Fortune 500 Legal Ops Insights, Part 1: Doing More With Less
In 2018-2019, Brian McGovern of Mitratech went out and met with over 100 legal departments and Legal Ops leaders at Fortune 500 companies. Their experiences in implementing Legal Ops capabilities provide platinum-grade lessons for others to follow.
Brian’s own background as a former head of Legal Ops gave him his own insights into the challenges these companies, which ranged across nearly ever sector and LOB, have had to deal with. So at Mitratech’s Interact 2019 user conference, Brian shared what he’d found out in Key Findings of the Fortune 500, a keynote session that will soon be available as an ebook.
One of the first points he made? That legal leaders are being faced with managing potentially massive changes to how they operate, approaching their own legal tech “tipping points” which offer exhilarating potential – but they’re also scary. There’s personal risk involved, because the wrong recommendation or decision can be costly, and there’s “a lot of nervousness” attached, as he put it.
Many of the firms he met with were already verging or had passed their own “tipping points.” So their learnings can help others make the right choices moving forward.
Huge room for improvement
What was the first of the three major lessons he dug into during his presentation? It was the one he heard mentioned the most during his consultations.
It was that legal departments and Legal Ops staff need to learn how to do more with less. They’re being expected to ratchet up efficiency and cut costs, not add complexity and consume more financial or employee resources, even though legal departments are being faced with more work than ever.
But for legal leaders who worry they’re strapped for resources to accomplish all this, he had some consolation to offer, based on what nearly everyone he met told him:
- No one has enough people
- No one has enough money
- No one has enough time
But is there really that much inefficiency to root out in the legal department? Most people in most departments, he explains, perceive themselves (justifiably) as “working really hard.” But hard work doesn’t automatically translate into efficiency and value if processes are failing their people.
Brace yourself: According to Brian’s findings, less than 10% of the work done in Legal Ops delivers direct value to the client.
Focus on adding value at every step
Optimizing how well a department uses the resources it has on hand demands an audit of existing processes, starting with high-volume ones, to determine which are really providing value. They need to determine how each step of a process can be optimized to add value.
Processes where approvals, reworking, email, keystrokes, paper and data re-entry are prevalent are devouring huge amounts of labor while introducing errors add little or no value. Some might make the case they actually subtract it.
Success means a company must audit processes and listen to customer/client feedback, appraise the value processes are delivering and eliminate anything that’s not adding value, and automate them to maximum it using best practices like self-service forms and intake portals.
Best-in-class workflow automation solutions can have “tremendous impact on day-to-day operations and the stress that you’re feeling,” Brian says. Value and performance can be improved at each step of a digitized process, especially when analytics are applied.
In the case of a Legal Ops pioneer like the team at NetApp, they give themselves permission to fail in experimenting with a tool like TAP Workflow Automation. Once they’ve learned the ropes on a few high-volume processes where they can demonstrate immediate ROI, they broaden implementation to include more and more processes – and become an evangelist for applying process automation and best practices outside the legal department, as shown below in a chart from KP Labs:
Turning a Legal Ops problem into an advantage
Legal Ops pioneers show a willingness to confront a problem and solve it in a way that not only overcomes the immediate problem but creates a competitive advantage.
In this case, “doing more with less” meant finding new technologies capable of delivering value, savings, and fast ROI. While at the same time broadening transformation beyond the confines of the legal department.
In our next post in this series, we’ll examine the second area where Fortune 500 legal leaders had lessons to pass along, about the importance of getting the right data to the right people.