Undoubtedly one of the most significant developments in the legal industry over the past several years has been the changing face of the corporate legal department, especially around how in-house lawyers do their daily jobs and interact with each other and with outside counsel.
This change within the legal profession has brought about an undeniable wave of maturation and innovation on in-house legal teams, leading to a growing dependence on the importance of legal operations and the professionals that manage them.
That level of growth is precisely what keeps Corporate Legal Operations Consortium (CLOC) President Mary O’Carroll up at night, asking herself questions such as: What does the legal profession of the future look like? And how do legal operations best t in?
Forum asked O’Carroll to expand on these questions; we also asked CLOC, which began as a book club of loosely knit friends and colleagues (as CLOC legend goes), to become a closed forum for legal operations professionals that is 2,500-plus members strong.
A New President, a Fresh Vision
Earlier this year O’Carroll, Director of the Legal Operations, Technology & Strategy team at Google®, was voted in as president of CLOC. She gave her first keynote speech at the CLOC Institute in Las Vegas. The Institute has become so relevant that the coveted “diamond sponsorship” for vendors sold out in less than an hour for the 2019 Institute. With so much momentum behind the organization, the president has big plans for CLOC, both regionally and globally; but she is quick to point out, this isn’t about growing the organization for the sake of bolstering membership numbers or world domination.
For O’Carroll, this is about CLOC’s starring role as an inclusive community forum where members come to a legal ops marketplace of ideas and feed off each other’s electricity, learning best practices in starting or improving their legal ops department. For its core constituency – legal ops professionals, technology vendors, law schools and now more prominently, law firms – this is about collaboration and experimentation.
However, CLOC hyper-growth is not her end goal, O’Carroll says. “The reason we started this is because we want to learn from one another,” she explains. “Because of the nascent stage legal ops is still in, we are all making this up as we go along.”
Legal Operations Is Now
It is no secret that the idea of infusing legal ops into in-house legal teams continues to experience exponential growth, and O’Carroll says she sees this as a “global movement” in which the change in how legal services are structured and delivered is happening worldwide, with general counsel from Fortune 500 companies to smaller start-ups becoming part of this trend.
“There was a moment when I recognized how strong this movement was,” she says. “We opened up the Institute in Vegas this year with a video montage featuring GCs from some of the top companies in the world telling us how important legal operations is and how impactful and valuable it is to their organizations,” she said.
Indeed, many of the world’s largest companies have jumped on the legal ops bandwagon. Companies like Oracle, The Gap and Westpac have said publicly that legal operations departments are becoming a vital part of doing business. But like all movements which march us toward change, there can be growing pains.
Bringing Law Firms to the Party
To be sure, one of the most significant challenges is how CLOC can introduce possible new law firm participants into what has been a safe space for corporate legal department professionals to share best practices. O’Carroll notes that she and the CLOC board don’t have the answers yet, but they will. Launched earlier this year, CLOC is trying out a new type of community for law firm business professionals. “We are excited about it,” she says. “We are targeting folks in legal operations at law firms.” She explained that this would mean anyone at the firm who is not an active legal practitioner, such as:
- Pricing officers
- Marketing individuals
- Innovation officers
- Chief technology officers
But this development has not been without pushback from some CLOC members, some of whom were less interested in allowing law firms into the conversations and valued having a private place to learn from each other. O’Carroll believes differently.
“The only way we can progress is if we start having more inclusive conversations with other parts of the industry and being direct, open and honest with one another,” she said. “We always wanted to bring law firms into the mix. They’ve been knocking on the door and asking us, ‘How can we be part of the conversation?’”
At present, law firms won’t have all-access memberships, but will be part of a separate online community to facilitate discussions between law firms. Legal ops members are encouraged to opt in if they want to be a part of that dialogue.
Don’t Reinvent the Wheel
Here is the thing about CLOC, according to O’Carroll. If you are mulling the idea of starting a legal operations department, you do not need to reinvent the wheel. Instead, you can come to CLOC and learn how to implement this role into your organization.
At some point, corporate general counsel – who are already in charge of a panoply of activities and duties, from budget to technology implementation, to being a strategic advisor to the board or CEO – have to ask themselves, “How can we manage all of that?” That’s where legal ops come in, O’Carroll says.
“I encourage any reluctant GCs out there to start talking to other GCs who have hired for a dedicated legal ops role,” she adds. “Many of them will be willing to be a champion and tell you how impactful it has been to their organization.” Indeed, some of the largest companies in the world have become legal ops evangelists, she notes. “And that says a lot to me about the recognition and understanding of legal ops’ value as it continues to mature.”