How To Become a Legal Operations Manager

Legal operations is a new type of legal profession that focuses on making legal processes more efficient. The legal department is too often seen as a bottleneck, slowing down the flow of business with endless delays, calls for negotiation, and pauses to get documents signed and contracts reviewed one more time. Legal operations was created to introduce efficiency into the legal department.

When the legal side spends too much time working on non-legal tasks, it can be a huge financial drain on their company’s resources. Today, in-house legal operations are tasked with increasing efficiency for the organization and supporting business needs within itself, minimizing the time the lawyers spend on computer tasks, research, or routine chores. 

Legal operations uses strategic management, financial, and project management, and IT in combination with legal advice and assistance. It goes beyond the typical law firm offering of legal assistance and adds in additional business management skills and expertise. With good operations, a legal department can go beyond the routine tasks of editing, reviewing, and filing to become an integral part of the business’s daily operations. This article discusses how to to become a legal operations manager.

What is legal operations?

Legal operations gives legal professionals the support they need while providing a more law-focused office environment. Having office staff that is knowledgeable about legal procedures is more effective in bringing legal services to a company, whether the law firm is in-house or outside counsel. It is an excellent benefit to the company.

This is where a legal operations technician comes in. A legal operations technician is somewhere between a paralegal and an office manager. A paralegal is committed to a narrow scope of the legal field, assisting an attorney in their legal duties. An office manager is responsible for handling the myriad other duties in an office, from the logistics of personnel to the smooth coordination of office departments.

Corporate legal departments generally lack specific project management skills or else have to go outside legal to get assistance. Having someone within the department who understands both the legal department’s needs and the mechanics of office management can help streamline the interaction between legal and the rest of the corporation.

What is a legal operations manager?

While the paralegal assists an attorney with specific legal tasks related to the duties of an attorney, the legal operations manager coordinates the tasks of the various workers within the legal department in carrying out the necessary operations needed within the department.

The legal operations manager has to perform some of the tasks of a paralegal and to understand the basic functions of an attorney and a paralegal. However, as a manager, they will also need to know what is needed for the optimal functioning of the department, such as finances, daily operations, project management, and HR.

Legal operations takes the lead in moving projects out of legal and back into the departments where they belong, meanwhile bringing projects from other departments into legal so that they can have contracts, NDAs, or acceptance orders written and signed in a timely manner. The legal operations manager is the person who pulls all these things together and makes sure they happen in the way they need to happen.

How does one become a legal operations manager?

While there isn’t one set path for this job, it helps to have familiarity the industry to start. For example, Jacqueline Rodriguez, the Senior Manager of Legal Operations at NS1, became interested in legal ops after a three-year career in traditional law. She and the NS1 in-house found the limits of in-house law could be greatly expanded with the assistance of an internal operational lead. Ms. Rodriguez became that lead.

She finds her job to be more challenging than a traditional position with a firm or in-house counsel, and she credits the CLO at NS1, Salil Jani, who encouraged her to take the legal ops position, and the Corporate Legal Operations Consortium (CLOC) for helping her find this amazing opportunity.

How do I get into legal operations?

The legal operations field demands someone who is interested not only in law, but also likes to grow and learn within the company. The prospective candidate needs to enjoy building, fixing, and understanding basic technology. They should know how to work in an office environment and should enjoy working with a team. 

Today, a good legal operations candidate needs to be able to work independently and without much guidance, but at the same time they need to be able to work in a team environment effectively. Legal operations personnel need to be able to communicate within their own team and with members of other teams within the company.

Beyond a law degree or a paralegal certification, program management is a great way to get started. Legal operations is seen as a way to maximize efficiency within the department. A lot of legal departments are simply scaled-up law firms, and a more business-structured approach is needed in the modern workplace. Program management helps to streamline each division and team within the department and to coordinate their communications within the department and the company.

Maximizing your role‌

Once in a good legal operations position, the opportunities are extensive. Since the goal of operations is to make legal more efficient, the better you do your job, the more effective you can be in assisting the growth of your department. Legal operations is a fast-moving field that needs people who are willing and able to go beyond the scope of their job description.

Legal is often seen as the bottleneck of any corporation because contracts have traditionally slowed the pace of business. With the rise of e-contracting and the increase of remote work, anyone who can manage operations efficiently may find their road open.

Start with the CLOC or with one of Ironclad’s many Legal Ops Heroes like the ones quoted here. They can steer you in the right direction to begin your career as a legal operations staffer or manager today. 

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