The legal operations function has seen a significant evolution in the last few decades. Traditionally, legal departments operated on a “this is the way we’ve always done things” approach, making decisions based on gut instinct. Today, however, they have transformed into proactive business partners where every decision is data-driven.
Legal operations, or legal ops, encompasses activities that optimize corporate legal services. This role has grown to include strategic planning, financial management, project management, and technology expertise that allows legal professionals to focus on providing legal advice. Legal ops has the power to transform a department, assembling data analysts, business leaders, and paralegals who approach a company’s challenges in a novel way, and providing solutions to the problems that businesses face today.
The role of legal operations has evolved over time, influenced by several key trends. These include re-examining workflows to address redundancies and inefficiencies, leveraging technology strategically, and outsourcing strategically.
The future of legal operations looks promising, with several predictions indicating continued growth and transformation. According to KPMG, by 2025, half of the legal team may not be lawyers. As legal processes are improved and standardized, the traditional legal function hierarchy will likely morph into a more agile and cost-effective structure. Automated solutions, chatbots, and other forms of productized legal services will become more prevalent, supported by a multidisciplinary workforce with different skill sets.
The importance of client experience in legal delivery is predicted to rise, reflecting standards set by the business-to-consumer space. As the market for legal services evolves, businesses may have more options to seek help from external legal service providers, creating new competitive threats for lawyers in-house.
Standardized legal work is expected to be permanently subsumed into the business, with routine legal work moving out of the legal team’s hands and into the business. This will permanently change the scope of legal services that legal functions deliver, tightening risk management and producing efficiency gains while freeing up time for leaner legal teams to focus on higher value work.
Moreover, contracting processes are predicted to go completely online, slashing time to complete deals. Contract negotiation may migrate to technology platforms that enable faster communication, better collaboration, and access to market data in real time2.
To drive these changes, managing culture and shifting mindsets will be essential. Legal teams will need to lead a huge shift in mindset across the organization, arming themselves with new skills, and demonstrating their commitment to realizing the transformation’s benefits.
The role of Legal Chief Operations Officers will be just as important as General Counsels in this new landscape. The scale of transformation predicted will put legal function leadership to the test, demanding leaders with the time and skill set to ensure their operating models can fulfill the full slate of traditional and new demands.
In conclusion, the evolution of the legal operations function has been driven by a combination of technology, changing business needs, and an increased focus on efficiency and data-driven decision-making. The future of this role promises further growth and transformation, positioning legal operations at the heart of legal departments and businesses as a whole. Legal operations professionals will continue to play a crucial role in shaping the future of legal services, as they help navigate the ongoing challenges and opportunities that arise in this fast-paced, dynamic field.