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5 Expert Tips to Quickly Scale Your Legal Department

January 24, 2022 3 min read
5 expert tips for scaling legal ops

Through my years at Google, CLOC, and now Ironclad, I’ve met with countless GCs and in-house professionals struggling to scale their legal departments and optimize their resources. Fortunately, I have some experience with this. 

I started at Google when the Legal department was roughly 200 people. At first, our legal department looked maybe like many of yours; we had no processes or procedures, no systems or tools, no data or reports. By the time I left 13 years later, the department had scaled to 1400+ people globally, maintaining enviable levels of efficiency and collaboration. 

Any organization looking to grow needs to have legal partners well versed in the company’s particular needs and challenges. In today’s growth economy, that may mean scaling your internal legal team quickly. Here are 5 tips to help.

Hire differently

When you feel like you’re drowning in work, there’s a tendency to want to hire more attorneys with your same background; that way they can hit the ground running and take work off your plate. While that may feel right, it will only alleviate things temporarily. Maybe you don’t actually need to hire more attorneys if you give them time back to do the attorney-ing. Hiring a Legal Operations professional, on the other hand, can act as a force multiplier in scaling your existing resources.

When to hire? Legal ops should be one of your first 5 hires if you’re focused on growing and scaling efficiently. As you look through the list of additional tips below, consider that these are exactly the types of things you can have your legal ops professional focus on while the GC and attorneys take on the substantive legal work.

Establish formal processes and procedures early

While it may seem early and feel a bit bureaucratic to force people to work through proper channels and get approvals to do things, it’s much easier to start doing that now than to change bad habits later. This can include things like creating a process to formally request contracts, engage outside counsel, request budget, and more. 

Document these in one place (like an intranet site or shared doc) as an easy-to-access source of truth about how to get things done. And be sure to train new hires on this when they start.

Automate as much as you can

Today’s technology can really help transform a legal department; automating your manual or time-consuming processes offers so many improvements that will allow you to scale. Aside from the insane efficiency benefits, you’ll also unearth a wealth of data and reports to help you make better business decisions, plus create controls to help automatically manage risk. 

You know you need to invest, but where? To prioritize your tech options, you’ll want to start where you can make the biggest impact. Look across your department to determine what type of work is taking up the most resources. For more than 80% of growing departments, that will be contracts. If that is the case for you, a Contracts Lifecycle Management (CLM) system like Ironclad can really help save time and speed things up for your team, often saving multiple FTEs worth of work right off the bat.

Create a plan for data management

Data gathering and data management become even more crucial as your legal department grows and scales. You’ve simply got to know how your team is doing at all times – from budgets and spending to contracts, cases, and outcomes. 

Always be thinking about how to capture, structure, and report on data when you’re establishing processes or systems. By building a data analytics plan upfront, you’ll set up your organization for success by creating actionable insights so you know where to prioritize your team’s efforts at all times.

Encourage knowledge sharing whenever possible

Collaboration is key, so be sure to establish a culture of knowledge sharing early on. Similar to data, knowledge management also becomes increasingly difficult and crucial as you grow and scale. Shouting over the cubicles in the office or blasting a department-wide email when you need to find certain information may work effectively when you’re small, but that falls apart quickly as a Knowledge Management strategy when you scale. 

Instead, create habits for people to store and share work products, documents, and relevant decision-making histories. This will ensure that all employees have access to the overall expertise held within the organization and don’t have to waste time digging around.

Learn more: How to scale your legal department 

For more information on how to scale your legal department, check out this on-demand discussion on Leveling Up Your Legal Department. Jenn McCarron and I love sharing our expertise gleaned from decades of leading Legal Operations at companies like Google, Spotify, and Netflix. Get in there and see for yourself.

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Mary Shen O’Carroll is Ironclad’s Chief Community Officer. Previously, she was the Director of Legal Operations at Google, as well as the President of the Corporate Legal Operations Consortium (CLOC). In her early career, she served as the Profitability Manager for Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP and was an investment banker and strategic management consultant. Mary is also a passionate leader pushing forward disruptive technology and processes designed to change the future of the legal industry.