October 2, 2019
The Best Strategy is to Have One: A Practical Approach to Strategic Planning
By Susan Hackett, CEO, Legal Executive Leadership, LLC
The one constant in our lives – business and personal – is change. Most in-house lawyers are not used to navigating significant change in their practices, nonetheless rethinking their strategy for the future, so they keep on doing the work they’ve always done, with a few tweaks. But no strategy. 
 
If you’d like to develop a strategic change plan and also to identify projects and tactics to realize a stated strategic goal, there are a lot of great resources available. Many require a long and involved process, and presume the participation of a large and active supporting cast of characters to keep the process on track. While there is no way to make strategic planning easy or painless, it can be scaled to match your capacity and the urgency of your needs. A complicated planning process could be the enemy if it’s keeping you from getting started. 
 
Stages of a Strategic Change Process: 
  1. Gain Insights: Talk to your team, collect stakeholder perspectives, and collect data.
  2. Focus on Priorities and Competitive Advantage: Focus on what the legal department wants to be known for, and prioritize goals. 
  3. Align your Strategy with your Client’s and your Team’s Goals: If your primary stakeholders aren’t onboard, your plans will fizzle. 
  4. Execute: Create an implementation plan with actionable tactics and metrics
  5. Revisit and Re-evaluate: Commit to continuous improvement, especially since significant change projects require course corrections as they unfold. 
Here are some ways to get started with a more scalable, compact, strategic change process. I’m going to focus on the first and second stages, because once you’ve got this process on rails, you’ll know what to do to align, execute, and continuously improve your plan and process. 
 
Stage 1: Gain Insights
While you may want to move directly to the discussion of high-visibility projects, you need to start your sprint by stopping to listen to others and collect data that will inform your process. Invest time in the necessary pre-work of gathering broader perspectives at the front end. 

Talk to Your Team 
Since culture eats strategy in most organizations, it’s important to talk to your team members to find out what they’re thinking. If they aren’t on board with the concepts, you can craft the most beautiful plan in the world and it will still fail because no one will actually change what they do. 
 
Develop early buy-in around the concept of updating what the department does and how it works, even if there’s no consensus yet on exactly what will change. Because you likely can’t involve everyone in every aspect of the process, use this early opportunity to communicate that everyone has a stake in this initiative, that there’s no mystery agenda, and there’s an open and inclusive discussion of ideas and options.
 
One effective exercise is to ask your practice groups and individual team members to envision what they see as their “highest use” in advancing the clients’ interests. This is an exercise for everyone: lawyers, allied professionals, and staff members. Engaging in this process is particularly helpful when the time comes to talk about right-sourcing legal services your teams are currently delivering. 
 
Talk to Your Customers 
When discussing changes to how lawyers work, collect perspectives from folks who aren’t lawyers, and especially those on the receiving end of the service as the law department’s customers. Talk to clients, staff members, and corporate function leaders (such as the CEO, CFO, CTO, and the Head of HR). When you ask people about how you can improve, you not only gain insights, but you also signal your interest in better alignment. You can survey electronically and use in-person interviews to dive deeper with leaders in particularly critical positions.
 
Gain Insights from Data 
Objective data is critical to crafting a new narrative for your legal department. You need answers to your questions validated by not only the subjective perspectives of others, but by data on actual performance. Ask your team leaders to provide what data you do have, and identify data they’d most like to have, so that you can make its collection and forward-assessment a priority project once your strategy is in place.
 
At this point, you’ve collected a wide range of ideas and now you’re equipped to move more confidently and quickly to set your strategy, talk about relevant tactical options, and get rolling. Now is the time to sprint. 
 
Stage 2: Focus on Priorities and Competitive Advantage
 
Prioritize 
It’s time to identify priorities and higher-value work based on what you’ve heard during the data collection stage. Your objective is to build a plan around how you’ll address those core items first. Other work that is necessary, but lower value/lower use, should be placed into a “parking lot” to be addressed later. Be aggressive on this. Lower value work is not your competitive advantage. Period.
 
