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October 11

The rise of legal ops: what does it mean?

Industry Insights

sophie gould

sophie gould

Legal Ops - banner with cog wheels

Legal ops is the latest buzz word on every lawyers’ lips, but what does it actually mean? And why is it so important?

Recently, we were lucky enough to be joined by Beejal Patel, Legal Systems Manager at Diageo, at our latest Junior Lawyer Lunch - a virtual networking event designed by Flex Legal to share practical tips and insights with our community of junior lawyers.

Beejal has worked within Diageo’s legal ops team for over 8 years, an organisation which is proud to be a global leader in the premium drinks arena, with over 200 brands such as Guinness, Johnnie Walker, Ciroc and Tanqueray in their portfolio. She sees her role as being primarily IT-based, yet embedded within the legal part of the business directly. But what does this look like in practice?

How are legal ops’ teams structured?

Although legal ops is a phrase we’re all hearing more and more throughout the industry, each and every legal ops department will look slightly different. 

When it comes to Diageo, their legal ops team is comprised of three professionals who are employed to support the entire legal department. A department which consists of over 300 internal users, plus various sub-departments of non-lawyers, including brand protection and security. Diageo is also of course a global business, meaning that their legal operations are spread globally too - resulting in a vast internal customer base for the legal ops team to service.

Their team is incredibly diverse in terms of background and experience, consisting of Beejal herself, who studied computer science and has experience of working in a variety of industries, from engineering and consultancy, to oil and gas; alongside their Head of Legal Ops, Janet Morrison, an ex-lawyer with over 30 years’ experience; and a Legal Finance Manager, who is also a qualified accountant. 

Not every team will support such a range of areas, and the responsibilities of each legal ops team will vary massively, dependent on the needs of their organisation.

So, what is legal ops?

The real question is – ‘what is legal ops?’, and in Beejal’s words…

Legal operations (or legal ops) describes a set of business processes, activities, and the professionals, who enable legal departments to serve their clients more effectively by applying business and technical practices to the delivery of legal services.

CLOC Website

Beejal followed this up by stating that: “legal ops provides the strategic planning, financial management, project management, and technology expertise that enables legal professionals to focus on providing legal advice.”

In short, legal ops teams are the backbone of any legal department. A team which strives to enable all legal professionals to carry out their roles efficiently and effectively.

What is the day-to-day role of a legal ops professional?

The array of responsibilities within a typical legal ops department are vast, ranging far beyond legal technology. An example of some of the tasks carried out by Beejal’s team at Diageo include:

  • Vendor management - including external counsel, law firms and technology vendors
  • Budgeting and invoice payments - looking at annual spends, YTD spend, understanding invoice lifecycle and queries, and working with the finance team to provide comments on potential risks with estimated budgets
  • Knowledge management - specifically on any changes in the law, and organising training to support these changes
  • Technology upgrades and implementations - ensuring that everything runs smoothly and all key service users are trained
  • Engaging with senior stakeholders to understand their real requirements from a legal ops perspective - and then embedding any suitable initiatives
  • Bridging the gap between legal and other internal departments - such as IT and finance; helping to break down barriers and relay the right messages to the legal team

What is the People, Process and Technology Framework?

At Diageo, Beejal’s legal ops team live by the ‘People, Process, Technology’ Framework. But what does that actually mean? And why is this effective?

People

  • Understand the audience
  • Understand the WHY?
  • What is the best way to engage with them?
  • What are their requirements?
  • How can we work with the service users to encourage them to adopt the change?

Process

  • What is the current process?
  • What and where are the pain points?
  • Which teams outside legal are involved?
  • What data/analytics can be used to analyse the process?
  • Is there a real need for this process/tech?

Technology

  • Is technology actually required? Or a deeper dive into the process instead?

When it comes to working in legal ops, it’s important to be mindful that the answer isn’t always to implement new technology. Sometimes, it’s about understanding the existing process and being able to challenge them, especially if a department outside legal is in control. Another reason why it’s absolutely essential as a legal ops professional to have strong relationships with both internal and external vendors.

When it comes to working in legal ops, it’s important to be mindful that the answer isn’t always to implement new technology.

Beejal Patel, Legal Systems Manager at Diageo

What does the future of legal ops look like?

Legal ops is on the rise - and it’s one to watch. Over the last few years, we’ve seen the space continue to accelerate and evolve, and it shows no signs of stopping any time soon.

For those looking to go into legal ops, it’s essential to stay in touch with the latest developments in this creative, innovative space… and who knows? Maybe one day you’ll follow in Beejal’s footsteps and become a legal ops guru, ready to bring more people to the dark side of law!

Additional Resources:

  • Sign up to a future Junior Lawyer Lunch - you know, you’re missing most of the fun of our Junior Lawyer Lunches by only reading the summaries. Why not sign up to attend our next one?
  • Apply to become a Flex paralegal - become a paralegal through Flex and gain access to hundreds of legal opportunities, including an array of roles within the legal ops arena.
  • Hire a Flex lawyer or paralegal - on the lookout for an interim legal professional to bolster your team? Perhaps someone who can help with legal ops? Get in touch with us today!