The Ultimate Guide to Legal Operations: Part C

The Case for Legal Operations

by GLS GROUP July 02, 2020

Lawyer success

“The IHL team is like the F1 race team.

All IHL teams need strategies to leverage up 

Every GC we speak with complains of not having enough people, enough money and/or enough time, whilst their workloads are increasing exponentially.

The case for developing a legal operations competency centres around 4 key and irrefutable premises:

• IHLs are required to support the growing legal & compliance requirements of businesses;

• the resources available to most IHL teams are finite and/or reducing;

• the IHL function has traditionally been seen as a “cost centre”, but which now must justify its existence by reference to its contribution of demonstrable value to the business; and

• IHLs must now start to speak the language of business, which is hard numbers, if they are to attract value recognition and required resourcing.

The above paradigm, in our view, applies to all legal teams everywhere, without exception.

Just working hard no longer cuts it ...

Most IHLs perceive themselves (justifiably) as “working really hard”, but hard work alone doesn’t automatically translate into efficiency or value if processes are failing and/or the team doesn’t have the right tools.

What this means quite simply is that IHLs need to adapt and get the “business as usual” elements of their role done more efficiently so that they can free up capacity for the stuff that matters – strategic growth opportunities and X-factors.

The below graphic depicts the time utilisation of typical “Old Law” IHLs by comparison to a New Law operating model.

LOC Centre

The above is based on a vast amount of empirical data gathered from hundreds of IHLs, and, in summary, it depicts:

• the inadequacy of what IHLs are currently achieving with their existing resource line-ups;

• the typical utilisation of IHL capacity across work type categories; and

• how IHLs need to re-constitute the way they work to achieve far greater strategic contributions.

The key observations around Old Law IHL performance are as follows:

• IHLs are spending too long in the business as usual / “Grind Zone” – around 70% of their capacity;

• IHLs can and should spend far more time in the “Strategic Zone” and “X-Factor Zones – at least 50% of their capacity;

• IHL resources remain extremely limited – this unfortunately, is unlikely to change; location

• Transformation is about improving your IHL’s strategic focus – doing the things that matter, and doing those things well, but with less resources;

• IHLs have to achieve better outcomes with their existing resources, which typically means using them in different ways; and

• IHL value recognition, which is currently low across the board, tends to positively correlate with an IHL visibly doing things that the business values highly.

Every legal team globally must ratchet up efficiency and cut costs, while avoiding the temptation to add complexity or consume more financial and employee resources … all whilst facing an ever-growing work requirement.

F1 Drivers do not wash their own car

We know that IHLs understand the above transformation graphic – it’s a single slide that explains the challenge ahead that all IHLs can relate to.

Nevertheless, there is another super accessible case for legal operations that is perhaps the easiest of all to digest. It is as follows:

Formula 1 race teams do not ask their drivers (their most expensive team members) to clean the car, check the tyres, tune the engine or transport the car to the next race, etc.”

F1 team

They want their drivers to focus on their primary responsibilities – driving the car as fast as possible, avoiding accidents, turning in fast lap times, securing pole positions and trying to stay ahead of the pack.

The IHL team is like the F1 race team – it comprises of high performance, expensive and task focused team members who have been trained for a specific function.

Say noBut unlike the F1 team, IHL teams are often bogged down by tasks which prevent them from focusing on performing in the areas where they are needed most and perform the best.

The sad reality is that IHLs, like most lawyers, are fundamentally helpful people, rarely say “no”, and too frequently agree to take on extra work. In short, many IHLs lose their strategic focus because they are simply too helpful.

25 signs that you need legal operations support

If any of the below are present in your IHL, there is a strong chance that you would benefit from deploying a legal operations agenda:

1. You need to slash legal spend from your budget

2. BAU is keeping your IHL team away from more strategic matters

3. You lack a central instruction ingress point Inefficiency

4. You do not maintain basic metrics to track team performance

5. You have a disaggregated approach to knowledge management

6. You are not actively forecasting workflows 6 months in advance

7. Your business complains about your IHL’s response time

8. Your legal files and core business documents are not housed centrally and/or are not instantly accessible

9. You cannot identify the 15 critical functions of your IHL team

10. You struggle to “performance manage” external service providers 

11. Your lawyers spend less than 15% of their time on departmental transformation activities lawyer running

12. You have many workflows that could benefit from automation

13. You do not have or have not recently maintained your legal precedent library

14. Your team finds itself preparing RFPs for external service providers

15. You do not operate a legal team service charter or group legal policy

16. Your IHL does not have a formal operating mandate

17. Your IHL does not command the value recognition you feel it deserves

18. Your team complains that it lacks the support tools and/or training that it needs

19. You think your IHL is too small for a legal operations agenda

20. Your IHL feels as though it is under appreciated and under supported

22. You do not find yourself leveraging existing know-how and precedents

21. You have not audited your IHL’s performance against critical departmental workflows multi tasking

23. Your IHL performs tasks that other departments could do

24. You have experienced sub-optimal headcount churn over the past 3 years

25. You have 2 or more lawyers in your IHL

If any of the above applies to your IHL – developing a legal operations competency can bring dramatic boosts to your team’s performance – and arm you with the empirical data needed to prove it.

Related Resource: Book a free consultation with GLS Group to discuss how your organisation can respond to inefficiency

Essential Observations/Tips:

• All IHLs must enhance what they can achieve with their existing resources
• All IHLs must ratchet up efficiency and cut costs
• Just as F1 drivers focus on driving the car – lawyers must remain focused on lawyering
• The base case for legal operations is found in systemic inefficiency and low IHL value recognition



In Part D, we seek to focus in on the potential implications faced by IHL leaders as they consider embracing a legal operations agenda. Specifically, on how IHL leaders best manage the “personal risk” that they will potentially face:


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