BP Perspective Insights from a Business Partner

How Legal Ops Is Redefining the Role of the Legal Team

The onset of COVID-19 accelerated the pace of change for corporate legal departments, requiring many to work more efficiently and with an increased focus on cost control. Expect the pace to only accelerate as the legal operations movement steps into the spotlight.

Alex Kelly

A legal ops team helps legal departments run more efficiently and make better decisions. What it also does — through improved processes, technologies and data-driven insights — is help set strategy that yields maximum value to the organization. A legal ops team leveraging legal operations software can help a legal department flip the resourcing pyramid, where rather than outside firms handling the bulk of the work, legal teams can handle more matters and tasks in-house and reserve outsourcing for only the most specialized requests.

According to 38% of respondents to the Association of Corporate Counsel’s 2021 survey of chief legal officers, legal operations is related to their most strategic initiative. To allocate legal resources more strategically, general counsels can lean further into legal operations teams  — whether expanding them or creating them — to drive greater automation, stricter cost control and smarter data analysis. Existing legal ops teams that expand can become invaluable members of the legal leadership team, not only executing the general counsels vision but also helping to define strategy. Legal teams hiring their first legal ops professional can quickly understand how these professionals can become the pillar upon which they can build modern legal service delivery.


Three key factors in emerging technology help a legal ops team move the legal department forward:

  • Modern cloud-based tools: A legal technology solution with a cloud-based, central system of record makes staying aligned easier among members of the legal team, other stakeholders in the organization and outside counsel who are globally distributed and, in many cases, working remotely. Rather than files, documents, invoices and other matters being sent back and forth over email, each party has a shared pathway, eliminating the hassle of tracking down critical information. This advantage boosts collaboration and efficiency. According to 70% of in-house legal leaders polled in Bloomberg Law’s 2021 Legal Operations survey, improving attorney efficiency is a primary consideration when deciding which legal ops practices to implement. Closely behind were the ability to reduce costs (69%) and the ability to improve attorney workflows (61%).

  • Artificial intelligence (AI): An AI solution helps free attorneys from time spent on repetitive-but-necessary tasks such as reviewing invoices and contract clauses and gives them more time to spend on more strategic initiatives. It also can automate invoice intake, recognize text and classify text into appropriate tasks and activities, such as automatically paying or rejecting invoices or flagging other invoices for additional review.

  • Analytics: AI solutions can surface granular data points from invoice reviews, yielding a new level of transparency and insight into legal spending. These analytics can help guide decision-making on whether to handle certain matters in-house or externally, how to price the work, how to split time between partners and associates, and myriad other considerations. Such data-driven insights help corporate legal departments determine how well the work of outside counsel aligns with the in-house legal team’s expectations. The analytics also can reveal which outside firms provide the most value in fulfilling the company’s business needs. 
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As noted earlier, a team leveraging legal operations software with AI and automation gives attorneys more time to spend on high-level thinking versus mundane tasks. But a legal ops team can also become an agent for change within the legal department itself. It can help move the legal team’s mindset from absolute risk avoidance to strategic risk awareness. Legal teams focus too much on avoiding risk rather than recognizing that risk is inevitable and working to minimize it. The best a legal department can do is gain visibility into that risk, quantify it, analyze it and make strategic decisions going forward.

Legal ops help move the legal department from being a stalwart for stability into a champion for change. There’s a difference between a legal department that accepts digital transformation and a legal department that initiates it. These legal professionals can be the engine for innovation that helps drive momentum. Through data-driven insights into legal spending, streamlining matter management and saving valuable attorney time and resources, legal ops can take a seat beside the general counsel and help drive strategic decision-making.