Below is a copy of a featured blog written by Debora Motyka Jones for CLOC's Legal Operations Blog.
One of the most common complaints I hear from General Counsels and Chief Legal Officers is that they are not able to sit at a table full of their executive peers and provide metrics on how legal is impacting the core business. Sure, they are able to show their own department’s spending, tasks, and resource allocation. But wouldn’t it be nice to tell the business when revenue will hit? Or insights about what organizational behaviors are leading to inefficiency and, if changed, will impact spending. More specifically, as the legal operations team member responsible for metrics, wouldn’t it be great to share these key insights with your GC as well as your finance, sales, IT, and other department counterparts? Good news! Legal has this type of information, it is just a matter of identifying and mining it!
Keeping metrics has become table stakes in today’s legal department and it often falls on the shoulders of legal operations to track and share those metrics. In fact, CLOC highlights business intelligence as a core competency for the legal operations function. Identifying metrics, cleansing those metrics, and putting them forth can be quite a lift, but once you have the right metrics in place, you are able to make data-driven decisions about how to staff your team, what external resources you need, and drive efficiencies. If you are still at the early stages of figuring out which metrics you should track for your department, there are many good resources out there including a checklist of potential metrics by Thompson Reuters, and a blog by CLOC on where to start. HBR also conducts a survey so you can see what other departments are seeing – this can be helpful for setting targets and/or seeing how you compare. When you analyze these and other resources, you will notice that many of the metrics are legal department centric. Though they are helpful for the department, they are not very meaningful when they are sitting around the table with executives doing strategic business planning for the business as a whole. So what types of metrics can legal provide in those settings and how do you capture them? There are many ways to go about this, but I have highlighted a few that can provide a robust discussion at the executive table.
Leading Indicators of Revenue
Most companies are reviewing the top line with some frequency and in many industries it is a challenge to predict the timing of that revenue. Given its position at the end of the sales cycle, in the contracting phase, legal has excellent access to information about revenue and the timing thereof. Here are the most common statistics your legal department can provide in that area:
- New Customer Acquisition: Number of Customer Contracts Signed this Month – Signing up paying customers is a direct tie to revenue and the legal department holds the keys to one of the last steps pre-revenue: contract signing. By identifying the type of contract that leads to revenue, the legal department is able to share with the business how many new customers are coming online. The metric is typically a raw number and can be compared against the number of contracts in a prior period. If not all customers who sign this contract lead to revenue, you will want to report (or at least know) the ratio of contracts to paying customers in order to give an accurate picture. Once you have been tracking this metric, you may want to take it a step further and identify and contracts that come earlier in the process. For example, in some companies, prospective clients sign NDAs earlier in the sales cycle. By reporting on the number of NDAs signed, you will start to see a ratio of the number of NDA to the number of MSAs and can give even earlier visibility into the customer acquisition pipeline.
- Expected New Customers: Contracts in Negotiation and Contract Negotiation Length – If your company has negotiated contracts then reporting on the number of contracts in negotiation can also help with revenue planning. Knowing the typical length of that negotiation will give an indication as to the timing of that revenue.
- Expected Revenue: Timing – The final piece of the revenue puzzle is when the above revenue will hit. You can work with the finance team to get the typical time between contract signing and revenue. This will often vary by contract size so layering in the contract size is helpful. If contract size if not available in the contract itself, that is likely information that sales keep so they can report that metrics if legal cannot.
The two departments most interested in all three the above metrics are likely to be sales and finance but depending on the detail reported at the executive level, these may be executive-level metrics. If the above seems like a lot, know that many contract management tools and/or contract artificial intelligence tools can mine your contracts for the above information.
Efficiency in Business Operations
Legal operations also has a unique ability to look back and reflect on the efficiency in some areas of business operations. More specifically, in the course of litigation and investigations, cross sections of the business are examined with hindsight and as we all know, hindsight is 20/20. Providing that look back information to the business can help in overall business efficiency. In addition, legal has access to payment clauses, in contracts, that can ensure efficiency in cash management. Here are some helpful statistics your legal department can provide on the state of legal operations.
- Early Payment Discount Usage: Number of Contracts with Early Payment and Percentage of Early Payment Discounts Used – When signing vendor contracts, there are often provisions allowing for discounts if certain terms – e.g. payment within a short timeframe, are met. Although this may be fresh on everyone’s mind at the time of negotiation, this often gets lost over time. Using current technologies, the legal operations team can identify these contracts and provide the number of contracts in which such provisions exist. You can then work with finance to determine how many of these provisions are being leveraged – e.g. is the business actually paying early and taking the percentage reduction. The savings for the business can be material by just providing visibility into this area.
- Data Storage: How Much Data to Keep – A common IT pain point is storage management and having to add servers in order to keep up with the business needs. With cloud technologies, IT often knows how much space they have allocated to each user’s mail or individual drives but what is unknown is how much data users are keeping on their machines or in collaborations tools and shared drives. With data collections for litigation or regulatory matters, the legal team has access to this information. This information can help IT understand its storage needs and put in place technologies to minimize storage per person thereby saving on storage costs.
- Business Intelligence from Active Matters – This one isn’t a specific metric. Instead, this is more focused on the business intelligence that comes out of the legal department’s unique position as a reviewer of sets of documents. In litigation or investigations, the legal department has access to a cross section of data that the business doesn’t pull together in the regular course of business. Technology is now advanced enough to be able to provide business insights from this data that can be shared with the business as a whole.
- Example #1: Artificial intelligence can be used to create compliance models that show correlations between expense reports, trade journals, and sales behavior to identify bad behaviors. Sharing these types of learnings from matters can open up discussions among executives as to which learnings deserve a deeper dive. As an aside, you could also imagine a scenario where this same logic can also be used inversely – when combined with revenue it could identify effective sales behaviors – although this is something that would be a bigger lift and I would expect the sales department to drive this type of work.
- Example #2: The amount of duplicative data is a common metric reported in litigations or investigations. Sharing this with your IT team can highlight an easy storage win and legal can help craft a plan of how to attack duplicative data thereby leading to lower storage costs
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that there are opportunities for the legal department in these metrics as well. By using these metrics, as well as the artificial intelligence mentioned above, legal operations can resource plan and drive savings within the legal department. For example, the number of NDAs and sales contracts can inform staffing. Technology can identify contracts or other documents that are repetitive and automate the handling of those documents. Within litigation and investigations, technology can identify objectively non-responsive data so that it does not need to be collected as well as identify sources that are lower risk which don’t require outside counsel review and previously collected data that can be re-used.
I hope that with the above metrics, you’re able to participate in some great business discussions and show how your legal department is not only effective in its own right but how integral a unit it is to driving the core business.