The Corporate Legal Operations Consortium (CLOC) held its annual global institute in Las Vegas earlier this month, featuring more than 2,000 attendees, 200 speakers, 75 sessions, and a bustling exhibit hall. The event brought together the growing legal operations community for an in-person event for the first time since 2019, and drew some of the most innovative legal professionals from around the world to discuss the future of legal ops.
It’s no surprise that the pandemic had a huge impact on legal operations—and, obviously, on the legal profession at large. When thinking back to the conference, it’s clear to me that Covid-19 left an impact, but also became a driver for change.
So where does legal ops go from here? The following are four key takeaways from the conference that will help shape the future of legal operations and lay the foundation for the industry moving forward.
1. Defining the scope of legal operations
First and foremost, we—as a field—need to define legal operations. Despite its growth, legal operations has remained a nebulous idea for many, perhaps because there’s no definitive explanation of its functions, scope, and professional roles. I vividly recall the words of Mary O’Carroll, the chief community officer at Ironclad, during her session, “From Legal Ops to Strategic Ops": “We need to define our roles before they are defined for us.”
Innovation will continue to transform the legal industry—an industry that’s often said to be resistant to change—and legal operations professionals can be vehicles for this change.
In turn, it’s important for legal ops professionals to become leaders and agents for innovation in the industry. O’Carroll referred to this as “strategic ops,” which shifts the focus from improving existing processes to redesigning through a clear, strategic vision.
2. Using metrics that matter
There’s been a huge shift in recent years towards using metrics to better manage legal departments and firms. CGI presenters highlighted this trend in numerous conference sessions, and I left Vegas with the word “metrics” echoing in my head.
And while metrics are deemed to be essential by many legal operations professionals, there doesn’t seem to be a consensus on which ones are most critical to the field, as was evident at CLOC. At a session on the transformation of modern legal departments, one panelist said that the most important metrics for corporate legal departments were spend, efficiency, quality, and volume. But an alternate panelist said that the most important metrics for an organization are likely to vary from team to team.
Regardless of what metrics are being measured, it was clear from the panelists that if you’re not measuring what matters, you’re not doing it right! It’s interesting to note, then, that in Bloomberg Law’s 2022 Legal Ops & Tech Survey, the majority of respondents (67%) reported that their organizations are not formally measuring legal operations value, or aren’t sure whether or not their organization currently has a way to do so.
One explanation for these results may be that because the scope of legal operations is still being defined, the respondents weren’t sure what metrics necessarily fall under the legal ops umbrella. However, the survey results may also highlight a widespread lack in the use of metrics in the legal field, which reinforces the need for organizations to use metrics to better understand the true value of legal operations.
3. Implementing and enhancing DEI & ESG efforts
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) and Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) were two extremely hot topics at the conference. While we’ve recently seen strides in DEI efforts, ESG—despite some progress—has been slower to make its way onto the corporate agenda.
Legal operations can play a key role in continuing to bring initiatives for these programs to the forefront and to assist companies in navigating issues surrounding the two. You might ask: How? Well, one session covered the impact that utilizing the skill sets and reach of legal ops professionals can have on an organization’s DEI and ESG journey, specifically because of their ability to use innovative technology, their access to company-wide resources, and their capacity to be forward-thinkers.
DEI in particular was discussed in almost every session, which was great to hear, but also concerning because of the progress that still needs to be made. Moving forward, organizations should incorporate DEI initiatives into their operations whenever possible, and find metrics to measure their progress. As previously stated, metrics matter—and they can and should be used in the DEI and ESG context to measure whether current organizational initiatives are truly moving the needle.
4. Viewing technology as a tool, not a solution
Almost instantly, Covid-19 exposed the legal profession’s need for technological advancement. While the immediate focus of legal technology during the pandemic was to get remote work capabilities up and running, CLOC revealed some of the longer-term effects that the pandemic has had on legal tech, such as the new, higher priority given to the digitization of processes, data management, and contract lifecycle management.
And although tech adoption is a key component to the evolution of legal ops, an overarching theme across the CLOC consortium’s panels was that technology itself is only a relatively small piece of the puzzle. While we must continue to prioritize legal tech as an essential tool, we must also remember that it’s a facilitator and not a catch-all solution to meeting the demands of the changing legal landscape.
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