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Demystifying legal operations and some of its challenges

Legal operations should not be seen in isolation, it’s a collaborative way of working. While many view it as ground-breaking for in-house legal teams, others feel we are becoming a victim of our own success, tantalized by the bright lights of technology instead of giving ourselves a solid base with which to operate. Are we trying to run before we've even walked?

The recent explosion of legal ops has turned what once was quiet tinkering into something of a gold rush, with a veritable plethora of developers and professionals attempting to optimize every conceivable aspect. While legal ops should be a vital consideration for every legal function, it is not a panacea and should not be treated as a silver bullet to be fired at every conceivable issue. Instead it is something which has potential the exponentially increase the value-add of your legal function, given a thoughtful and well orchestrated implementation.

Asim Khan, a Senior Legal Counsel and Legal Ops specialist, has found a particularly human way to explain the misgivings. “Recently, I was speaking to an engineer at my work. We both have daughters and were discussing My Little Pony. He mentioned the variety of toys, how you can buy one that’s just a pony but then there's the accessories and toys that morph into unicorns or Pegasus or whatever. It’s like, which one fits your needs?”

And much like that child in the abovementioned toy store the sheer weight of choice can be paralyzing for legal departments, and provide a couple of novel problems. The first, how do you know which vendor to go with? Surely not all are made equal, and no doubt none are perfect but, how do you discern which best suits your situation. Second, how do you know which solution to go for? Is it better to opt for several specific solutions or one which attempts to encompass them all? Should you opt for the most basic, or the downright flamboyant? Are you careering past your ski-tips attempting to solve problems you don't yet have?

Ummu Fallon, Legal Ops Manager at Camunda, an open workflow and decision automation platform, acknowledges that time is a big issue for most organizations. “There are so many single-point solutions out there and it’s a time-consuming and complex business trying to understand them and to work out what is right for you.”

Khan concurs. “The challenge with point solutions is they can have limited future prospects and it comes down to what you as a team value as your biggest challenge and where you're looking to change things.”

Fallon says it vital to pinpoint and prioritize your pain points and align them with your competence, OKRs and goals before starting your search. Set out your requirements, ask for a demo, build up a good understanding of the products available and ensure your preference fulfils your requirements before committing fully.

Proceed, but with caution, is what Khan advises. “Too often the view is to throw technology at something. It's like technology is the answer but we don't really know what the question is. It’s important for teams to take a step back, to understand where their challenges are."

Fallon says that due to the current high demand for KPIs, a significant part of legal ops is being able to produce data that will show the GC and the company that the technology implemented is providing ROI, and that staff are spending less time on mundane tasks and focusing on high-level work. Helping to better attribute value to a legal function.

“Have a clear overview of what your goals are as a team, because a lot of people expect legal operations to come in and solve your problems," she says. “While adopting legal ops is about trying to improve the process, it’s also a continuous improvement which is done over time.”

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