Legal operations is an essential part of your organization. Legal operations, or legal ops, support your legal team by giving them the time and information necessary to do their jobs. However, legal ops must be managed effectively, or it won’t add value to your organization.
Legal ops encompasses the processes and professionals who apply business and technical practices to your organization’s legal activities. Where your legal team manages legal advice and action, your legal ops staff performs your project management and strategic planning.
Strategic planning is essential to a well-run legal department. Without a long-term plan, legal teams get stuck being reactive instead of proactive. A great strategic plan will cover everything from future goals and timelines to risk assessments. As a result, your legal department can take action before problems occur instead of playing catch-up.
One method to improve your legal ops is by performing data-centered strategic planning. Read on to learn the importance of data to legal ops strategic planning. We’ll also share the four places to incorporate data into your next strategic plan: research, benchmarking, process design, and iteration.
Why data matters in legal ops strategic planning
A strategic plan is a map for your legal ops team. It’s a framework that outlines your goals, establishes a time-frame, and explains how your department will reach those goals. If your team follows the map, you should accomplish your goals on time.
There’s a caveat, though. Maps are only helpful when they’re accurate. If they’re wrong, maps are worse than useless. The same goes for your strategic plan. You can’t plan for the future unless you have complete data about where you are and where you want to go.
That’s why data is so essential for legal ops strategic planning. You need to collect valuable information and learn from it if you’re going to set accurate goals and build effective processes. With that in mind, here are the four most effective ways to incorporate data into your legal ops strategic planning.
Strategic research and planning
The first step to making any worthwhile plan is to do your research. Before you can begin to plan, you need to understand what you’re planning for and the constraints you’re designing within and around. With this information, you can develop a plan that’s effective and less likely to fall apart upon implementation.
There are multiple sources you should take data from. First, you should reach out to the heads of each business unit in your organization. Talk to them about their priorities and goal for the next six months. You can collect information like:
- The legal reports they would like to receive
- The metrics they would like to monitor
- The KPIs they would like to meet
- The concerns they have about their unit.
You’ll likely discover a variety of topics and goals to include in your plan. While it’s unlikely that a single strategic plan covering the next six to twelve months will be able to resolve everything, you can still make headway on them. Furthermore, if multiple departments have similar issues or goals, you can prioritize those to maximize your efficacy.
You should also do research outside your own business. Take the time to answer questions like:
- Are there audits that you need to prepare for? What do these audits require you to accomplish? When are they due? Do they have benchmarks or standards you aren’t currently meeting?
- Are there ongoing legal concerns that need to be resolved? What are the potential penalties for failing to resolve them? How can you achieve your preferred outcomes in a time-efficient manner?
- Are there licenses or permits that need to be maintained or acquired? When do they need to be submitted? Who needs to perform work to ensure these licenses are applied for on time?
- Are there common legal or contractual obligations that can be streamlined? Are there any tasks that take up a large portion of your legal team’s time? How can these tasks be simplified, automated, or outsourced?
Collecting all of this information will serve you well for your current strategic plan and any future revisions and updates that it will require. Furthermore, centralizing the data makes it easy for anyone on your legal ops team to refer to it if they have questions or concerns.
Once you know your goals, you can begin to define success. Goals like “improve contract turnaround times” and “reduce time spent in contract creation,” are vague and hard to quantify. One of the purposes of a strategic plan is that you can develop specific strategies that can be evaluated for success.
Benchmarking is one of the best ways to take qualitative goals and give them quantitative measurements. Benchmarking is the process of measuring your operations and achievements against other similar organizations. You research what success looks like for industry leaders in your field and use their metrics to set your own benchmarks.
You can collect information about industry best practices and metrics by doing your research in online forums like CLOC and TechGC. These forums are full of people who want to answer your questions and share information about making legal ops more efficient. You can also reach out to legal engineers in your own department or those you know in your network gather additional details. Once you know what’s considered standard, and what’s considered exceptional, in your field, you can set the benchmarks that guide the rest of your plan.
Setting benchmarks is similar to choosing stops on a road trip. You still need to determine how you’ll get from one place to the next. That’s why process design is essential. With well-designed processes, you should meet your benchmarks naturally.
Of course, this is easier said than done. Designing effective processes and workflows takes thought. You can create more effective legal ops procedures by taking steps like:
- Determining who is involved in each process: The legal ops team’s approach to a task will look different from a client’s or the approach of somebody in another department. Understand who’s involved in each step of the process, so you know their abilities and what to expect.
- Building processes for ease of use: In contracting, you need to build your processes so they’re easy for business users. Design every procedure so the least-expert person involved can understand what should be done. As a result, there should be fewer complications for everyone.
- Centralizing data storage: Many legal ops tasks are complicated by the fact that data is stored in multiple unconnected locations. You can streamline these tasks by keeping contracting information in a single, centralized database. This has the added benefit of reducing the opportunity for errors or missed deadlines, as all data and projects can be seen at once.
- Trimming redundant processes: You shouldn’t need to collect data multiple times. Once you’ve collected client information the first time, for example, you shouldn’t need to re-enter it into their contract. Bake data collection into the contracting process so your team doesn’t need to repeat tasks.
Learn and iterate
Strategic planning is intended to be an iterative process. The world changes, and your legal department’s needs will change, too. You should update your strategic plan through annual or biannual check-ins to confirm you’re actually achieving your goals. Furthermore, you may find that your objectives themselves need to change.
You can make this process simpler by collecting and incorporating data about your performance. How have your processes gone in the past six months? Have you met your benchmarks? Request feedback from your team, other business units, and clients about what they liked and disliked. If you’ve completed your benchmarks, but people are dissatisfied with the outcomes, you may be targeting the wrong metrics. You can learn from that and develop a new plan that targets the right goals.
Another way to examine your success is to look at how people have interacted with legal. Consider who actually requests things from your legal team and what kind of data they request. Who actually needs to see that data? What do they need it for? Revisiting requested reports can help you determine the information worth collecting and find places where you could increase or decrease your data collection.
Make data part of your legal ops processes
Data is everywhere. It’s up to you to capture the information that matters and use it effectively in your legal operations. If you’re looking for a solution that will help you improve your legal ops strategic planning, consider Ironclad.
Ironclad’s powerful features make it easy to centralize data and streamline the legal ops workflow with a comprehensive Data Repository, a collaborative platform, and the Workflow Designer. Ironclad is a revolutionary tool that can help your team minimize redundant processes and get more done.
Click here to learn more about equipping your legal operations team with more data using Ironclad. Explore how your legal ops team can streamline the contracting process to focus on the tasks that matter.
Ironclad is not a law firm, and this post does not constitute or contain legal advice. To evaluate the accuracy, sufficiency, or reliability of the ideas and guidance reflected here, or the applicability of these materials to your business, you should consult with a licensed attorney. Use of and access to any of the resources contained within Ironclad’s site do not create an attorney-client relationship between the user and Ironclad.