Good news for law students unsure whether they want to practice law after they graduate: The legal operations job market is heating up. Fueled by growing assertiveness among corporate legal departments to improve their productivity while reducing legal costs, the field of corporate legal ops has exploded in terms of focus, opportunity and investment.
That momentum can be seen in the remarkable growth in membership and influence of the Corporate Legal Operations Consortium. CLOC began as a best practices-focused group of 40 legal ops leaders, mostly in Silicon Valley, about three years ago. Today, its membership of more than 2,300 worldwide is redefining objectives, priorities and organizational structures in the legal ecosystem and the business of law.
CLOC’s most visible and influential contribution to date is a model that defines and articulates the maturity of legal ops organizations in terms of 12 core competencies. These categories are organized into three levels–foundational, advanced and mature–designed to improve and grow legal operations systematically.
In addition to a systematic process for designing and implementing a corporate legal ops function, the CLOC model also identifies the necessary skills that aspiring professionals will need to progress in a legal ops career. CLOC’s Legal Ops Career Skills Toolkit includes detailed self-assessment worksheets covering 41 skills across five functional areas to help you evaluate your legal ops preparedness and map a corresponding career path.
The skill sets comprising CLOC’s “foundational” level of legal ops maturity include:
Financial Management – Manage the departmental budget. Track accruals and forecasting. Work with Finance to identify spending trends, potential cost savings and efficiency opportunities.
Vendor Management – Create a vendor management program to insure quality outside counsel support at the right rates and under optimal fee arrangements. Hold regular business reviews. Negotiate fee agreements. Drive governance of billing guidelines.
Cross-Functional Alignment – Create and drive relationships with other key company functions, such as HR, IT, Finance and Workplace Resources.
Technology & Process Support – Create a long-term technology roadmap including tools such as e-billing/matter management, contract management, content management, IP management, business process management, e-signature, board management, compliance management, legal hold, subsidiary management, etc.
Learning the Business of Law
Despite the disruptive and transformational impact of legal operations’ rise, law schools are not teaching students about careers in law that don’t involve practicing law. In a recent post on the organization’s blog, CLOC scholarship recipient, project manager and graduating Stanford law student Tom Davidson makes the point that “Law students aren’t taught about the synergies between law firms and legal technology providers, or the rise of alternative legal service providers and the evolving role of in house counsel. New technology is altering the way that attorneys handle day-to-day operations and anymore, technology and operations skills are not just a ‘nice to have,’ they’re critical for law school graduates to learn and exercise in practice.”
Fortunately, legal tech companies see opportunity in this gap, providing law students and career changers useful resources on legal ops roles and responsibilities, For example, software company SimpleLegal published a sample legal ops job description that outlines the characteristics and skill sets that corporate law departments seek in new hires. The ideal Legal Operations Manager candidate is business-minded, strategic and data-driven–in other words, adept in the business of law.
As law student Davidson observes, “Those of us who are prepared with the necessary training in the technological and operational side of legal practice are in a much better position to meet and exceed our client’s expectations. Understanding how to practice is just as important as understanding the law itself.”
© 2019 Corporate Legal Operations Consortium, Inc.
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