What I Wish I Knew Then - Common Challenges in Building a Legal Operations Department and How to Avoid Them

July 6, 2020




Legal Operations is a relatively new field and one that is constantly evolving. With that comes lots of new challenges as well as lessons learned around building an effective Legal Operations department. Below are six key takeaways from a recent Illumination Webinar Series webinar, where legal operations veterans discussed common pitfalls in legal operations, how to avoid them, and best practices for the future.

  1. Legal Operations is an Evolving Field - Whether you define it as herding cats, the land of misfit toys, or the grey space in legal, one thing is certain - legal operations is a multi-disciplinary evolving field. If you use the membership numbers from the Corporate Legal Operations Consortium (CLOC) as a barometer of the growth of the profession, the increase of professionals is 1000% from 2016 to 2019. The work these professionals are doing varies from organization to organization. However, there are a few core areas that most legal operations departments focus on - ebilling, contract lifecycle management, vendor management, legal workflows, and legal department data and analytics.
  2. Change Management is One of the Biggest Challenges - Legal operations is a cross-functional department that is responsible for driving change in legal. As such, it is not a huge surprise that change management and the things that go along with that are big struggles for the function. Gaining executive support, getting enough funding, and identifying key stakeholders are all critical in the first stage of trying to make a change. Additionally, gaining adoption after a change is made can be a challenge as lawyers don’t tend to be early adopters.
  3. Understanding the Issue and Putting in Time at the Outset of a Project Can Help You Overcome Challenges - When considering what to solve for, make sure you understand the impact and pervasiveness of each and prioritize the most pervasive and impactful. Then, take the time to truly diagnose the problem. Don’t get distracted by the symptoms. Once you have identified the right problems, make sure you spend plenty of time clarifying all the specifications and understanding where the blockers may be. This will prevent missteps later and allow you to move quickly if you hit any roadblocks. Finally, make sure you get buy in along the way. This starts with buy in from your stakeholders on the specifications. Then, as you start to execute, share out your successes at each step and get stakeholder buy in on those successes. These steps will increase the success of any project you are leading.
  4. Knowing your Audience and your Data Can Really Help With Success in This Field – At the onset of any project, identify who you cheerleaders and naysayers are, that way you can identify the challenges that may arise. It is also wise to take a look at what is working and incorporate that into your future state so you don’t inadvertently break something that is going well. Make sure that you are leveraging relevant data to both identify the proposed improvements as well as to show them once achieved. And finally, to create supporters and build relationships across functions, you should look at ways to fill in the gaps in the legal department and offer support on projects. With these tips, your projects should be smoother to roll out.
  5. Analytics and AI are the Future - As in much of the world, artificial intelligence and business analytics are a big point of discussion in the legal operations space. This can be anything from analytics on top of a single existing platform all the way to cross-software AI to predict the outcome of litigation. Discussions about and the implementations of these tools are expected to continue in the next several years. Another exciting change for the field is the influx of new talent. As this is a new field, many of the current professionals transferred from another discipline. However, programs are being created to train for this area that will generate an influx of new talent that will move our profession forward. Finally, we expect more defined rules of engagement, both within legal operations but also with other departments in the company. This field is new so those rules have only recently started to form. That should solidify over the next several years.
  6. The Impacts of COVID-19 Should Not Drastically Change the Profession - Operationally, we were in a good situation given that legal operations is in the technology space. Departments were easily able to shift to work from home. Additionally, budgetary impacts have been different than any impacts that companies as a whole have felt.

Legal operations has evolved significantly and will continue to change as the field matures.

About the Author


Lighthouse is a global leader in eDiscovery and information governance solutions to manage the increasingly complex landscape of enterprise data for compliance and legal teams. Since our inception as a local document copy shop in 1995, Lighthouse has evolved with the legal technology landscape, anticipating the trends that shape legal practices, information management, and complex eDiscovery. Whether reacting to incidents like litigation or governmental investigations or designing programs to proactively minimize the potential for future incidents, Lighthouse partners with multinational industry leaders, top global law firms, and the world’s leading software provider as a channel partner.