At this point I often use an exercise that helps teams visualize and debate the prioritization of the department’s entire workload by plotting it as dots on a four-quadrant value matrix. You can create a matrix for current work and then one for the future, plotting higher priority current work, emerging priorities, or the important projects that never get done in the daily press of more urgent matters. Defining the path to get from the first matrix to the second is how you set your strategy.
 
There are countless ways you can collaborate to identify priorities and what it will take to accomplish them. Remember that the goal is to establish a consensus about the proper balance of legal and business priorities, lawyer and client needs. Be prepared to calm the waters as people ascribe “winners” and “losers” in the prioritization process.
 
Finding Your North Star
Strategic planning experts define the process of setting a strategy as an exercise in defining your competitive advantage in delivering or selling your product or service to your customers. In the legal context, this translates into the questions: “What do you want to be known for in your company?” and “What is your distinguishing value (as opposed to the value that other people or systems can bring)?” Your resulting one-sentence strategy should articulate the department’s higher use, and the focus they will adopt to deliver specific (and measureable) results. 
 
After you set your own strategy to deliver your higher value work, then it’s time to tackle the practicalities of addressing the lower-value needs. If you want to re-tool your team to deliver on the higher value work, and also spend the bulk of your capacity delivering it, you’ll have to free up time previously spent on lower-value tasks. The cost of not providing the higher level service is far greater than the price of properly re-assigning or relegating the lower value projects.
 
Final Thoughts
 
Strategy First: Alignment, Execution, Tactics and Metrics Next
Be careful not to confuse your strategy with the kinds of plans, projects, goals, and tactics you’ll use to deliver them. Strategy is a long-term guiding principle; plans, goals and tactics address the decisions, actions and resources necessary to deliver on the strategy on an ongoing basis. 

You’re Never Done 
Change is an iterative process. You set goals in 2020, and by 2021 you could be looking at a whole new ball game. If you’ve chosen your strategy well, it will remain relevant, even as your projects may shift. Regularly testing your ongoing presumptions is a necessary tenet of agility.
 
At the beginning of this article, I suggested that you can make your strategic change planning process simpler and more scalable, but this still requires commitment and involves making tough decisions, especially as you level-set clients’ priorities against lawyers’ sacred cows.
 
The early-stage work of collecting relevant data, completing surveys and interviews, and talking with your teams and leadership can take a month (or more). But the strategy sessions that lead to decisions can be completed in a one- or two-day sprint meeting with key team members. You’ll be ready to delegate responsibility for tactical planning and implementation across teams and functions. After that, it’s not about setting strategy, it’s about applying it to the execution of your strategic change plans. 
 
But whether you go big or scale smaller, have outside help or not, make it your goal to develop a thoughtful plan based on the engagement and support of your team and your clients. All you really need is the resolve to ride the tides of change toward a future that is well-informed, well-defined and well-directed.
 
Susan Hackett, CEO of Legal Executive Leadership, LLC, is a recognized leader in building smarter legal practices, with close to three decades of experience helping law departments (and those who serve them) deliver distinguishing value and improve the way they work. She helps her clients develop and implement change strategies for the future, improve operational processes, drive demonstrable client results, and move confidently from traditional practice toward legal executive leadership.
 
 
 
 
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Join us at Xchange 2020: Your Legal Ops Conference - Returning to Chicago, April 19-21, 2020
Register now and save the dates! April 19-21 we’re going back to Chicago. Your fellow members in the 2020 conference committee have been busy crafting the curriculum and we will unveil it soon. Here are a few session highlights: 
  • From Corporate Strategy to Law Department Transformation: A three-part series that dives into Innovation versus Transformation, and includes a workshop using a faux company as the basis to practice crafting a vision, strategy and goals.  
  • IP Ops: State of the Art Sourcing, Technology and Portfolio Management 
  • Making the Most of What You Have: Using O365 (and Other Ubiquitous Tech) for Contracting, KM, Workflow and Personal Efficiency 
  • Building a Virtuous Circle: Professional Development, Collaboration and Mentoring to Thrive in Legal Ops 
In many sessions, we’re going to ditch the deck and walk up to the wall-sized whiteboards to collaborate – coming up with new health metrics for the legal department and designing “moneyball” for Legal.  
 
