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Legal Operations
Business Blueprints

What is Legal Operations? A Complete Guide

Will Cannon

Last updated on May 14, 2024

At its core, “legal operations” is a term used to describe the management of a law firm or corporate legal department. Understanding and implementing core competencies can improve the bottom line of any organization in today’s complex world. Identifying and addressing inefficiencies in your organization can position your company as a leader in your industry. 

What is Legal Operations?

Legal operations are the activities and processes that support an organization’s legal work. These activities include issues management, contract management (using software), compliance monitoring, and litigation support. In other words, legal operations encompass everything that must be done to ensure that an organization’s legal work is carried out effectively and efficiently.

Legal operations are integral in ensuring an organization’s legal processes are carried out in a manner that is consistent with the organization’s goals. Without effective legal operations, an organization’s legal work can quickly become disorganized and inefficient, leading to costly mistakes and missed opportunities. 

In today’s fast-paced business environment, having a well-run legal operation is essential for any organization that wants to stay ahead of the competition. Signaturely provides robust contract management and e-signature solutions to streamline legal operations through automation. 

How Legal Operations Have Shifted Over Time

Many fields have undergone several changes recently, and legal operations are no exception. In the past, legal operations were primarily focused on administrative tasks such as managing schedules and billing. However, as the legal landscape has become increasingly complex, the role of legal ops has grown to encompass a wider range of responsibilities. 

Today, legal operations professionals are often responsible for managing budgets, conducting research, and overseeing compliance with regulations. In recent years, the role of legal operations has evolved from being primarily project-based to being an essential part of the organization’s daily procedures. This change is largely due to the growing complexity of the legal landscape and the need for greater efficiency in how law firms and companies operate. As a result, legal ops teams are now considered vital to any successful law firm or company. This shift reflects the changing needs of the legal profession and indicates that legal ops are likely to continue evolving in the years to come.

Legal Operations Core Competencies

The Corporate Legal Operations Consortium (CLOC) is a group of corporate legal professionals dedicated to improving the effectiveness of legal operations. The consortium has identified twelve core competencies that legal departments should focus on to be successful: analytical skills, business acumen, project management, financial management, change management, people management, process improvement, technology literacy, knowledge management, data analysis, risk management, and compliance. 

These competencies are essential for legal departments to function effectively and efficiently. Companies can save large amounts of money each year by focusing on these areas. In addition, the CLOC provides a forum for sharing best practices and exchanging ideas. 

Financial Management

Financial management is a critical competency for any legal ops leader. Optimizing financial resources and implementing sound budgets are more important than ever in today’s challenging economy. Organizations can free up resources to invest in other areas by saving time and money on legal operations. This competency is a complex skill, but with the right training and tools, it is an achievable goal for any legal operations leader. 

Key Responsibilities of Financial Management

Important responsibilities for the Financial Management competency include: 

  • Creating and managing a budget that takes recurring expenses into account
  • Forecasting spending to make adjustments to the budget and financial plan
  • Implementing methods to reduce costs and improve the financial health of the organization

Vendor Management

Regarding legal ops, it’s vital to focus on vendor management. After all, the success of any legal team depends heavily on quality relationships with its vendors. The Vendor Management competency involves identifying the best vendors to work with, building strong relationships, and ensuring that they meet the legal team’s needs. 

While this may seem like a lot of work, it’s essential to the success of any legal team. By taking the time to build strong vendor relationships, teams can ensure they’re getting the best possible products and services at a fair price. 

Key Responsibilities of Vendor Management

Essential duties of the Vendor Management competency include: 

  • Conducting proper due diligence of all vendors to ensure the quality of work is up to par
  • Building guidelines for billing and negotiating vendor fees 
  • Managing vendor relationships to drive successful business outcomes 

Cross-Functional Alignment

Communication is key to ensuring that different departments can work together effectively. This is especially true for legal operations requiring high cross-functional alignment to succeed. By building strong communication channels between departments like HR, finance, and sales, legal ops can ensure that everyone is working towards the same goal from a legal standpoint. 

Key Responsibilities of Cross-Functional Alignment

Key responsibilities for the Cross-Functional Alignment competency in legal operations include:

  • Ensuring alignment across departments to optimize organizational cohesion
  • Building contract governance for legal standardization across departments
  • Establishing communication channels and strategies to keep legal teams up to date on the latest legal services and policies

Technology & Process Support

Many legal departments are rethinking their operations to be more effective and efficient. One important competency for legal ops is finding ways to automate processes and modernize the department. By investing in technology and process support, companies can ensure their legal operations are up-to-date and able to meet the marketplace’s ever-changing demands.

