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What the Heck is Legal Operations Anyway: Recapping the Corporate Legal Operations Institute

Created on May 12, 2016


Solutions Consultant at Exterro

Project Management for Law Firms When you run a search for “CLOC," and especially if you toggle over to images, you likely aren't seeing anything related to legal operations. In fact, it looks a bit more like the picture to the right.

But that's all about to change. Recently, CLOC (Corporate Legal Operations Consortium) achieved a significant milestone in its maturation, and I was there to see it unfold as they hosted the first Annual Corporate Legal Operations Institute in San Francisco the first week of May. It was successfully organized and delivered by the CLOC Leadership Team to fulfill the mission of “help[ing] legal operations professionals and other core corporate legal industry players (e.g. tech providers, law firms, LPO's, law schools, etc.) optimize the legal service delivery models needed to support the needs of small, medium and large legal departments."

I've been pretty deeply immersed in the sales (and previously, the implementation) of e-discovery software and hadn't really thought about “the big picture" in a long, long time. Exterro is a small company, and we like it that way; we have a Legal Department of one (Hi, Bob!) and legal operations is a far away concept. BUT! If you are not small and you have a reasonable sized Legal Department that interacts in other parts of the organization (compliance, RIM, HR, etc.) then you have an operational need that you may or may not have really thought about. I know I hadn't, and this conference was very enlightening.


The corporate Legal Department (and let's not forget law firms) have traditionally operated with a reactive, “hair-on-fire" approach. This is not entirely their fault. Litigation and regulatory events are deadline-centric and there's a lot of moving parts. Sure, there are some corporate lawyers who are reviewing contracts or executive employment agreements and maybe only have a bit of their hair on fire; however, for more organizations than not, a significant portion of the lawyers' and paralegals' day is spent putting out fires.

Legal operations embraces the idea that it doesn't have to be this way. The Legal Department can be a well-tuned, efficient, relatively stress free (yes, I did just say that!) part of the organization, just like HR and Accounting and Operations and Facilities. How is this possible, you ask?

I don't begin to have all the answers, but CLOC sure does a fantastic job of bringing this into focus. At the first Annual Corporate Legal Operations Institute there were tracks on Electronic Signature, E-Discovery, Outsourcing & Metrics, Legal Operations Management, Matter & Contract Management, Strategy & Planning, Working with Law Firms, all of which made up over 50 sessions at this inaugural event. There were at least that many sponsors present and over 500 legal operations professionals. What a turn-out for year #1!

It's truly hard to find time to sit down and map out a plan for making a Legal Department be efficient and operational in all the right ways. Just as is true with any initiative, it's important to start small and have a plan, otherwise it will be too overwhelming. So here are a few thoughts about how to begin:

1. Check out www.cloc.org – they are a national organization dedicated to this very thing

2. Check out www.acc.com/legalops/ - the Association of Corporate Counsel also has great resources

3. Think about what you're good at … rallying resources, coming up with the vision, being the one who executes the plan, or facilitation. Find other people who believe in this cause and who are good at the things you are not. Form an internal committee and white board the plan.

4. Consider all the ways in which Legal Operations can benefit the entire organization. Imagine the rock star you will be when you are able to deliver to executive leadership information about the Legal Department that is measurable, accurate and useful.

5. Update your resume with all the amazing ways you've contributed to the organization's goals and mission and maybe even demand a pay raise!

This is very real and it's here today. If you need something to really sink your teeth into, consider exploring how legal operations can be part of your organization.

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