Crafty Counsel recently partnered with Norton Rose Fulbright to answer questions on legal operations from members of Crafty Counsel’s community of in-house lawyers.

Stephanie Hamon, Head of Legal Operations at Norton Rose Fulbright, tackled the questions and shared her tips of the legal operations trade in a series of six videos.

Where to start when tackling legal operations?

First up Stephanie addressed a question from an in-house lawyer who is tasked with taking on legal operations as part of their role but asks “Where do I even start?”

Stephanie advises that it all starts with aligning on the definition of legal operations as running the legal department like a business, as efficiently as possible. Therefore, that means applying business principles such as financial discipline to running the legal department.

After this,  then embarking on a three-step process involving discovery, strategy and data: 

  1. Discovery. Find out what tools, processes, and tech your legal department and business already uses and what might be missing. Find the gaps and prioritise what needs to change first.
  2. Strategy. This is the best way to articulate aims in the short, medium, and long term, and is important when communicating with your stakeholder. A strategy gives you a framework to help prioritise and understand what you might want to tackle first.
  3. Data. Use data to make informed decisions and to illustrate the progress you have made.

What to do when the legal team is overrun, but budgetary constraints mean no new hires and no budget for external spending?

Many in-house teams face these challenges and have to be creative about how best to utilise existing resources. Stephanie emphasises the importance of assessing both your external and internal resources.

Tips when assessing external resources

  1. Consider Legal Project Management (LPM). Look at your recent large transactions – how could LPM provide visibility and budget certainty, as well as delivering efficiency and cost savings?
  2. Assess fee arrangements. Is it an hourly rate? If so, consider moving to alternative fee arrangements, or even better, consider moving to effective fee arrangements. Make sure you are getting value for your money.
  3. Are you sending work to the right provider? All firms are not equal and there are Alternative Legal Service Providers (ALSPs) you could consider. Make sure you are sending:
    • the right work,
    • to the right place,
    • for the right price.

Tips when assessing internal resources

  1. Understand the work your team is doing. If you understand what keeps your team busy, you may be able to reallocate work.
  2. Identify areas of inefficiency. By understanding what work is being done inefficiently, you can find ways to deliver certain things more productively. For example, creating playbooks and using basic automation on some tasks, or pooling resources to deliver results faster.

With so much legal technology in the market, where do you start?

Legal tech is all the rage, and someone can be left feeling FOMO (fear of missing out) for not being on board with the latest tech tools. If you are still using Microsoft Office as a default and haven’t ventured into the legal tech space at all, how do you find the right tools and distinguish between what will work for you and what won’t?

Stephanie believes it’s best to break down this question into two areas. Before even asking what tech tools to use, you have to investigate the problems you are trying to solve. It is essential to understand the people, processes and data of your organisation.

  • People. People in your organisation will tell you their pain points and what they need help with.
  • Process. Make sure you are clear about the current processes in place in your organisation.  What is meant by the process? It means asking who should be doing what and in what order should things be done.
  • Data. Data is vital because one of the main benefits of using technology is the ability to capture data in a structured way to enable decision-making.

After a thorough assessment, you will be able to make an informed decision about what technology will work best for you. Sometimes the company’s existing tech stack may be the solution.

How do you get buy-in from others when implementing projects that will save time and money?  

This question is all about change management. The human brain doesn’t really like change, people like familiarity and are wired to prefer things as they are. Stephanie cites a study which looks at how lawyers are even more resistant to change than the rest of the population.

So, with that in mind how do you get people to change their habits?

Tips for navigating the tricky territory of change management:

  1. Be clear about why you are doing this project in the first place. Often people are quite excited and rush into getting started. Take the time to take stock and really understand why you’re doing things.
  2. Think about your audience. Think about your project as a bedtime story you’re trying to read to people. Make them the main character of this story so that they’re really part of it and come along for the journey.
  3. Find low-hanging fruit and establish success with that first. This could be either on a small project or a large project. If it is a large project, think about using a pilot project with a small team that is excited about the changes, as a case study. At the outset agree with the team about what success looks like and then once the criteria are met communicate about the success.

You have taken on a General Counsel role, but the legal function is quite a mess and you can’t keep track of what team members are doing. What do you do?

The best place to start is with the data, according to Stephanie.

These are some tips for getting the data you need and using it to assess the current state of affairs, before deciding on a road map to a more organised and efficient legal function:

  1. Capture the data. Your priority should be to start capturing data. For example, understanding where your team is spending their time and what keeps them busy. That will allow you to understand work that perhaps shouldn’t be done by the team. It will also help you spot opportunities for efficiency or perhaps for reallocation.
  2. Take a step back and assess what data you need to make your key decisions – be focused!. Don’t burden the team by capturing superfluous data points.
  3. Find the right solution to capture the data you need. You could start simply by using Excel spreadsheets.  Or you could go to the other end of the tech spectrum and get an intake tool, although this will be more of an investment the benefits include the analytics you will get. But check whether your company has tools in their existing tech stack that you could use.

How do you prioritise legal operations projects?

Deciding which projects to prioritise can be a challenge. Stephanie suggests starting with an audit of ongoing projects, and ask your legal team for input. Overlay this list with company strategy to ensure legal are working on key business projects.

However, you may also have time, budget, and resource constraints to consider.These constraints may whittle the list down further, but aim to strike a balance between short term ‘low hanging fruit’ where you can demonstrate quick wins to the business versus longer term projects. 

Tips for prioritisation and creating a roadmap:

  1. Start with a long list you and your stakeholders want from legal
  2. Cross-reference with your company strategy to gain the biggest impact
  3. Apply your constraints of time, resource and budget balancing long and short term priorities

And remember, circle back with your stakeholders to validate and support what was agreed.

To see Stephanie, discuss these questions and more watch the videos in the Ask the Expert series: