Legal departments are transforming through technology, implementing best practices and continually analyzing the work being performed by lawyers, paralegals and support staff, as well as by their outside counsel.

At the 2016 Association of Corporate Counsel annual meeting, a panel titled “Getting Lean and Mean: Transforming Legal Operations” discussed some methods, tactics and strategies legal departments could explore to advance their operations.

The panelists opened by stating that there are multiple reasons why the value of legal operations continues to grow, noting the legal department is being tasked to run like a business unit, must create efficiencies due to resource constraints,  and must reduce external spend and leverage analytics to continue to make process improvements.

A few processes named by the panelists included: convergence programs and creating a law firm panel, moving to value-based billing and implementing a matter management system. They discussed internal processes and how work with outside counsel could be improved through efficiencies and technology. As these changes are being implemented, discussions both within the legal department and with outside counsel need to move from “this is how we have always done it” to “how could we do it better.”

Once a program has been implemented to improve operations within the legal department, that program should be measured and the success shared with the relevant audience. Create goals for the program and what the program should achieve. Then begin measuring progress with metrics – and keep in mind there is no need to track everything. Target specific metrics and track those that relate to your goals. Then decide the best method of how to present those metrics to key management and leaders.

In addition, use technology to take repetitive tasks off lawyers’ plates. The aim is to be efficient and put lawyers and legal professionals on higher value work. That also applies to outside counsel in getting the firms to review and think innovatively in their use of tools and what technology-enabled services they can take on to improve their processes, work more efficiently and meet their clients’ needs.

A significant part of legal operations’ role is to effect change. This stems from the legal department knowing they are not efficient or there is room for growth. Getting people on board is vital because if a program is developed and implemented, but other people in the organization have not bought in to the change, the program likely has been a significant waste of time and resources. The panel reinforced the need for continuous improvement by showing the internal legal professionals or outside firms the benefits, what is in it for them, and to be an example for best practices. When implementing a new program or technology, create messages that resonate and have some allies and supporters.

In closing, the panel noted that success has a large impact. And while there will be failures, there will also be progress. And through continuous improvement, evaluation and change management, there will be more successes and fewer failures.

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