In legal operations, the best laid plans often go awry. More than half of corporate legal departments are currently struggling to effectively implement business process improvements and/or manage their budgets as they work to reduce costs, accelerate service delivery and realize efficiencies. Despite their objectives to optimize across process, technology, vendor management, resource allocation and more, 53% either do not have or are still developing a defined roadmap and strategy. Against that backdrop, most expect that successfully realizing and solidifying their programs will persist as a leading challenge in the year ahead.
Poor change management and undefined roadmaps are common culprits of legal operations program breakdowns — and likely causes of the lack of confidence in solving implementation challenges. While nearly two-thirds of legal operations leaders agree that their roles are “primarily change management,” they often lack the resources or shared plan and vision needed to articulate and effectuate meaningful change. When the direction and vision are clearly articulated, it’s easier to obtain collective buy-in on the actions needed. In the absence of a clear strategy that accounts for potential adoption barriers, legal operations teams will continue to struggle with integrating new tools and processes.
The arrival of a new year provides an opportunity to pivot away from stubborn habits and challenges. Legal operations professionals can use this time of planning and reflection to reset their roadmaps and embed intentionality and accountability into key department goals.
As teams develop their 2023 legal operations plans, there are several “resolutions” that should be prioritized and set with intention, to help ensure critical objectives are met throughout the year.
In 2023, many of the known and previous legal operations hurdles are likely to persist. Especially given looming economic uncertainty, pressure to do more with less is expected to further increase. Legal departments must plan their technology, people and process transformations in the context of current needs and potential future requirements that may arise as their organization grows or the department is asked to support additional aspects of the business. It’s critical to support and account for growth when planning, so strategic, long-term decisions can be made about technology selections and other critical operational changes.
In setting intentional resolutions for the new year, legal operations leaders must remember that technology alone will not solve problems. In addition to a strong focus on change management, sound process frameworks are needed to underpin the entire program and maintain alignment across infrastructure, objectives and resourcing.
With that mindset as a starting point, there are five resolutions legal operations leaders can consider to achieve a strong year of measurable success. These include:
- Reflect: Define, target, address and measure what’s working and what’s not in work allocation and internal staffing.
- Connect: Establish and reinforce effective relations with internal “clients” across the organization.
- Save: Build structure and guidelines around vendor relationship management and enhance the impact of outside counsel.
- Renovate: Closely examine technology gaps, needs, selections and implementations.
- Trim: Improve processes to ensure they are humming as efficiently and effectively as possible.
Accountability and Action
When a reported 80% of New Year’s resolutions fail by February, how can legal departments ensure accountability and traction against their plans all year long?
Awareness of common pitfalls to watch out for is important. For example, change is a challenging area for most legal departments. Data quality is another, albeit lesseracknowledged, obstacle that can undermine the impact of new tools and hamper efforts to forecast business needs. Many teams may also find it difficult simply to get started — after all, how can goals be set and achieved without an understanding of the current state?
Conducting an in-depth assessment is an essential first step in overcoming many common gotchas. An assessment can provide a clear view into gaps across department operations, and help teams understand what their goals should be and specific steps they need to take to be accountable to them.
On the heels of an assessment, a roadmap can be drawn. Again, the state of the roadmap — including the strategy, budget, goals and action items within it — will affect the amount of progress made toward realizing and maintaining resolutions. The more developed the roadmap, the more successful the overall program is likely to be.
It’s also difficult to uphold to New Year’s resolutions without validation for why the resolution is so important to success, or without the resources (time, money, energy) required to see it through. It is likewise difficult for legal operations teams to follow through on their plans without a strong business case behind them. Goals must be realistic in accordance with the available budget, and leaders must be equipped to forecast (and later demonstrate) a positive return on investment.
Finally, every good resolution should be inherently attainable and measurable. In a legal operations context, this means ensuring that changes are aligned with business strategy, which will help ensure adoption and long-term buy-in. Legal departments can also leverage data and analytics to help measure performance. Moreover, the ability to gauge ongoing progress will provide the legal department with powerful information that can be used to celebrate success and leverage wins to accelerate further transformation.
Whatever intentional plans are set for 2023, it’s important to remember that not all New Year’s resolutions are destined for failure. With an accountable, transformational approach, and keen attention to change management, legal departments can beat the odds, and achieve goals that simultaneously meet corporate objectives and improve operations.
Throughout 2023, FTI Technology’s Corporate Legal Operations experts will publish a series of insights that expand on the concepts discussed in this paper. They will provide a closer look at each of the resolutions and offer teams checkpoints to support progress throughout the year.