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ANALYSIS: Legal Operations: From Now to Next at SOLID NYC

Sept. 30, 2022, 9:00 AM

The Summit on Legal Innovation and Disruption (SOLID) event in New York last week offered a glimpse into the future of legal operations and the rise of the role of Legal Chief of Staff. The conference also hinted at the emergence of a new role in the near future—that of Legal Chief Operating Officer.

Speakers sought to answer questions about the future of work more generally: What’s coming in the next five years? Is your firm, legal department, or company ready for it?

As David Cowen, founder of The Cowen Group and creator of the SOLID event series, likes to ask: “What takes you from now to next?” That said, let’s dig into both the “now” and the “next” from this year’s speakers.

Now: Legal Ops Today

The overarching message from many speakers was that legal operations needs a seat at the table. Working directly with stakeholders outside the legal department—as well as with other business units—positively impacts a business as a whole, the speakers said.

The first thing a legal ops professional needs to think about to take their role to the next level is the legal ops stakeholder, said Seth Eichenholtz, head of e-discovery and head of Insider Threat Risk Management at Mastercard. Stakeholders could include a company’s HR personnel, its litigation team, and its privacy department, Eichenholtz said. In order for legal ops to be more than just an e-discovery project management team, he said, you need to consider the needs of your stakeholders and to really grow those relationships.

AstraZeneca‘s e-discovery Senior Service Manager Maureen Holland said that legal ops itself is a primary stakeholder for litigation and e-discovery. And in many cases, legal ops has direct responsibility for e-discovery, which has—or should have—a dotted line to litigation; and also responsibility for contracts management, which has—or should have—a dotted line to the transactional team, according to Matt Durney, head of Contract Lifecycle Management at Cimplify.

Next: What Will Legal Ops Look Like in Five Years?

While many SOLID speakers talked about how to build relationships with stakeholders and how to make sure legal ops is on track now, a number of speakers also discussed what comes next.

And the future of work is now, said Co-founder and CEO of ProSearch Julia Hasenzahl. With many employees returning to offices at least part-time, employers and employees need to focus not on getting back to the old normal, but on taking responsibility for their own work environments, wherever and whenever that is for them, Hasenzahl said. And layered into that is the need for managers to get better at leading in this new now, she said.

A big part of the future of work—and of legal ops—is talent acquisition and retention. Michael Avalos, chief branding & sourcing counsel and associate general counsel at AIG, outlined a multi-year program his company uses to introduce summer associates to different areas of the business to set them up for success as early career in-house attorneys.

Bill Shafton, general counsel and corporate secretary at Grindr, spoke about the importance of fostering diversity, and how hiring people who feel aligned with the goals and values of a business is key to talent retention.

Speaking of talent: A panel of current Legal Chiefs of Staff introduced SOLID attendees to this relatively new—and evolving—role. There are currently only about 50 such positions in the industry, Cowen said. A LCoS’s tasks and responsibilities vary, but the panel was clear that an LCoS tends to be self-motivated, have a high emotional intelligence (which is necessary to manage many departments and personalities), and is someone who generally gets stuff done.

While this role is still developing, the panel indicated the need for a Legal Chief Operating Officer—especially in bigger legal departments—in the coming years. As legal departments grow, take on more responsibilities, and participate more in cross-department and leadership initiatives, a Legal COO could complement the efforts of legal ops and the LCoS, the panelists said.

The Step After Next

Many of the talks at SOLID made intuitive sense: Legal needs a seat at the table; Understand your audience; Build relationships; Talent is everything. But what do we do with that? Where do we go now to point in the right direction for the future?

If you’re a legal ops professional (or looking to become one), you know that it’s all about the people and the process. Focus on building relationships to really understand the stakeholders, and then use this understanding to better the processes. The business impact from both will be invaluable as you build the footprint of legal operations and your own career.

Bloomberg Law subscribers can find related content on our Legal Operations, and In Focus: Legal Technology pages.

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