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Rise of the legal
department operations
manager

More and more legal departments are embracing the benefits of the legal department operations (LDO) manager, according to the 2016 Thomson Reuters Legal Department In-Sourcing and Efficiency Report. This position is quickly becoming an invaluable role for large and medium-size departments, and the skills and ideals of the role are vital for all sizes of legal departments. According to the Efficiency Report, LDO professionals represent a meaningful opportunity for departments to drive greater efficiencies and empower in-house attorneys to spend more time on the actual practice of law.

To gain a greater understanding of the role, we had a conversation with pioneers and professionals in this area. We spoke with Connie Brenton and Dana Varney on what they have experienced in the role and how it can benefit other organizations. Connie is the chief of staff and director of legal operations at the approximately 80-person legal department of NetApp, servicing more than 10,000 global employees. Connie is also the founder of the Corporate Legal Operations Consortium (CLOC), a global association that began in January 2016 and already has 400 operations executive members representing 300 companies and growing. Dana is the senior legal and global compliance manager at FireEye, Inc., where she runs a lean two-person team – herself included – within the 28-person legal department, supporting approximately 3,200 global employees.

What I wish I knew then …

As a pioneer in the field of legal department operations, Connie has been at the forefront of leading change at NetApp, as well as the legal industry at-large. Because lawyers and large corporations prefer the status quo, she has encountered a great deal of resistance and skepticism as she has championed innovation and change in areas such as right sourcing, implementing cutting-edge technologies, and changing the way the department engages law firms and handles fixed fees and other financial issues. Her advice to those just starting out is poignant and insightful. She shares, “You have to have thick skin to succeed in this role. This is a job for those who can drive constant change while enduring others’ resistance to it. Adaptability and a tolerance for risk are also essential to creating efficiency and effectiveness in such a complex environment. Things don’t always go smoothly or how you expect, but those who don’t waiver in their efforts to achieve the vision set with the GC will see big wins.”

The other critical factor to success in legal operations is building relationships – within the legal department and across the company. Connie asserts it is imperative for an LDO professional to develop strong relationships with general counsel staff and cross-functional colleagues, both inside and outside the legal department. Furthermore, it is also important to find a quick win early on and execute to build confidence. Just as relationships within your organization department are valuable, Connie counsels it is also important to build networks outside of the company to share best practices across different departments and industries. This is the primary priority of CLOC.

As the operations lead for an in-house department, Dana adds you must take the time to educate the entire company about your role, responsibilities, and contributions. Dana advises “Many of your colleagues may have very little knowledge or understanding of the function of legal operations. Whether your legal department has a newly created legal operations function or if legal operations is just one of the many ‘hats you wear,’ you need to become a ‘legal operations evangelist’ within your legal department as well as cross functionally.” This could be as simple as conducting a survey or interviews to get a pulse on the company or offering to present at team meetings to explain the role and how it connects throughout the organization. Explains Dana, “This will help ensure you have support from your team as well as the cross-functional teams you will engage with on various legal operation initiatives.”

Harbinger of legal tech

Legal department operations managers are often seen as change agents – the individuals who bring greater innovation and deploy new technologies within the legal department. Both Connie and Dana have a few technologies/solutions they feel have strongly impacted their organizations.

Connie swears by electronic signature (Adobe Sign) and workflow technologies (ThinkSmart’s TAP). She explains, “These two related technologies are easy to implement, they can benefit every team within a company, and they create efficiencies and improved governance, quickly and inexpensively.”

Dana has found success with e-billing, electronic signatures (DocuSign), and global subsidiary management technologies (Blueprint). According to Dana, “These technologies are relatively inexpensive, simple to implement, and the training for the users is extremely easy.” Even better, these solutions allow for visibility into cross-functional teams, including finance, tax, HR, sales and procurement, allowing colleagues to have access to these tools and use them on a daily basis. “By implementing these tools,” explains Dana, “there is greater transparency, enhanced compliance, and one source of truth.”

It is incumbent on the legal department professional to not only identify the right solution, but to ensure widespread adoption. Accordingly, the innovative practices that legal department operations managers like Dana and Connie are creating and perfecting may eventually become industry standards that see widespread adoption among legal departments.

What your department can do now

According to the Efficiency Report, only 21% of respondents have an operations role within their legal departments. While not all GCs are ready to create a fully dedicated operations role, it doesn’t mean that some of the best practices cannot be incorporated across all legal departments. “Even if there is no formal legal operations function or budget for new tools, you can find ways to leverage existing technologies that the company is already using,” shares Dana.

Connie suggests that, regardless of size, all legal departments must “stay informed.” Joining professional organizations like CLOC or the Legal Department Operations section of the Association of Corporate Counsel will help in this area. “Stay current on what is available and happening even if your department might not be able to currently fund a resource or technology,” Connie recommends. “The industry is getting more mature and as the operations function grows; implementing processes, hiring people, and buying technology will become easier and will become more available to buyers of every size and in every industry.”

Dana adds that it is important to evaluate what the current needs of your legal department are, which includes understanding the company’s future growth along with the possibility of constriction. “Both scenarios will provide opportunities to show the value you and your legal department can bring as a strategic partner to the business,” she explains. She also recommends CLOC’s new Emerging Legal Department chapter, focused on those individuals and organizations who are just adopting the legal operations position and ideals. The benefits of collaboration among other legal operations professionals are invaluable. According to Dana, it is important to hear “firsthand what others are doing to implement new processes, technology tools, how to advocate for a project budget (when there isn't one), how to work with cross-functional teams, and how to leverage their resources (people and budget), learn of best practices, and more.”

A growing profession – the sky’s the limit

Both women see much promise in the future of legal department operations and the impact this role can have for in-house legal departments. The energy exuded by both Connie and Dana, and reflected across this growing profession, is palpable. Connie observes that the legal industry knows major change is coming, and many participants in the corporate legal services industry are working hard to make it happen. She optimistically sees the profession and the legal department operations role full of “innovation, creativity, and an endless opportunity to alter an industry for the better.” Adds Dana, “The sky’s the limit!”

About the legal ops professionals

Connie Brenton

Connie Brenton is a pioneer in legal operations and widely regarded as one of the world’s foremost experts on legal industry innovation. For more than five years she has served as chief of staff and director of legal operations at NetApp Inc., a Fortune 500 data management and storage provider. As the company’s first legal operations professional, Connie has led the development and implementation of numerous cutting-edge technologies and processes focused on increasing service to the business and decreasing spend. Connie has been active in developing and promoting the legal operations role throughout the business and legal communities. She is the founder, and chairman of the board of the Corporate Legal Operations Consortium (CLOC), a trade association for legal operations executives that embraces the entire legal ecosystem. She writes and speaks internationally on the topic of “Running Legal Like a Business.” Connie holds a JD, MBA, and BA in Economics.

Dana Varney

Dana is a legal operations professional with nearly 20 years experience in the corporate legal and legal operations space. She is passionate about improving business processes and creating efficiencies all while building camaraderie within legal departments. She has spent 17 years working in Silicon Valley, at NetApp (14 years) and FireEye (3 years). Prior to moving to Silicon Valley, she worked for the Orange County Public Defender in Southern California. Her Juris Doctorate (JD) is from Western State University College of Law and she holds a Bachelor of Science degree from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo.


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