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6/2015
Legal Ops Pros Aim to Build Standards, Share Best Practices and Discover New Leaders
by Novus Law LLC, Client Solutions Team

While legal operations have existed in some form for nearly two decades, the past five years have seen the greatest growth as corporate leaders push their law departments to better align with the business processes and goals of their organizations.

Initial asks focused on legal spend and fiscal responsibility have morphed into technology implementation, process initiatives and resource management, particularly relating to outside counsel. With this wide-ranging set of duties—often defined on the fly—the role of the legal ops executive has been filled by lawyers, finance or  IT experts, and other professionals acting alone or supported by teams of individuals.

Often, this leads to a “hobbyist approach,” says David Cambria, global director of operations at Archer Daniels Midland, “with legal ops programs built out of necessity—the seedlings of a future legal ops department. But, a growing number of GCs are thinking of this holistically and see multiple components of running a law department, and they bring in a COO to manage and drive change.”

“The sky is the limit,” says Tania Daniels, head of global legal operations at The Walt Disney Company, when asked to identify her legal ops role. “You see the diversity of skillsets and backgrounds coming to this position because it’s often crafted to match the industry and size of the company. However, similar to the general counsel role, there is still a desire and need to establish core best practices.”

As a result, regional legal ops industry groups have formed in Chicago, Minnesota, Southern and Northern California, and New York, among others, to share information and discuss and debate best practices. However, the narrow perspectives of the groups—often saturated by a dominant local industry—prompted the leaders of five legal operations groups to seek an independent, national forum to institutionalize the knowledge of experienced pros and offer support to those new to the role.

“It just made sense to find a neutral third party, a dedicated and well-informed organization, to bring us all together under one roof, and identify the best practices and consistencies within the regional groups,” says Connie Brenton, chief of staff and director of legal operations at NetApp. “That way, legal departments–big and small–can leverage the knowledge of some of the more mature legal ops teams around the country.”

The overwhelming positive response to the formation of the ACC Legal Operations section—including a sold-out inaugural conference in Chicago—only exemplifies the demand for a member-driven organization to deliver benchmarking and collaboration opportunities, resources, and a unified voice to advance and support this critical business function. 

Guided by Brenton, Daniels, Cambria and their steering committee cohorts—Michael Caplan, former chief operating officer, Marsh & McLennan Companies; Jeff Isaacs, managing director and global chief operating officer- legal department, Goldman Sachs & Co; and Elizabeth Jaworski, director of legal operations, Motorola Mobility—the team encourages members to use this forum to build relationships with their peers and lend their insights as leaders who will define the future of legal operations.

“It doesn't make sense to redo a lot of the foundational requirements that it takes to put a legal department together; otherwise, it can take a long time to get to innovation and improvements,” Brenton says. “But, if we can provide a toolbox to put an operational infrastructure in place, we can make a significant impact with the industry.”

 

 
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Program Highlights of the 2015 Legal Operations Conference
by Novus Law LLC, Client Solutions Team

We’ve taken an insider’s look at some of the most-anticipated sessions of next week’s 2015 Legal Operations Conference in Chicago. 

On Wednesday morning, D. Cameron Findlay of Archer Daniels Midland Company and Michael A. Dillon of Adobe Systems, Inc. will present the General Counsel Keynote panel. This session features two GCs with years of experience developing legal operations standards within their departments. The duo brings perspectives from seven major corporations in four very different industries–and a track record of operations excellence. The path to that kind of success is rarely smooth, so this session will feature their firsthand perspective on what works, what doesn’t work, and what remains to be done as corporations evolve the role of legal operations executives and their teams.

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By combining rigorous management with risk analysis and strategic planning, the Running Law Departments like a Business panel will address perhaps the greatest opportunities for legal operations to impact the bottom line of the company. It will feature Reese Arrowsmith, vice-president and director of operations at Lincoln Financial; Connie Brenton, chief of staff and director of legal operations at NetApp; and Sheila Kennedy, director of legal operations at Medtronic. 

Great legal leaders test future plans against the best available data, adding a vision of what’s possible with innovation and a little elbow grease. They research and identify the best techniques for assessing recent performance and use that data to think critically about future risks and opportunities. By marrying risk calibration with predictive analytics to inform strategic planning, legal operations executives are stepping into the frontier of risk management for the company. Done right, this can put legal operations in a position to set practice and policy that can save the company millions, preserve market access, and prevent a litigation or regulatory disaster.

