When asked to launch a new Association for Corporate Counsel (ACC) section for legal operations professionals, Catherine J. Moynihan, Senior Director for Legal Management Services at the ACC, had some doubts. Would the ACC Board of Directors – all lawyers, serving an association by and for in-house counsel – embrace a group focused on operations, many of whose members would not be lawyers? She prepared an extensive presentation on the merits of starting a legal operations section at the national level, and after some rehearsals and fretting, brought it before the Board. Five minutes into what could have been a much longer presentation, one of the board members interrupted to say, “This is a no-brainer.” Everyone agreed...and a lot of PowerPoint slides didn’t have to be shown. With the Board's blessing, the new section was created and preparations for an inaugural conference began.
Speaking before a packed ballroom at the Chicago Inter-Continental on June 3rd, it was clear to Moynihan that the Board was right. To be clear, the kick-off of the inaugural ACC Legal Operations Conference had a few snags - but all stemmed from the sheer number of attendees and industry interest. A move to a bigger ballroom, more breakout rooms, more food – and there was still a wait list. Long-time heads of legal operations came; new heads of legal operations came; general counsel hoping to better focus their legal operations came. All were eager to share and learn best practices for an increasingly vital function of successful legal departments.
Because of the energy, interest and effort put in by participants, 48 jam-packed hours evolved into a breakthrough moment for legal operations at a national level. Corporate counsel have long spoken of the promise and possibilities of better operational management. This gathering dug deeply into the details, the challenges, and the reality of making legal operations more effective.
Nothing short of a book could summarize what took place across those two days in early June – so we present a few highlights:
- Quarterly Business Reviews: A session on quarterly business reviews looked at how three different legal departments are increasing operating discipline by using the simple accountability tool of a regular operational review. The basic question is: “How are we doing?” Several examples were shown to answer the question. Making the investment in assessing successes and failures usually yields a few nuggets of gold. As Connie Brenton, chief of staff and director of legal operations at NetApp, Inc., said of the company's e-signatures initiative, “We [Legal] are the ones who are instigating speed across the enterprise.” A big win for the whole company coming out of legal operations.
- Moving From Talk to Action on Fixed Fees: For years, widespread use of fixed fees has been an aspiration – something much talked about and rarely done. Across several panels, it became clear that many legal operations executives are laying the statistical foundation for building out complex, concise and clear fixed fee arrangements with their law firms. Fixed fees won’t spring full-born onto the legal scene without a leader, and it appears that some law firms and legal departments are struggling to construct them without serious help. The inaugural legal operations conference saw several detailed examples of companies building towards a sustainable fixed-fee environment.
- Where to Find Operations Expertise: Other functions within a company or organization, e.g. procurement, finance, risk management, information technology etc., have operations expertise. How can legal departments benefit from that knowledge? The involvement of Procurement has been controversial in many companies, but not for Aaron J. Katzel, head of the Legal Operations Center of American International Group, Inc. (AIG). "We couldn't do what we do at AIG without Procurement," Katzel says. "Procurement has deep expertise in the procurement process. We have over 1200 law firms. It would be impossible for us to manage in any kind of consistent or timely way the rates and terms of those law firms."
- Legal Operations Objectives: Yuka Tzavaras, senior manager, legal operations at Electronic Arts, Inc. (EA), outlined EA’s simple set of four objectives for legal operations:
- Get documents to the business faster.
- Keep Legal focused on complex or high-value deals.
- Keep Legal Operations focused on high-value projects.
- Reduce system administration burden.
- Future of Legal Services: Over lunch on the final day of the conference, "Legal Angels" Ron Dolin and Joshua Kubicki discussed the future of legal services. By then, the crowd was perfectly comfortable diving into the conversation, and a rich exchange was had about the possibility of effectively measuring legal outputs, the outer frontiers of automation, and what the real priorities of legal sector transformation should be.
A main goal of the conference was to identify work left to be done – and empower groups within the Legal Operations Section to begin the process of doing that work. The conference closed with a discussion of plans for further work in the following six areas:
- External Resource Management: This group focuses on uniform ways to accurately measure the value created by different vendors.
- Technology & Tools: This group aims to establish a “benchmark” technology road-map for a corporate legal department. Participants will look to connect ACC members who have experience using a wide-variety of tech platforms and ways to build a “tech toolkit” a.k.a., buyers’ guide to corporate legal tech.
- Strategic Planning: This group plans to develop a forum for sharing legal ops-oriented strategic planning templates and best practices, including training courses on strategic planning specific to legal departments and legal operations.
- Metrics & Analysis: This group aspires to create a "best practices guide for legal metrics," such as a directory of metrics that will allow ACC members to see what metrics other companies and entities are using; how they've successfully applied those measurements; and what they learned from them. An important focus includes way to improve or even influence the measurements used by law firms.
- Internal Resource Management: This group plans to explore ways to leverage alternative resources within a company. For example, the value and cost of training for non-attorneys within the company to equip them to carry out law-related work more effectively.
- Project & Process Management: Bearing in mind that project and process management are two distinct things – some aspirations of this group are to create legal project and process management training modules, which could possibly include training on managing outside counsel, and simple ways to build common repositories for process maps and analytical tools.
For more information or to join an ACC Legal Operations Section interest group, please contact Catherine J. Moynihan at firstname.lastname@example.org or + 1.202.696.1559+ 1.202.696.1559.
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