When examining the world of corporate legal over the last 10 to 15 years, there is one trend that clearly stands out: it is evolving. One of the best indicators of the evolution is the role of legal operations. A few decades ago, a role focused exclusively on the business aspects of legal was nearly unheard of. Today, the legal operations function is not only a pillar in most Fortune 500 legal departments, but it is also a growing area of focus across the spectrum of the corporate landscape, including small and medium-sized businesses.
While it is easy to see the growing role of legal operations, it is much more difficult to define the exact responsibilities of legal operation professionals. Depending on the organization, legal operations could be any mixture of legal technology support, project managers, process managers, risk managers, administrators, and relationship managers. As difficult as this role is to define, the goal of legal operations can be defined as “let lawyers be lawyers”. That is, eliminating redundant tasks, allowing your legal staff to perform at the top of their license and super-charge their productivity.
There are a number of levers that a legal operations professional can use to improve business processes for the legal department. One critical tool to set the foundation for such processes would be enterprise legal management (ELM) software. To gain a better understanding of how ELM can be used as a tool, here are three examples of how eCounsel – one of Mitratech’s suite of products for legal departments of all sizes — can optimize efficient legal operations.
As a manager of legal operations, one of your responsibilities may be generating and distributing meaningful reports to the senior staff. Strategic decisions can only be made with clear insight into the department’s data, and reports are only as useful as the data available to be reported on. An effective way to guarantee the usefulness of the data collected is to enforce a process for your staff to follow.
For example, leadership has issued a directive to reduce spend and strategically utilize outside counsel. The first step to accomplish this goal is to evaluate outside counsel performance. As a result, your team has placed a number of criteria that your staff can use to measure and evaluate outside counsel performance such as cost, lifecycle of matters, and optimal matter outcomes to benefit your organization. To ensure this information is filled out, a business rule can be configured into eCounsel that requires your staff to fill out this information before a matter closes. This automatic enforcement will drive accurate reporting for your leadership to evaluate outside counsel, and enables the team to accomplish the original directive with data available at their fingertips.
Uncovering Key Metrics
As legal departments become increasingly business oriented, Key Performance Indicators regulated by a legal operations professional have become the standard. One of the ways to drive better outcomes in these key areas is to bring awareness of them to your team.
In eCounsel, this can be accomplished in a number of ways. For example, to ensure no matters slip through the cracks and become major liabilities, you create a “tickler” report on the homepages of your attorneys in the system alerting them when a matter sits idle for too long. Tickler reports will ensure that nothing is being missed, and there are no blind spots in your department.
As legal departments become increasingly business oriented, Key Performance Indicators — regulated by a legal operations professional — have become the standard. One of the ways to drive better outcomes in these key areas is to bring awareness of them to your team.
One of the many ways eCounsel could be utilized to identify and track KPIs is through reporting. Corporate legal departments must drive value for their organization, and thus have become more focused on tracking legal spend and the management of budgets.
Reporting is typically done on metrics to answer questions such as:
- Who is working on what?
- What types of matters are we working on?
- What is our legal spend?
These metrics can certainly be useful, but as a legal department becomes more business and tech-savvy the questions asked by the department become correspondingly complex. By utilizing eCounsel, you can move beyond simply reporting on metrics to answering these critical questions:
- “Are we getting the best value for this work?”
- “How are we doing against our usual trends?”
- “Which outside counsel firm are we utilizing for our litigation matters, and what percentage of those matters have returned favorable results for us?”
Utilizing the reporting tools in eCounsel, you — as a legal operations professional — can start to delve into these more advanced metrics. One report that many eCounsel users leverage is cycle time. Cycle time is tracking how long matters are taking from open to close, and comparing that to the average time it takes for those matter types to close. This report is widely used because it is applicable to a number of areas. For example, how long is it taking the department to close litigation cases against the historical average or how long is it taking for the department to review and redline contracts compared to the past? These cycle times can provide key insight into how responsive the department is to its business partners or , in the case of litigation, examine if the department is doing all it can to settle cases before they incur heavy outside counsel fees. The ability to understand and visual these key trends in the department allows you as the legal operations professional to proactively manage and address any trends that are detrimental to your departments performance.
Collaboration and Knowledge Management
Legal is historically a relationship-based and collaborative environment. From legal precedent to opinions from colleagues, lawyers rely on their personal expertise just as much as they lean on the experiences and advice of other legal experts to effectively manage their matters. With this in mind, one of your goals is to encourage the collaboration your legal team relies on.
eCounsel allows your staff to have a holistic view of each matter in the system. All of the dates, documents, progress notes, the involved parties, and any relevant piece of information associated to the matter are housed inside that matter’s record. As multiple people work on a matter, all of the information they collect is condensed and presented in an easy-to-digest and useful way. Of course, when someone goes on vacation or has to pass off a case for any particular reason this is an imperative tool. However, the real power comes from the relations that are created between similar matters in eCounsel. Over time, your department will develop its own database of linked matters providing a wealth of knowledge for your staff. Such information allows the team to reference past matter outcomes to prevent the team from “reinventing the wheel” every time they begin work on a new matter.
As the legal world continues to evolve and change, the role of a legal operations professional becomes essential. Whether aiding collaboration, enforcing process, or tracking key metrics, the demand on legal operations continues to grow and with that growth the need for tools to help carry that burden becomes clearer.