Key Responsibilities of Technology & Process Support

Essential responsibilities for the Technology and Process competency include: 

  • Identifying which technologies will best support legal ops responsibilities
  • Streamline processes such as collecting legal eSignatures using software solutions and automation
  • Work with technology vendors to make full use of technology that can improve the organization

Service Delivery & Alternative Support Models

This competency involves utilizing the right level of resources, distributing responsibilities across departments, and allocating tasks to improve efficiency. When it comes to service delivery, one size does not fit all. Each organization has unique needs and preferences; it’s important to adapt your approach as needed. 

Key Responsibilities of Service Delivery & Alternative Support Models

Essential responsibilities for the Service Delivery and Alternative Support Models competency include: 

  • Maintaining vendor relationships to improve the level of service
  • Breaking down tasks and allotting them to the most appropriate legal departments to improve efficiency
  • Getting rid of low-quality legal support services that don’t enhance ROI

Organizational Design, Support & Management

Organizational Design, Support, and Management are essential competencies for any company that wants to build a long-term plan for organizational growth. This includes managing new hires and enhancing the experience of legal employees. Without these competencies, companies will find it difficult to retain talent and keep up with the ever-changing legal landscape. 

Key Responsibilities of Organizational Design, Support & Management

Essential responsibilities for the Organizational Design, Support, and Management competency include: 

  • Implementing a strategy for hiring and professional development
  • Designing a strategy to attract a diverse pool of talented individuals who can support the legal team
  • Promoting a positive workplace experience for in-house legal teams by providing resources and support when needed; this includes creating an environment that fosters collaboration and respect


Communication is a critical competency for any legal ops team. It involves more than simply conveying information—it also means getting everyone on the same page and aligned with the company’s legal vision. Effective communication is essential for building buy-in from multiple departments and stakeholders. 

Key Responsibilities of Communications

Essential responsibilities for the Communications competency include: 

  • Creating the right tone and brand for communicating important legal updates 
  • Communicating difficult information in the most effective way possible
  • Staying on top of communication channels to keep departments informed on the latest developments

Data Analytics

Data Analytics is a legal ops competency that many in-house counsels identified as a critical success factor. Using data to identify operational efficiencies, trends, and cost savings opportunities is essential in today’s competitive legal market. The ability to extract insights from complex data is becoming increasingly sophisticated. 

Key Responsibilities of Data Analytics

Essential responsibilities for the Data Analytics (a.k.a., business intelligence) competency include: 

  • Determining which legal data to collect to further organizational objectives
  • Performing data analysis to find areas of opportunity
  • Using industry sources and different departments to drive objectives through data 

Litigation Support & IP Management

The Litigation Support and IP Management competency encompasses a wide range of activities, from e-discovery and document review to managing intellectual property. As such, in-house legal teams must have adequate resources and expertise in this area to remain competitive. While many law firms have traditionally outsourced these services, an increasing number are now bringing them in-house to control costs and improve quality. 

Key Responsibilities of Litigation Support & IP Management

Essential responsibilities for Litigation Support and IP Management competency include: 

  • Reviewing documents for litigation risk 
  • Managing and implementing e-discovery software to automate litigation support
  • Assisting with trial preparation and managing legal holds 

Knowledge Management

As the legal landscape becomes increasingly complex, organizations rely more on knowledge management to help them meet their goals. Knowledge Management is a competency that allows legal operations to create institutional knowledge of legal processes and standards across the organization. This knowledge can improve efficiencies, help resolve issues more quickly, and guide employees to make better-informed decisions.

Key Responsibilities of Knowledge Management

Essential responsibilities for the Knowledge Management competency include: 

  • Creating plans for knowledge gaps with in-house counsel as employees transition in and out of the organization
  • Standardizing legal documents and templates
  • Maintaining a knowledge base of the company’s procedures to optimize workflow, reduce errors, and ensure compliance with contract regulations 

Information Governance & Records Management

The Information Governance and Records Management competency is responsible for developing and implementing policies and procedures that ensure compliance with relevant laws and regulations. It ensures that data is properly classified and stored and that records are managed in an orderly and accessible manner. In addition, specialist IG and RM roles are highly involved in incident response plans, helping to minimize the impact of data breaches and other security incidents.

Key Responsibilities of Information Governance & Records Management

Essential responsibilities for this competency include: 

  • Crafting accessible legal documents for more visibility across the organization
  • Creating learning systems for employees to understand the legal protocol better 
  • Ensure the right level of access to legal documents organization-wide

Strategic Planning

To create a company’s long-term legal strategy, legal ops professionals must be able to identify and assess the business’s overall goals. They should understand the current legal landscape and anticipate future trends. These individuals must also be adept at developing creative solutions that align with the company’s business objectives. 

Key Responsibilities of Strategic Planning

Essential responsibilities for the Strategic Planning competency include: 

  • Determining which short-term and long-term initiatives to invest in further legal goals
  • Align the broader team on legal strategy and objectives
  • Tracking relevant metrics to ensure consistency in strategy execution

Legal Operations Roles

A company’s legal operations department optimizes the legal team’s performance. There are three main roles in legal operations: the manager, the specialist, and the analyst. 

These roles work together under the direction of the legal operations director to ensure that the legal department is operating efficiently and effectively.

Legal Operations Manager

The role of a legal operations manager is crucial to the smooth running of any legal department. This is because the role’s core responsibilities are to manage and coordinate the department’s administrative functions. In addition, the legal operations manager supports the lawyers in carrying out their work. 

The person fulfilling this role ensures that all documentation is filed correctly, deadlines are met, and that client communication and vendor relationships are managed effectively. 

Legal Operations Specialist

Legal operations specialists streamline departmental processes, improve efficiencies, and reduce costs. To accomplish these goals, in-house legal operations specialists must have a deep understanding of business law and the inner workings of the corporate legal department. 

Core responsibilities include creating and managing budgets, developing process improvements, overseeing vendor relationships, and providing support for various types of litigation. 

Legal Operations Analyst

With the increasing complexity of the legal field, law firms, and corporate legal departments seek ways to improve efficiency and reduce costs. The legal ops analyst is responsible for identifying areas of improvement and developing strategies to reduce expenses and improve workflow.

In addition, the legal operations analyst will work with vendors to structure legal agreements, negotiate contracts, and ensure that invoices are accurate. This role is essential to the smooth operation of any legal department or law firm.

How to Build a Top-Notch Legal Operations Team

Building a legal operations team for your business is no simple feat. There are many factors to consider, including the size and scope of the business, the industry in which it operates, and the company’s specific needs. 

To build a legal operations team successfully, you should first identify the key functions the legal operations team will need to perform. These may include managing potential risks (for example compliance), negotiating contracts, handling litigation matters, and providing advice on regulatory issues. Once these functions have been determined, you can decide which individuals or legal departments within the company will be responsible for each. 

After key functions have been identified and assigned, it is important to develop processes and systems that will enable the legal operations team to carry out its work effectively. This may involve developing templates for common legal documents, setting up a central repository for all corporate documents, and implementing the right software tools to get the job done. 

Must-Have Tools for Legal Operations

Legal operations teams are pressured to do more with less in today’s fast-paced business world. That means finding ways to work smarter, not just harder. It’s essential to select your software tools carefully. The right legal operations tools can automate routine tasks, reduce the risk of errors, and help you work more efficiently. 

  1. Signaturely is a cloud-based solution that offers a wide range of digital legal solutions, including electronic signatures, contract management, and document automation, which helps drive productivity. 
  2. Relativity helps attorneys quickly and easily review large amounts of data, identify relevant documents, and prepare for trial. 
  3. Practical Law offers a variety of features and resources that can help users manage their legal work, including a searchable database of laws, regulations, and court cases. 
  4. Confluence is a central repository for all documents, which can be easily accessed and updated by team members to improve efficiency and productivity. 
  5. Luminance reads and analyzes contracts, documents, and emails to uncover risk, save time on repetitive tasks, and improve decision-making. 

FAQs About Legal Operations

What does a legal operations director do?

A legal operations director is responsible for the overall management and efficiency of a company’s legal department. This includes overseeing budgeting and spending, developing policies and procedures, and managing compliance with regulations. 

When did legal operations start?

Legal operations began to emerge in the 1990s and mid-2000s as companies became more complex. These departments are focused on optimizing company-wide legal processes and improving efficiencies.

What is legal operations software?

Legal operations software helps law firms and departments manage their practice more efficiently. It can track client case files, help manage billing and invoicing, and make scheduling appointments and meetings much easier. 

What You Need to Remember About Legal Operations

As the legal landscape continues to evolve, so too must the way that law firms do business. It’s essential to have a well-run legal operation to stay competitive. This means having the right software to handle day-to-day operations and improving the 12 legal operations competencies. By taking the time to assess your business’s needs and putting the necessary systems in place, you can be sure that your firm is positioned for success.

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