We’ll also reprise the Solutions Hub, where you can shape your own schedule: Join a roundtable with in-house counsel attendees, make new friends over lunch, drop in for a Tech Talk, participate in the speed networking or pose for a professional headshot.  
 
More volunteers needed! If you would like to help make every single session advanced, interactive and practical, join the conference committee to help recruit and advise speakers (especially the sponsors!). Email LawDepartmentOps and we’ll add you to the cadence calls – it’s fun, and a great way to build your peer network.  
 
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Meet the Silicon Valley Regional Group Chair, Janet Craycroft
For October, we're featuring a new Regional Group Leader: Janet Craycroft, Associate General Counsel at Intel who leads the Silicon Valley Regional Group
 
Q: Tell us one thing most people don’t know about you.
A: I had the privilege of meeting and working on a brief project with Andy Grove [the original rock star in Silicon Valley]. 
 
Q: What is one thing you’re excited about in your role as chair?
 A: I was an IP litigation partner in a large law firm before joining Intel’s litigation group.  After working as an in-house litigator for many years followed by working on education and knowledge management for the department, our General Counsel asked me to assume responsibility for Intel’s legal operations team.  Having the legal background has been incredibly helpful because I was and am a customer.  So, I came to the role with an understanding of what lawyers want and need from our operations team.  I discovered very quickly, however, there was a lot I wanted to learn.  

In speaking with fellow travelers, it became obvious that there was a desire to help each other out.  Even the largest companies with sizeable operations teams are on a journey to learn and improve their legal operations function. When I discovered that ACC did not have a Silicon Valley regional group, I was excited about the opportunity to contribute and bring local legal operations professionals together to learn from one another and contribute to the legal operations profession.  ACC has been a leader in the legal operations space since well before the function gained the prominence that it is now starting to enjoy.  Moreover, ACC supported the vision of small group meetings where candid knowledge sharing can occur.
 
Q: Name one of the Group’s past accomplishments that you’re most excited about.
A: Our group’s first meeting was in March 2019, so we are a new group. That said, we created the following vision and mission statements to guide us as we grow and contribute back to ACC and the Legal Ops community. What is really exciting for me is that the people who have attended our meetings have embraced the notion that we are going to be exceptionally candid and share information to help each other out.    
 
Vision:   
The ACC Legal Operations Silicon Valley Regional Group is a preeminent community and resource for in-house legal operations counsel and other legal operations professionals in their role as strategic advisors who deliver solutions, technology, education, knowledge and information management, and the resources that enable their departments to deliver the highest quality legal advice to their corporate clients.   
 
Mission:   
The ACC Legal Operations Silicon Valley Regional Group serves the professional interests of in-house legal operations counsel and other legal operations professionals by providing its members with the following: 
  • EDUCATION on legal operations and other areas that is practical and useful, 
  • KNOWLEDGE SHARING of information, resources, and best practices that advances in-house legal operations excellence and efficiencies,  
  • ADVOCACY on the importance and value that in-house legal operations delivers to corporate clients, and 
  • NETWORKING opportunities that build trust and collegiality for the benefit of members, their clients, and the public 

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New Benchmarking Opportunity - See How Your Department Compares in Legal Operations Maturity

Perhaps you have been using the ACC Legal Operations Maturity Model to assess your legal department and communicate internally what “advanced” looks like? Even if you haven't, now you can expand your horizons by assessing your department's maturity and comparing to others. 

