Blog/Podcast: Has Your Firm Embraced Legal Operations?

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Although the industry still has a way to go before fully embracing legal operations, more firms and in-house legal departments are benefitting from a legal operations manager.

So, what will legal operations look like in the future? David Cambria, Global Director of Legal Operations at Baker McKenzie, joined the Law Firm Marketing Catalyst podcast to share his thoughts and predictions. Read on to learn about the role an operations manager plays and how firms can get the most out of the operations department.

Why Law Firms Are Focusing on Legal Operations Now

Although some firms have been thinking about operations and “future-proofing” the business for some time, the importance of legal operations has only been recognized in the mainstream in the last decade or so. What sparked the change? Much of it stems from the 2008 recession, when legal demand went flat. Firms suddenly realized that they needed to start putting some rigor around legal operations in order to meet client needs.

Although law firms remain about 10 years behind in terms of business maturity, David believes that because of market forces and new learning, firms will progress faster than in-house departments did. We’ll see a confluence of capability on both sides of the aisle, which should have an interesting effect on market dynamics.

Finally, other organizations that have entered the legal space are putting pressure on law firms. Firms have to figure out not only how to be the provider of choice for legal counsel, but also  essentially all of the service pieces that surround legal advice. Attorneys are realizing that operations can help them compete with these disruptive companies.

The Role of a Good Firm Operations Manager

In today’s market, a lawyer’s legal knowledge is not enough. There is a whole set of skills that fits on top of this, and that’s what makes a lawyer more valuable and his or her advice more meaningful. Business discipline, processes, financial rigor and data analytics can set two otherwise equal lawyers apart, and a good operations manager will help build those insights and skills across the firm.

David’s overarching goal is to reduce the friction that comes up between firm and client when the scope of work, and the delivery of that work, isn’t optimized. He wants to keep clients focused on Baker McKenzie as a firm of choice across many value dimensions—not just legal knowledge that they could get at any other firm.

This doesn’t happen across every client or the entire lawyer population within the firm overnight. For that reason, operations managers also need to have constant conversations to create understanding and get buy-in. Lawyers have varying degrees of sophistication when it comes to operations and a successful operations manager will meet them where they are.

What Lawyers Can Do to Support Successful Operations

Lawyers will get the most out of operations support by coming to every conversation with an open mind. A lot of operations strategies are brand new to partners, so they should be clear-eyed about their goals and willing to try new tactics to achieve them. Lawyers need to understand what their clients are asking for and allow operations staff to walk with them while they explore different ways to provide service. It’s also often the case that the best operations solutions will not be exactly as they had envisioned in the first place, so lawyers need to be flexible and open to change.

Math skills are also critical for working with operations. Better data and insights will allow the operations manager to understand the root causes of any pain points. Lawyers shouldn’t be afraid of tracking and crunching numbers to figure out better processes.

Finally, independent lawyers can benefit significantly from learning to collaborate with others. Clients aren’t just buying legal knowledge—they also want to buy the collective wisdom and insights of the firm. Offering holistic solutions to clients requires attorneys to work with other firm professionals, including operations staff.

What Legal Operations Will Look Like in the Future

On the in-house side, operations will continue to be a core component of corporate law departments. Today, the distance between those that are very skilled and those who are brand new to operations is quite large, but that gap will shrink as more people expand their skillset.

David also believes that we’ll continue to see crossover between law firms and in-house law departments. Operations skills will transfer nicely from one type of organization to another because, in essence, many things these attorneys are doing are similar in nature. The scope, motivations and incentives change slightly, but ultimately, it’s all about the effective and efficient delivery of legal services.

The good news? We’re going to see even more rigor and insights stemming from operations. As legal practitioners become educated on operations, their questions will become more challenging, which will demand more of the people doing the work. This will drive better, faster and more insightful ways to meet the needs of an ever-evolving base of lawyers.

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