The State of Global Legal Operations 2019: ACC Hong Kong

3 min read

Last updated: April 30, 2021

Before a wave breaks and everyone on the shore can see it, there is a time where it’s just swell. It is hidden to most, growing beneath the surface. For a long time, legal ops has been this swell. But 2019 looks to change this as the #legalops movement gathers enough momentum to crest into a breaking wave.

In April this year, we hosted a panel discussion at the ACC in Hong Kong where we learned from three key legal ops proponents: Zoe Baker from Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Natalie Da Gama-Rose from the Lane Crawford Joyce Group and Jamie Waduge from Uber. Our Managing Director of Hong Kong, Haaron Bokhari hosted the panel and from the discussions, we distilled 7 key themes:

Starting your legal ops journey: get the headspace

An important early step to effective legal ops is a series of brainstorming or mind-mapping activities; where you formally identify the key challenges to your legal department. Critical to the success of these sessions is giving your team the proper headspace to do so. Jamie said that his legal team at Uber would generally take a half or full day offsite with no laptops, no phones and no distractions.

Legal ops isn’t something you can do in a squeezed hour-long meeting – no matter how efficient you are. So, give yourself the proper space to focus. Attempting to shoehorn legal ops into a pre-existing workflow or not providing dedicated resource can set you up for failure.

Setting expectations: change might not feel great

When the panel was asked what they would have done differently given another chance, Zoe talked about the need for resilience. Understand that change doesn’t always feel great! While early on there might be some excitement, once the change really hits the business, the team can feel uncomfortable. However, just because it feels uncomfortable and there is some disgruntlement, this doesn’t mean it’s not working. Zoe recalled when she first started managing “change projects” she tried to address lots of complaints quickly and ‘nip them in the bud’.  She’s since learnt that often these complaints can be some people’s way of managing uncertainty, their fear of change or expectation of things being more difficult. Don’t take it personally. Listen. Adapt when genuinely appropriate. Build a thick skin.

Further, don’t underestimate that amount of communication involved. And while it will likely feel like over-communication from your perspective, that’s because you’re living and breathing it. So, communicate often and in multiple formats: emails, meetings, calendar reminders etc.

Don’t make assumptions: go on a fact-finding mission

A looming danger in legal ops is to make assumptions about stakeholder needs. A common misstep is to go straight into solution mode without bringing impacted stakeholders into the fold. This should be done as early as possible in the planning phase. The key is to spend the effort getting the right facts from all the people in your team and contiguous to your team – make no assumptions along the way.

Zoe talked to the nature and composition of the mission: it shouldn’t just include your lawyers. It could involve process design specialists, technologists, finance and more. Broad collaboration is vital and as Natalie, flagged, if you don’t have the expertise in house, speaking to external legal ops specialists and seeking their assistance early on may save a lot of time down the track.

Prioritise right: putting customer satisfaction first

Traditional legal professions aren’t trained to think about “customer satisfaction”. Of course, they learn duties to their clients and the court, but it’s never framed in a customer-centric view. But for legal ops to be effective, it needs to take principles from design thinking and agile methodology, which include: customer satisfaction should be the highest priority, changing environments should be embraced and stakeholders should collaborate closely on a frequent basis.

Build trust: start small

Building trust isn’t an immediate process: it takes time, effort, honesty, transparency and results. And, like so many things, best to walk before running. What does this look like in our space? Before launching any large project that requires a big change management piece, Jamie says it’s critical to start off with some small legal ops wins which can be implemented in a relatively short period of time, without significantly impacting existing processes and engagement models. These small wins can help build the trust required to test more ambitious plans.

Running a pilot programme where you’re confident of a small win will help you develop the credibility for grander plans.

Metrics: using data to your advantage

Metrics aren’t of inherent value – they’re a means to an end. Natalie talked about how they are context dependent – it’s important to first establish what your corporate culture demands. Some corporate cultures will require metrics in order to justify a business case and will implement them as part of a continuous improvement protocol. Others will not require (or even think to ask for) metrics. Metrics are a tool, and should be deployed accordingly.

Legal ops will almost always result in more data about your legal team than you had before. Metrics such as completion rates, engagements levels, volume of work etc will give you the capability to make more data-driven decisions. These examples of metrics are often subsumed under two broad categories: how much time you spend on “business as usual” versus how much you spend on the “strategic value add” piece. Insight from data, coupled with stories, can provide a compelling argument to your C-Suite for more, less or different types of resourcing.

Diverse skillsets: different is better

A legal ops team consisting of only lawyers might be insufficient. If you look at CLOC’s 12 core competencies for legal ops, you’ll notice that it would be very difficult to find someone that ticks all the boxes. Jamie talked about building out a legal ops team with individuals that have a variety of skills and experience including: project management skills, consulting experience, IT/Engineering capabilities etc. If you have headcount limitations and need your existing lawyers to implement legal ops initiatives, you should keep an eye out for training opportunities that will equip them with the tools they need to bring a legal ops mindset to their role.

Further, Natalie talked about how running legal ops projects will develop the skillsets of your lawyers and help them diversify their capabilities. Over time, this will allow them to move from purely being a technician to transforming into a better asset: a problem solver.

At Uber, they ask internal Project Managers to provide lawyers with training on agile project management methodology. Something most businesses should also investigate is potential secondments for individuals from other business units which have the skills and capabilities to contribute to your legal ops programme.

Further Reading

We’ve already produced a few thought pieces about legal ops trends so far this year:

If you’re interested in legal ops, please don’t hesitate to reach out to either Nigel (EMEA) or James (APAC).