ACC is teaming up with Wolters Kluwer to learn where legal departments currently stand across 15 legal operations competencies such as contracts management, financial management, and information governance. Once responses are in, we will provide an interactive tool so you can compare maturity with a peer group you define based on industry, revenue, department size, and spending. Here’s the link to participate.

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Highlights from the ACC Legal Ops News & Announcements Page
The ACC Legal Ops News & Announcements tab tracks the best items to keep you well informed. Following are some highlights:

How Cost Effective is Your Legal Department?
Cost-effective legal departments allocate almost twice as much of their in-house budget to training than higher-cost peers, according to research from Gartner, Inc. The most cost-effective legal departments commit to a strategy of continuous improvement of their in-house capabilities, including training, standardizing legal work, and allocating more of their total legal work in house. (Global Legal Post)

Law Firms Commit $5M to Tackle Legal Profession's Diversity Problem
Five law firms have joined together with 26 general counsel to establish a $5 million fund for research initiatives and programs designed to address the lack of diversity in the legal profession. (Law.com)

The Higher Use of Lawyers in a Data- and Tech-Enabled World
Today’s lawyers—both those entering the profession and those who are experts in it—face new challenges.(Law.com)

We are adding more hand-picked items all the time - be sure to bookmark or subscribe to http://www.acc.com/legalops/news/.

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Events in October and November

View all upcoming ACC Legal Ops events here
 
OCTOBER  
 
Date: October 3 at 11:00 a.m. (EDT)
Topic: Social Recognition Program (Virtual Roundtable)
Interest Group: Internal Resource Management Interest Group
Internal social recognition program demo by Workhuman 
Email lawdepartmentops@acc.com to attend 
 
Date: October 3 at 3:00 p.m. (EDT)
Topic: TBD (Virtual Roundtable)
Interest Group: Health Care & Manufacturing Interest Group
Email lawdepartmentops@acc.com to attend 
 
Date: October 8 at 3:00 p.m. (EDT)
Topic: Using OneNote to Develop Contract Playbook (Virtual Roundtable)
Interest Group: Process, Project & Knowledge Management
Presentation by Larry Cohen of AARP
Email lawdepartmentops@acc.com to attend 
 
Date: October 10 at 2:00 p.m. (EDT)
Topic: Working Session: External Resource Management Checklist (Virtual Roundtable)
Interest Group: External Resource Management
Email lawdepartmentops@acc.com to attend 
 
Date: October 10 2:00 p.m. (EDT)
Presented by Quislex. This panel consisting of eDiscovery experts will focus on big picture strategies they have implemented in their organizations.   
 
Date: October 15
Inaugural in-person Legal Operations Europe event in Frankfurt am Main (Germany). This conference leverages the ACC Legal Operations Maturity Model framework to learn through peer discussion about how to accelerate innovation.   
 
Date: October 16 from 11:00 am - 2:00 pm (PDT)
Interest Group: Silicon Valley Regional Group
Join us for the ACC Legal Operations Silicon Valley Regional Group meeting, an in-person knowledge sharing meeting to benefit in-house counsel and legal operations professionals, hosted by Janet Craycroft of Intel.    
 
Date: October 17 at 1:00 p.m. (EDT)
Topic: Metrics Journey Series Part III (Virtual Roundtable)
Interest Group: Metrics & Analytics Interest Group
Presentation by Jose Pung of Prudential
Email lawdepartmentops@acc.com to attend    
 
Date: October 22 at 3:00 p.m. (EDT)
Topic: FastTrack - Accelerated Contract Review Using AI (Webinar)
Interest Group: Tools & Technology
Jim Michalowicz and Cindy Geib will be presenting on FastTrack and TE Connectivity's implementation process.   
Email lawdepartmentops@acc.com to attend

Date: October 27-30 ACC Annual Meeting
Sessions include Boot Camp for Leaders of Early-Stage Legal Operations; Accelerating Your Legal Operations: How to set the pace for your company; Legal Operations for Small and Midsize Company; and presentations from the 2019 ACC Value Champions about their winning ways.
 
