September 28, 2016

The corporate technology landscape is rife with risk and reward. On the plus side, technological innovations are facilitating better decision-making, optimizing workflows and helping organizations to work more efficiently. But at the same time, the digitization of corporate data, decentralization business systems, and the automation of certain processes are introducing new risk management challenges. Add to that, increasing team size (and complexity), compliance shifts and rising outside counsel costs, there is a propensity for in-house counsel teams to become rife with inefficiency and outgrow their manual processes.

In-house corporate counsel is playing an increasingly important role in vendor contracts and risk management.In-house corporate counsel is playing an increasingly important role in vendor contracts and risk management.

Enter “legal operations”

Starting in 2013, we began to witness the rise of an important role: in-house legal operations, which enable corporate legal departments to function more efficiently.

According to Bloomberg Law, the once fledgling department is rapidly increasing in prevalence. In fact, the Association of Corporate Counsel noted that “at least a third” of general counsels at Fortune 500 companies have hired legal operations managers. These professionals are responsible for a number of tasks, such as managing contracts with third-party vendors, helping to implement new technology and helping to drive down operational expenses.

Part of the reason the legal ops makes so much sense is because of the sheer amount of corporate counsel that’s needed to navigate around the ever-enumerating legal pitfalls faced by enterprises. Having in-house legal operations teams can help to significantly curb the costs of working with outside law firms, formalizing processes, negotiating rates or keeping attorneys on retainer – that is, of course, assuming the lines of business have a way to seek out the inside or outside counsel they’re looking for.

Better experience management and collaboration technologies are still needed

“There needs to be a secure, streamlined collaboration portal in place.”

Before enterprises reach a point where they can feel confident about the structural integrity of their legal ops departments, there needs to be a secure, streamlined collaboration portal in place that can help align workers with the counsel they need. In the past, organizations have used intranet resources that, in theory at least, are supposed to act as collaboration hubs. For some functions, they work better than others, but for legal ops, they hardly skim the surface of what’s needed.

For starters, legal counselors are highly skilled professionals who typically specialize in specific industries, areas of law or subject matters. A corporate intranet may provide a high-level overview of these different concentrations, but not with the level of specificity that’s necessary for finding the right legal counsel for a particular situation. With so many variables to consider, enterprise users will need a system that can drill down to supply nuanced results. This level of detail requires an experience management and collaboration portal that makes experience data both accessible and meaningful.

The ability to quickly and securely get in contact with both in-house and outside counsel professionals is just as important. This requires the ability to create private groups as well as custom feeds that allow for the uploading and secure sharing of critical information – both internally and externally. Equally important, all of this functionality must be mobile-enabled, a component of modern enterprise intranet that is all too often overlooked as an add-on.

As legal ops become a front-and-center mainstay of the modern corporate counsel team, so too will the enhancement of knowledge management systems specifically for corporate counsel. The Firm Directory is proof of this.

This part one of a four-part series about optimizing your in-house legal operations.