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Are we losing sight of what legal operations is meant to be

At its best, legal ops is the simple act of looking to add efficiency wherever possible in your workflow. It can be done without tools, external resources or much expense by looking at a problem and pondering 'how can we make this slightly better?' At its worst, legal ops is a contrived mess which requires its own dictionary in order to understand; the value it adds is exceeded by the confusion it causes.

InView Champion and International Commercial Counsel at Personio, Asim Khan, is increasingly troubled that what used to be a relatively simple concept centered around optimization is becoming increasingly and needlessly complex.

“When you try to pin it down to one or two sentences, people struggle. I'm someone who caught the legal ops bug early, and even I'm beginning to struggle with it. I thought I knew what legal ops was, but every time I tune in it feels as if people are taking different principles or concepts from different areas, putting legal in front of it and then placing it under the legal ops umbrella."

Khan's opinion is that legal ops is now facing something of an identity crisis. "It’s gotten to the stage where people don’t know what it is.”

He attributes much of the increase in complexity to the burgeoning population of legal ops influencers who are adding considerable noise to the area and clouding the formerly simple message of legal ops.

“Every time I log into LinkedIn, it’s the same topics fashioned into different perspectives. The same people talking about the same topics in slightly different ways. For me, it feels like a lot of people are trying to turn their own perspective of legal ops into a cottage industry.

“I’ve switched off my notifications on certain things because it’s just a lot of noise with little value.”

For Khan, legal ops returning to its more humble roots would be the best path forward. He warns that the current overcomplication of a relatively simple principle is beginning to harm not only the perception other functions have of legal ops but is also impeding its ability to assist legal teams in a very real way.

“It’s doing a lot of damage because it's adding another layer of complexity on top of things. As soon as you do that, you create a mountain for everyone to climb, particularly organizations that haven’t had a legal ops base beforehand.

“Legal ops is about driving efficiency; that’s all it is. Making sure you can do your job as best you can with the tools you have. I try to explain to people that we’re all constantly doing legal ops and have been for years, they just don’t realize it. Any time you look at a contract and think of ways to optimize that process and make it more efficient you’re doing legal ops.”

In tough economic climates, one of the most valuable assets a business function can have is to articulate its value-add calmly and clearly - which was previously a key tenet of legal ops done well. But as Khan has observed, the further we move away from these core principles, the harder it becomes to justify.

“If you don’t know what it is, you lose sight of what its value could be. We’re seeing this confusion play out in the number of layoffs occurring. When it comes to legal teams, legal ops people seem to be the first ones to be chopped.”

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