NOVEMBER
  
Date: November 5 at 8:00 a.m. (EDT)
Regional Group: Legal Ops Europe
In this virtual roundtable, the last of the 2019 bi-monthly series hosted by ACC and Consilio, toolkits that are available to advance from Early to Intermediate stages in key law department management functions.   
 
Date: November 12 at 3:00 p.m. (EDT)
Topic: Contract Lifecycle Management Preparation (Virtual Roundtable)
Interest Group: Process, Project & Knowledge Management
Pitfalls to avoid, needs assessment, how and where to house, selecting vendors/tools/external resources
Email lawdepartmentops@acc.com to attend
 
Date:  November 14 at Noon (EDT)
Topic: Best Practices in Strategic Planning: An Interview with Robin Snasdell (Consilio)
Interest Group: Strategic Planning
Email lawdepartmentops@acc.com to attend

Date: November 14 at 2:00 p.m. (EDT)
Topic: Year in Review: Maturity Model and 2020 Agenda (Virtual Roundtable)
Interest Group: External Resource Management
Email lawdepartmentops@acc.com to attend
 
Date: November 20 at 3:00 p.m. (EDT)
Topic: Metrics for Discovery (Virtual Roundtable)
Interest Group: Information Governance & Discovery
Email lawdepartmentops@acc.com to attend
 
Date: November 21 at 1:00 p.m. (EDT)
Topic: Metrics Journey Series Part IV (Virtual Roundtable)
Interest Group: Metrics & Analytics Interest Group
Presentation by Kathleen Novak of Informatica  
Email lawdepartmentops@acc.com to attend
 
 
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How to Get More Involved in the ACC Legal Ops Community
There are many ways to get involved with and contribute to the ACC Legal Operations community and raise your professional profile. We would love to hear your ideas, learn and collaborate together!
  • Participate in or start a Regional Group to build relationships through in-person interaction. 
  • Champion the Legal Operations function - the ACC Legal Operations LinkedIn Showcase page offers peers, in-house counsel and others in the legal ecosystem leading practices shared among our members.  Help show off the value of legal ops professionals - follow it to get updates, share and tweet articles (#ACCLegalOps).
  • Let us know if you would like to be featured in or author an article in the ACC Legal Ops Observer, the ACC Docket and the LinkedIn Legal Ops showcase page (a package deal!).  
  • Be an Ambassador – many GCs are curious about the rise of legal ops, and we are communicating best practices at ACC Chapter events. We even have a “Legal Ops 101” deck you can use as a template. 

Email us to get involved - with offers to share your know-how, suggestions or any questions! LawDepartmentOps@ACC.com.

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Not a Member of ACC Legal Ops? Join Now!

Join now to get access to resources, participate in any of the Interest Groups, and use the online Member Forum for ad hoc benchmarking and referrals. The ACC Legal Ops section is active throughout the year, adding resources, conducting benchmarking studies, and providing webinars by legal operations professionals, for legal ops professionals. 

For more information, visit www.acc.com/legalops or contact LawDepartmentOps@acc.com

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Contributing Editor:

The Best Strategy is to Have One: A Practical Approach to Strategic Planning
Join us at Xchange 2020: Your Legal Ops Conference - Returning to Chicago, April 19-21, 2020
Meet the Silicon Valley Regional Group Chair, Janet Craycroft
New Benchmarking Opportunity - See How Your Department Compares in Legal Operations Maturity
Highlights from the ACC Legal Ops News & Announcements Page
Events in October and November
How to Get More Involved in the ACC Legal Ops Community
Not a Member of ACC Legal Ops? Join Now!
Our Mission
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. Follow the ACC on Twitter at @ACCinhouse #ACCLegalOps.
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