In 2019, if you had told a legal operations manager they’d be carrying their organization through a pandemic, global recession, civil unrest, volatile politics and devastating natural disasters, you wouldn’t have been surprised if they quit on the spot.
We know now that legal operations professionals are not a luxury. Legal ops departments comprise incredibly smart and resourceful people—people who jumped into action at the beginning of the recession, taking stock and battening down the hatches. The good news is, this quick thinking helped them weather the initial shock, and now legal operations teams are looking to “get back to normal” and execute again. The bad news is, we’re only six months deep into a war that’s far from over.
Clients and colleagues in every industry have echoed that COVID-19 acted as a catalyst, forcing legal departments to take a long-overdue look at how they function. In this blog post we’ll explore the metrics driving legal operations teams in the current reality of remote work and tight budgets.
First, let’s touch on the business conditions that created these new priorities.
Project Freezes and Budget Cuts
In April Bloomberg Law reported on corporate legal departments hit with pay cuts, budget reductions and hiring freezes. Corporate counsel’s favorite way to trim the fat? Bringing more work in-house. Legal spending is under a microscope, with General Counsel analyzing how, why and which projects are outsourced to other law companies, outside counsel and legal service providers. Human resources are busy balancing out the need cut costs whilst legal departments are focused on ensuring delivery of legal services in the wake of budget reduction.
Automation: Doing More with Less
Bloomberg also observed that one investment area is spared from the chopping block: vendors that automate legal tasks such as the contract management process. Small corporate legal departments have neither the budget to continue sending high value work to outside law firms nor the bodies to absorb the extra responsibilities. Instead, General Counsel is relying on automation for low value, low risk projects, freeing legal teams to focus on more substantial work.
How Legal Ops Answers the Call
The recession and remote work transition drove home the need for lean systems and the digital tools that enable efficiency—changes legal operations teams have been pushing for years. No longer is the importance of a centralized, organized digital repository even a question.
And so, against the backdrop of such dramatic transformations, many legal ops departments began tracking new metrics: business continuity, legal technology ROI and internal matter automation.
Since traditional legal ops metrics aren’t always quantitative benchmarks (how do you assign numbers to succession planning?) and aren’t always measured exactly the same way at every company, neither are these. Some of you might consider to be extensions of existing KPIs, such as knowledge management and vendor management. However, there’s no doubt that these legal ops metrics are “new” in the sense that the stakes have never been higher.
Metric #1: Business Continuity
Legal operations functions traditionally bridge HR, marketing and finance departments, contributing to activities like legal staffing, analyzing bills and tracking the new business pipeline.
The pandemic tapped legal operations professionals for a new skill: crisis management. This ranges from the granular (what do we prioritize on a day-to-day basis to keep ourselves afloat?) to the big picture (with service delivery impacted, how do we continue to meet customer and partner demand?) to, of course, the financial (what expenses can we live without?)
Christina Sindoni Ciocca, General Counsel at Travelzoo, said tight budgets presented an opportunity to set the company up for long-term success. Taking stock of Travelzoo’s assets with thorough vendor management forced her team to streamline business processes in addition to legal processes: “We’ve been doing a full evaluation of all our vendors, what their legal contract terms are, how much we’re paying and when agreements terminate.”
Christina added: “Having technology to help us do that makes it so much easier.”
Metric #2: Legal Technology ROI
As General Counsel scrambles to control expenses, they’re finally embracing legal technology partners with open arms. Stephanie Corey, Co-founder of UpLevel and Corporate Legal Operations Consortium (CLOC), describes the quick adoption curve for legal technology:
“There used to be all these security hoops you had to jump through just to get the company to adopt a billing system. Visit to the headquarters, infosec meetings, reviews of their infrastructure. Now it’s like, ‘I hope your dial up is good.’”
Despite reductions in legal spending, Stephanie is seeing investment in legal technology and alternative legal service providers (ALSPs) who can prove value. Contract management platforms, for example, provide data points for every dollar leaving the organization, allowing legal operations teams to flag cost saving opportunities.
Stephanie continued: “Let’s say the internal cost of an attorney is $200 an hour, and your product gives them back 20% of the time they spend every week on, say, the contract management process. That’s almost an extra $100,000 a year. If you can pinpoint a productivity gain, you can show the business you’ve saved them money.”
Metric #3: Internal Matter Automation
This last metric can be considered a convergence of the earlier two: measuring legal ops departments on how they deploy legal technology to maximize business strategy planning. Specifically, it focuses on using automation to knock out operational tasks so that in-house resources can tackle more demanding problems.
Both Stephanie and Christina reiterated Bloomberg Law’s observation that high value work is getting pulled in-house. As Stephanie says, “You don’t want the brain surgeon stitching up your cut finger.” Low risk, high volume work is either automated or outsourced to ALSPs.
She gave an example: “Bigger corporate legal departments are focusing on internal matter management by automating intake. This gives them a good snapshot of the work being done in the legal department—how work is getting routed and who’s doing what and when.”
Christina confirmed. “To the extent that I’m able to minimize the admin work and get team members to focus on the more substantive things, that’s all the better. If you find that your team is stuck doing a lot of admin work, it’s a great time to bring in [automation] technology. 9 times out of 10, there’s something that can do it way more efficiently.”
The Legal Operations Investment That Pays for Itself
Moving into 2021 efficient information governance will become the deciding factor between a successful or a struggling business enterprise.
Chiefs of staff and heads of legal operations are leaning more and more on artificial intelligence-based contract management technology and data analytics to liberate in-house lawyers and legal team members to pursue higher priority tasks.
Evisort’s AI-enabled contract management platform has saved legal teams thousands of hours of manual labor while providing 100% visibility into workflows. If reducing logistical bottlenecks is your game, Evisort’s the name.
Evisort streamlines legal workflows using AI to classify contracts, extract data and track key provisions within documents. Its clean, end-to-end solution automates the entire lifecycle of a contract. Draft, review, sign, store, negotiate and manage your most important business documents without ever leaving the platform. Contact us for a demo today. If you found this article interesting then you may be interested to read “drafting advice for commerical real estate leases”.