A look at the value of legal operations with Gerald Char

Gerald Char witnessed the birth of legal operations and has now become a bonafide expert in the field. He is the Legal Operations Senior Specialist at Twilio and was formerly Legal Operations Manager at HP where he worked for 16 years. We picked Char’s brain as to the state of legal ops and asked him to outline the benefits one can convey to a business when pitching a legal operations role.  

According to Char, the point of legal operations as a function is to harness information to drive value and set strategic priorities. These value-adds span the wider business. 

“Firstly, legal operations provide value by creating financial discipline as data and metrics give in-house teams greater clarity on business spend and return,” he said. “This, in turn, gives a greater understanding of the business and allows the CFO to see financial leaks, plug the holes and create profit."

"Efficiency is an obvious value-add as legal operations forecast and automate legal tasks, giving lawyers back time in their busy days and reducing the need to outsource high-frequency, low-value work. With a legal operations team streamlining lawyers’ administrative tasks, the legal team is much more efficient." 

“Another hidden benefit provided by  legal ops is the bridge between legal and finance. Attorneys typically don’t love numbers and  legal ops professionals take the tasks of budgeting and invoice tracking off their hands whilst maintaining a positive relationship with finance.” 

Char also said value specific to the legal time lies in building credibility by having accurate numbers, targets, and reporting, which means  the function can be true to their word. This ties into planning, using data to create strategic goals, realizing where resources are best utilized and what work should be outsourced. Data is power. 

The final benefit Char stressed was that legal operations allow the legal department to act as a business partner rather than a reactive function. They have data, insights and forecasting to add to business planning. 

Larger organizations can easily show the benefits of having a legal operations function, yet smaller companies need to manage the risk of expecting too much too quickly. As Char explained, “Cost savings and synergies take a while to get; be careful to manage the expectations.” 

Char has seen legal operations build out amongst young companies with unrealistic expectations. “Expectations need to be reviewed and clarified to make sure the function has time to deliver on what it can.”

The legal operations maturity model helps to establish a well-functioning legal ops team. For instance, determining key milestones such as when processes are implemented, the designation of a hierarchy of roles within the team, and the automation of manual activity.

Char said an organization should allow at least two years for a mature and robust legal operations function to emerge. This function will be key to business and influence upper management as it saves resources, implements better systems, and ultimately saves time and money by automating processes. Legal operations will also gain the respect of the legal team itself as all the time they spend liaising with other business units provides insight into what the in-house team actually does, thus breaking down the legal silo.

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