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Fortune 500 Legal Ops Insights, Part 3: Building a Diverse Team

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Beyond technology and the effective use of data, what’s the third crucial component of Legal Operations optimization? It’s the people who staff Legal Ops.  But what skills and expertise should you look for in assembling that team?

In the first post in this series, we outlined how Fortune 500 legal departments are doing more with less by employing legal tech; in part two, we dug into the right ways to utilize data to drive Legal Ops optimization.

In interviewing over 130 Fortune 500 legal departments over the last year or so, Mitratech’s Brian McGovern drew insights about a third vital area: the best practices involved in hiring a top-performing Legal Ops staff.

In Legal Ops, diversity drives innovation

What he found was that the Legal Operations teams that were doing the most innovative and progressive things were, not coincidentally, the ones with the most diverse teams in terms of their skills and background.

Why? It’s because, as he explains, “Legal Operations has such a diverse set of responsibilities it has to address.”

When you look over the range of tasks Legal Ops is supposed to address, it’s obvious that “no one person is going to be able to competently do all of those things,” he points out.

Legal Ops Skills

Alignment to create value

When Legal Ops management surveys its responsibilities and processes, it can begin to align the right skillsets against the tools, processes, and goals it has to deal with. Those nearly always turn out to be so diverse they demand a diverse set of skills from the Legal Ops team they put in place.

“Analytics and technology, and process management, project management, and process excellence are all disciplines that are relatively new to legal,” Brian McGovern reminds us, “so the legal department has a chance to reach out and grab those people who are experts in what they do, and combine their skills with lawyers who are expert in practice of law. That’s when you see very dramatic improvements from the business.”

CLOC Core Competencies

One Legal Ops leader who’s found the benefit of a more diverse approach is Rick Radice, VP & Chief Operations Officer – Law, Compliance, Business Ethics, External Affairs at Prudential Financial, Inc.

When he first began evaluating his department’s operations, he found “over a million dollars a year was going out the door” to outside consultants. Money that could be better spent by hiring the right in-house Legal Ops staff.

To him, CLOC’s Core Competencies Wheel provides a good guideline for the diversity of talents needed to make Legal Ops function effectively at the foundational, advanced, and mature levels of optimization.

“How can we find the best people with the best skillsets,” he says, “who don’t necessarily have to have a legal background?”

From a business case standpoint, it’s a matter of matching staffers’ skills and qualifications to the right processes at the right price point, so they’re able to deliver maximum value.

Encouraging advancement

For Rick Radice and other Legal Ops leaders, it’s important to set paths for employee development. Yet not all of the individuals who join Legal Ops want to advance through new roles like those depicted on the Wheel. Some are perfectly capable and happy to stick to one specialization, be it vendor management or technology support.

But by gaining expertise in several competencies, they can become more valuable not only to Legal Operations but to the rest of the organization, with broader opportunities for growth and advancement within the enterprise.

Legal Ops leaders aren’t always attorneys

Another sign of how skills diversity is taking hold in Legal Ops? Mary O’Carroll, director of Legal Operations at Google and president of CLOC, and Catherine J. Moynihan, executive director of the Association of Corporate Counsel, each told told Corporate Counsel how approximately half of Legal Ops leaders don’t have a juris doctor.  O’Carroll, who doesn’t hold a J.D., said it’s never been a disadvantage for her, and of her fifty Legal Ops staffers at Google, only one is a lawyer.

“Legal ops is a multidisciplinary area that requires a strong foundation in things like financial management, project management, process improvement, change management, and at least a passion for technology,” she explains in the article. “Having a J.D. is absolutely a bonus and often gives you more credibility and acceptance in the role with your lawyer clients, but I also think having a business or technology background allows you to bring in a new perspective and unique skill sets to the department.”

The biggest insight of all?

The biggest insight to be had from Brian McGovern’s interviews with Fortune 500 legal departments about Legal Operations optimization? It’s the fact that three components – technology, processes, and people – are so intertwined they all have to be optimized to deliver maximum business value.

Addressing only one or two of them is, if not exactly a “recipe for failure,” a half-measure that’ll leave a huge amount of potential efficiency, savings, and performance gains on the table. Great technology won’t salvage bad processes, and the best processes require the right people to be running them.

So neglecting any one of this triad is a non-starter for successful Legal Ops teams, who are being challenged every day to deliver higher levels of performance, service, and ROI. By optimizing Legal Ops by following the best practices we’ve described, though, top legal departments are commanding results that are transforming not just their own operations, but also the enterprises they serve.

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