen
A lot has been written about legal operations recently. Is it a new function, a business solution or maybe even a complete overhaul of the legal industry framework? Whatever the case, it is an important topic for today’s legal professional.  

Legal operations is the management of all aspects of the legal team except for the substantive practice of law. The goal is to run in-house legal teams like a business. I’d refer you to the Corporate Legal Operations Consortium (CLOC) or the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC) for the laundry list of responsibilities, but the headline is legal operations takes care of strategy, money, process, technology and analysis for legal teams. This is in collaboration and consultation with many stakeholders.

The U.K., EU and Australia have already joined the U.S. legal industry in quickly embracing legal operations, leveraging best practices, replicating best in class solutions and growing the role. Their job boards are flush with opportunities as senior legal leaders turn to running their in-house budgets, resources and processes with more of a business mindset.

So where did it all begin? Arguably, it started in the San Francisco Bay area soon after the 2008 global economic crisis. It was an era when many organizations faced internal pressure to do more with less and the legal industry was not spared. Simultaneously, within this environment came external pressure from clients for more competitive pricing and higher service experiences. With “buy-in” high, the U.S. legal industry reassessed its organizational structure and technology assumptions for the future state of law to meet these new demands. And so, the legal operations field was born.

The U.S. legal industry has seen tremendous growth in this field the past decade as chief legal officers respond to growing business needs and look to operations to provide increasing levels of project, technology and strategic leadership support. Legal operations seeks to better understand the way things work today and works with legal teams to implement greater efficiencies. There is a lot to learn between how you think something works, how it actually works and how it should work.

Within this new environment came new client needs to deliver. Questions like “how do we make best use of our resources?” and “when do business people need to be involved?” were added, and in some cases, even replaced legal management agenda items. The rumble of change is rolling through the legal landscape and legal operations provides business, process and technology support that enables you to become more efficient and get closer to your business partners.

Like many trends that start and grow in the U.S., Canada’s adoption or pickup rate lags several years. The simplest recent comparison would be the fintech wave which began in the 1990s and through competitive pressures has completely reshaped the banking and brokerage sectors. Canada’s adoption to this trend didn’t really begin until the early 2000s but has since followed the identical path of creative disruption. So, if the legal landscape is rapidly changing south of the border, rest assured that its just around the corner for Canada and the legal industry needs to be prepared.

And we have started. Senior legal leaders are spending less time on the substantive practice of law and more on providing business solutions with legal operations as a key resource and necessary partner. At a global level the trend is clear, and it has taken root in the legal landscape. If Canada is to keep itself in the race, let us put our curiosity into action and answer the knock at the door.

Mimi Bowen is currently the legal operations officer at Sun Life with a background in process improvement, operations & project management. She’s a Baylor University alumni & a Certified Lean Six Sigma Master Black. She is also the chairperson of Corporate Legal Operations Consortium Toronto.
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