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There is a lot of talk about technology and its impact on legal practice and operations, but legal operations is still fundamentally about talent. As the function has grown in the last decade, every leader has brought her own skills to the table – with nearly everyone learning on the fly. With a more mature function now in place at many companies, the Legal Operations Role and Structure panel will identify some of the core skills necessary to carry legal ops forward. Speakers will include Elizabeth Jaworski, director of legal operations at Motorola Mobility; David Cambria, global director of operations - law, compliance and government relations at Archer Daniels Midland Company; and Stephanie Corey, chief of staff and senior director, legal operations at Flextronics. 

Because legal operations is a rapidly changing function, this new ACC section is in charge of its own destiny. However, it also means that the pressure is on to define how these executives are going to create value in the decade to 2025. The panelists will bring their own perspectives, but every attendee’s point of view will be important on this essential topic.

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Following Wednesday’s afternoon break, Jeff Clott, chief operations officer, law, compliance, business ethics & external affairs at Prudential Financial; Aaron Van Nice, director of legal operations at Baxter Healthcare; and Kevin Harvey, global legal services sourcing manager at Boston Scientific, will present The Operations Group Role in Legal Department Improvement. 

Improvement is the key to what legal operations has to offer. Continuous improvement is the reason our economy grows. By systematically applying observations about cause and effect, tracking errors and running them to ground, and keeping a persistent discipline of daily–or even hourly–improvements in process, corporations like Toyota have made our world a better, more efficient place. Although these techniques have been known and widely-adopted for the past 25 years, few lawyers think in terms of systematically eliminating waste, errors and risk from their daily work. Best practices today typically encompass after-action meetings at the close of a transaction or case to collect lessons learned and make changes accordingly. This is good, but the real success of continuous improvement is weekly—or even daily—team assessment of improvement opportunities, with action items carried forward and tracked to their conclusion. 

How can law department leaders get their legal teams into the continuous improvement mindset, and then move them to take constant action to reduce waste, increase quality and maximize value for the company? An early step on the path is certainly to model that behavior by consistently doing it within legal ops.

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Lawyers are great at many things, but not everything. As the total scope of activities involved in running a legal department continues to expand, non-lawyers of several different descriptions are becoming critical to success. And, as transactions and litigation continue to grow in complexity, non-lawyers and non-law firm suppliers are increasingly critical as well. On Thursday morning, the Right Sourcing/Staffing and the Evolving Role of Non-Lawyers panelists will include: Lisa Konie, director, associate general counsel at Adobe Systems Incorporated; Bruce Goldberg, director of legal operations at Allstate Insurance Company; and Joe Otterstetter, managing counsel at 3M Company. In the past, non-lawyer professionals were viewed as efficiency plays (i.e., they were cheaper) Now, we see the growth of firms that can accomplish law-related work faster and at a higher quality than a law firm ever could. Some of these firms are applying a proprietary technology to solve a problem in the practice of law; others are applying a new process or technique that law firms haven’t adopted yet. Because of this growth and diversity in the market, it’s more important than ever to find the “best-in-class” provider for key elements of the transactional and litigation portfolio, both inside the function and among the company’s legal suppliers. How can legal departments correctly define “right sourcing” and “right staffing” to encompass all the varied skill sets needed – only some of which come in a “lawyer” package?

 
 
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Doing It Better: A Member of Disney's Legal Team Discusses Knowledge Management
by D. Casey Flaherty, Principal, Cost Control LLC

Tania Daniels,  Head of Legal Operations, Disney    

Different businesses have different legal needs. The clothing company's legal necessities differ in kind, not just degree, from the video game company, the hotel company, the toy company or the movie studio. But, as in the case of The Walt Disney Company, substantially distinct businesses may all be part of the same corporate family. A legal department like Disney's must therefore overcome not only the challenges of scale but also the challenges of scope. View a profile and conversation with Tania Daniels here.

 


 
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Legal Ops Pros Aim to Build Standards, Share Best Practices and Discover New Leaders
Program Highlights of the 2015 Legal Operations Conference
Doing It Better: A Member of Disney's Legal Team Discusses Knowledge Management
The Legal Ops Observer is devoted to reporting on issues important to the members of the ACC Legal Ops section—from the challenges they face, to best practices that work, to how members effectively implement innovation within their individual companies and define the future of legal ops across the industry.  
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