15 Coronavirus Survival Tips for Your Legal Ops Ecosystem

For a wide range of companies during the COVID-19 crisis, there’s more burden than ever on the legal department.  Because of that, Legal Operations professionals are under huge pressure to keep the legal ecosystem of in-house staff, outside counsel, other vendors, and the processes linking them functioning smoothly.

That ecosystem is crucial, as Gilead Sciences – a company at the heart of the COVID-19 fight – has explained in the past, as have other Legal Ops experts.  Keeping it intact, and even taking measures to optimize how well it performs under these trying circumstances?  That can seem a daunting challenge.

Fortunately, there are Legal Ops leaders who are able to offer lessons and guidance on how to help that legal ecosystem survive.  And perhaps even prosper and become more effective and efficient as we emerge from the pandemic.

Below, you’ll find their insights and recommendations.  Every one of the Legal Ops luminaries who’s mentioned is also a speaker at our Virtual Summit, Continuity During Coronavirus, as well.

So their advice – all of it positive, pragmatic, and visionary – offers a taste of what’s being shared with the Legal Ops community at this online event.

Gary Tully, Gilead Sciences

As Head of Legal Operations at Gilead Sciences, where highly promised (and publicized) treatment research is underway on COVID-19, Gary shared his team’s experiences in growing a legal tech ecosystem in this webinar and an accompanying case study.  Some of what he mentioned then, also touched on during his Virtual Summit keynote session with Mitratech CEO Mike Williams?

  • Setting priorities is an essential first step in adding necessary new tools to a legal tech stack to support the legal ecosystem. One early and pivotal part of Gilead’s process was to decide which tools should be first in line to either be updated or added to their stack.
  • People and processes are central: “As with all of these technologies,” he told us, “there’s more than the technology component that works toward its success. What processes do we have in place, and are they optimized? Have the people performing these tasks got the right roles and responsibilities and accountability for the task getting done?”
  • Don’t be surprised when you get support from counsel:  At one point, attorneys were seen as reluctant converts to new technology or new practices, but that expectation was already changing at the time Gary spoke with us.  The demands of COVID-19 on business continuity may accelerate that embrace.

Mike Russell, Trane Technologies

Mike is Lean Leader – Legal Operations at Trane Technologies, and brings an eye for innovation in pursuit of process optimization to his role. His panel’s task during the Virtual Summit?  To drill deep into how Legal Ops is a backbone of business continuity. By pioneering new tools and processes, it can help the rest of the organization become better equipped to deal with future disruptions.

  • Leverage peer networking: Industry associations (ACC, CLOC, ILTA) will keep you connected in an ever-changing world; there are lots of resources to draw on, and people’s experience.
  • Challenge the status quo: If your organization hasn’t considered non-law firm service providers, there’s no time like the present! Low-hanging fruit can be resourced creatively, truly doing more (work) wth less (cost).
  • Employ simple automation: Forms and workflows can go a long way to helping people keep track of things that have been traditionally manual and/or physical (e.g. incoming paper mail).

Katrina Keiffer, Navistar

As Associate Director, Legal Operations at Navistar, Katrina has a real-world record of success in managing the evolution of a legal ecosystem, and the many moving parts that make it up.  She’s part of the blue-chip Virtual Summit panel exploring how Legal Ops can lead the way toward a more agile, resilient business continuity framework for a company:

  • Embrace the technology you have available: eSignatures, scanning apps, video conferencing – all of this is helping us continue to communicate and function effectively.
  • If projects are on hold, work on some of those areas you haven’t had time for: For Navistar, as an example, we were in the middle of an iManage implementation that went on “pause” for now. This has given us the opportunity to focus more closely on an upgrade to our matter management system, eCounsel.
  • Use this opportunity to focus on business continuity plans – both technical and functional: It’s a good time to revise the continuity plans for systems, as well as workflows that are not automated.

Brian McGovern, Mitratech

Before becoming General Manager, Workflow Solutions for Mitratech, Brian led the establishment of the Legal Ops function for massive global firms.  More recently, he’s been advising and capturing insights from Fortune 500 firms worldwide on the best practices involved in making Legal Ops a reality for their legal departments. His expertise as a black belt practitioner of Lean Six Sigma gives him even more perspective on how to meet the challenges at hand:

  • Paper is dead: If you haven’t moved past paper-based processes by now, there’s no excuse for sticking by them at a point when smart, secure, trackable and auditable digital documents and workflows are the obvious replacement.  The only paper that’s mission-critical today is the kind being used in the restroom.
  • Actively make a record of “what works” and “what doesn’t” during this period: While your workforce is remote, capture as much insight and measurement as you can about how different strategies and practices are performing.  We do not know exactly what the future holds, even with COVID-19, or when the next big business disruption is coming.  We could be living and working through another outbreak in fall/winter this year, for instance.
  • Improve knowledge management: If you haven’t done so already, making sure that the right data and metadata is captured on your records, whether about disputes, contracts, incidents, or even requests for advice and counsel, is a smart survival move.  If there are changes or disruptions to the legal staff, that recordkeeping is what will enable others to efficiently take up and complete the work.  You might even consider tracking whether or not work received by Legal is related to COVID-19; that could be very useful to call out later when you’re reporting on department performance.

Connie Brenton, NetApp

As Chief of Staff/Senior Director of Legal Operations at NetApp and a founder of CLOC, Connie is one of the true pioneers and guiding lights in the advancement of Legal Ops, and her Virtual Summit session with Justin Hectus, CIO of Keesal Propulsion Labs, will close out the conference on a visionary note as they look toward the future of Legal Ops in a post-pandemic landscape.  Her advice doesn’t veer from the cornerstone tenets she’s immer espoused, with good reason: They’re still absolutely valid.

  • Just start: A tool like legal workflow automation has a compound interest effect. If you’re late starting, you can’t catch up.
  • Collaborate: Collaboration is more efficient, more fun, and results in more creativity and innovation.
  • Be resilient: Digital transformation is hard. Plan on making mistakes, picking yourself up and trying again, until you have a good enough (perfect, in some distinct cases) solution.

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