Legal operations comes to London: key messages from the CLOC EMEA Institute’s inaugural London conference

CLOC EMEA Institute held its first London conference on 23 January 2018.

Since its formation in the US in 2009, CLOC has grown exponentially: see Blog post, The emerging disruptor: the legal operations team. Its forthcoming headline event in Las Vegas is expected to be attended by 2,500 people visiting 90 curated sessions.

Last week’s UK event was likewise action-packed, with sessions focusing on how attendees have applied aspects of CLOC’s twelve core competencies (from knowledge management through vendor management to data analytics), and exploring how legal operations professionals can assist in managing current high-profile issues such as GDPR implementation and the application of AI in the legal workplace.

For those unable to attend either event, here is a summary of the key takeaway points from last week.

You need to be in the room to help design the solutions

In opening the conference, Connie Brenton, President and CEO of CLOC, also Chief of Staff and Senior Director of Legal Operations at NetApp, sought to address a question that some of the GCs present might have been asking themselves: “Why am I here?”

Her answer was that “the industry is changing, and the people in this room are changing it”: the conference was an opportunity for GCs to meet some of the people and providers changing the legal industry, and hear some success stories from those who have effected positive change. Moreover, as Professor Richard Susskind highlighted, “real legal change comes from the market”: law firms will not change their offering unless in-house teams demand it.

Whether or not GCs and their legal teams can actually make it to such events, the importance of them being involved in designing their organisation’s legal operations strategy came across loud and clear from speakers on the day.

Legal operations professionals can play a vital role in helping in-house teams achieve their aims

Once in-house teams have worked out what they want, they need to decide how to deliver it. The conference therefore also addressed another question that GCs might have been asking themselves: “Should I bring someone in to manage our legal operations?”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the response was that legal operations professionals are vital to helping in-house teams improve the way in which they deliver legal services.

Many of the changes that legal teams want or need to make are about causing disruption. Legal operations projects require tenacity to see them through: a quality that legal ops professionals tend to have in spades (they were described on the day as “pitbulls…but the nicest of the nicest pitbulls”). I agree; it is certainly not a profession for the faint-hearted. Legal teams may be concerned about selling the idea of recruiting a legal operations professional to the business, in which case they may find it useful to cite the view of Mary O’Carroll (Head of Legal Operations at Google) that “[t]hese roles pay for themselves in the first month in terms of return on investment”.

However, even if a legal team does not plan to recruit a legal ops professional, they can benefit from staying informed about changes in the marketplace and studying the experiences of those who have worked on similar projects when it comes to making changes to the way in which their legal departments are managed.

Practical Law has published case studies examining how two different organisations have implemented legal technology, which may be of interest: Article, Case study: Royal Mail’s legal operations transformation – from Initial Public Offering to Internal Process Optimisation and Article, Legal technology case study: how Reckitt Benckiser adopted contract automation technology.

Top tips for legal operations pitbulls

In the spirit of collaboration, which is central to CLOC’s ethos, attendees shared their views on how legal operations professionals (or anyone responsible for optimising a legal team) can perform most effectively in their jobs and create value for their organisation. These included

  • Do not be disheartened by the scale of the task. What a legal operations individual can do will depend on the resources s/he has. The more staff you have, the more you can do. However, even those legal ops “teams” which comprise a single individual can achieve a lot, and they should aim to build resources as and where they can.
  • Start by asking (a lot of) questions. The first step in formulating a legal operations programme is to ask a lot of questions of a lot of people in your organisation to find out what you need to tackle. Begin with the GC and find out what they want to achieve. If you do not have the time or resource to conduct an in-depth survey of your organisation, you could use the “elevator pitch” suggested by Steve Harmon (Vice President and Deputy General Counsel at Cisco): “Do you think your legal department is supporting the business in an optimal way? If not, why?” This will introduce a conversation about operational inefficiencies, which can help you identify your priorities. One size does not fit all and your organisation may have different needs and priorities to those of its peers.
  • Consider external benchmarking. Having said that, external benchmarking can be extremely helpful, allowing you to clarify your position and work out what could you do differently.
  • Remember that most in-house teams are continually having to “do more with less”. To show the value of what you are doing as a legal operations professional:
    • Identify low-hanging fruit. Start by making changes that are quick and easy but have a positive impact on the bottom line. This does not have to be buying a new tool but can be a change to a process, or culture.
    • Focus on metrics. Gather data from the very beginning. You can only truly measure the effectiveness of your team, internal and external, with data.  Once you have the data, convert it into “news you can use”, and then tell your story to whoever you need to convince to enable you to make the changes you have identified as necessary.

Don’t get left behind

A final message, which was implicit throughout the entire day, is that however organisations choose to respond to the related phenomena of legal operations and legal technology, the important thing is that they react. A Bill Gates quote from the conference session on machine learning is applicable to the current changes in the legal services industry as a whole:

“We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten. Don’t let yourself be lulled into inaction.”


SBV Consulting Sarah Barrett-Vane

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