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By Debora Motyka Jones, Esq.

Published on Mon, July 6, 2020

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Watch it on demand by clicking here.

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.

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

  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. If you have questions or would like to discuss this topic further, please reach out to me at djones@lighthouseglobal.com.

About the Author
Debora Motyka Jones, Esq.

Senior Advisor, Market Engagement and Operations

Debora has been with Lighthouse since 2009 and has made a significant impact on the company’s growth and business strategy during her tenure. With a background in litigation from practicing at law firms in both Washington D.C and Washington State, her expertise and deep understanding of complex ediscovery matters enabled her to create a resonating brand and architect the innovative products and services that keep Lighthouse at the forefront of the ediscovery market. She led the execution and implementation of the company’s rebranding in 2012 and developed the marketing department from the ground up. In addition, she has been instrumental in spearheading the company’s strategic technology partnerships, driving the formation of Lighthouse’s product strategy, and the evolution of Lighthouse’s SmartSeries. She also instituted and continues to maintain a client advisory board to ensure strong alignment with market demands. Finally, in 2015, Debora lead the company’s expansion to the eastern seaboard by managing the development the New York office and team, as well as expanding upon the company’s current set of services and clientele.

Prior to joining Lighthouse, Debora was a Complex Commercial Litigation Associate at Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP in Washington, D.C. where she worked on matters such as the WorldCom and Enron bankruptcies. Her practice also included multi-million-dollar commercial and securities litigation, and internal investigations. While at Weil, Debora was recognized three times for her dedication to pro bono service. Debora also practiced as a litigation Associate at McNaul Ebel Nawrot & Helgren PLLC. Her practice included commercial, employment, and securities litigation, as well as legal malpractice defense.

Debora received a B.A. in Psychology from the University of Washington where she graduated magna cum laude. She received her law degree from The George Washington University Law School in Washington, D.C. She is admitted to practice law in New York State, the District of Columbia (inactive membership), and Washington State. Debora is Level II Pragmatic Marketing Certified. Debora is actively involved in the legal community as the former Director of Women in eDiscovery, as a mentor with Mother Attorneys Mentoring Association of Seattle, as an Advisory Board Member for the Organization of Legal Professionals, as the former Chair of the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC)'s New to In-House Committee, and as a former board member of the Washington Women Lawyers (WWL). Debora was also recognized for her contribution to the ACC and was named 2012 WWL Board Member of the Year. Debora is a frequent speaker on eDiscovery strategy, a former instructor for the Organization of Legal Professionals, and a regular Lighthouse blog contributor.