“Legal Operations” Pushing Into Law Firms
June 23, 2017
The concept is said to have originated in-house when Google hired Mary Shen O’Carroll in 2008 to handle its legal operations, a term that was more or less made up, in order to formalize a role that seemed ripe for filling. The scope and depth of that function has changed, says O’Carroll. “I started [by] looking at our spend on outside counsel and financial management. But now the role covers knowledge management and IT, systems, tools and internal process improvement and internal consulting.” The number of people working in such positions has grown rapidly, and in 2008 a consortium of practitioners formed a group called Cloc (the Corporate Legal Operations Consortium). The Association of Corporate Counsel also recognizes the function, and it established a section for legal operations directors three years ago. The number of legal operations directors in U.S. companies doubled between 2015 and 2016, according to the ACC, and in 2017 per its survey of more than a thousand general counsel in 42 countries, 43 per cent have a legal operations director. However, when it comes to the establishment of a similar position at law firms, the road is a bit rockier. “Legal operations executives at big law firms still struggle to achieve status and reward,” says The Financial Times. “Not only do legal operations staff experience the professional hauteur of the lawyer, but they also face strong resistance to any of their propositions that legal expertise can be standardised. In this, they face a tougher challenge than their peers in corporate law departments.” Nonetheless, the concept is taking hold in some major firms.
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