I had the good fortune to attend the first in-person CLOC Global Institute in three years. It was an extremely positive experience. Unfortunately, I came home to find I was different kind of positive (new reality; unsurprising after three weeks of travel). I was therefore not able to timely complete my final CGI Dispatch for Artificial Lawyer. Blogs, however, have no deadlines.
Dispatch #1 discussed the rise of legal ops in the context of ever-increasing scale, organizational complicatedness, and legal complexity.
Dispatch #2 covered the stellar pre-conference Legal Ops 101 session, highlighting the importance of education when most legal ops roles are net new and, therefore, being filled by individuals with no prior experience.
Dispatch #4 was to be a reflection piece. While I could have done without the multiple days of fatigue and brain fog, I am glad I had the opportunity to truly reflect.
Let me set the scene.
LARGE CONFERENCE ROOM — BELLAGIO, LAS VEGAS — CLOC GLOBAL INSTITUTE — LEGAL OPS 101
The presenters are lined up on stage at the end of a three-hour session built around the CLOC Core 12. The Q&A session is commencing. I am part of a sold-out audience of 170+.
Question: At a company where legal ops is new, which of the Core 12 would you start with?
Presenter1: Well, I began by getting the DMS under control.
Me (mouthing silently): What? No?
Presenter2: Typically, ebilling and outside counsel rates get attacked first.
Me (shaking head and whispering): But…but…
Presenter3: Knowledge management.
Me (clutching table and muttering compulsively): No! No! You start with the business! The business!
Presenter4: Department budgeting.
Me (spontaneously combusts)
The above is not a literal transcript. But it is a fair recounting of the conclusion of the excellent Legal Ops 101. What was unfair was my reaction.
While I have been wrong many times before (here, here), I stand by my substantive point in this instance. I am a broken record (most recently, here) about the importance, and unfortunate absence, of centering business needs in law department planning.
But being right is different than being fair.
I was unfair because I’ve been answering variants of the question for over a decade and am practiced in rejecting the premise. In the moment, the presenters were responding off the cuff to what they personally tackled first, as they generously shared their experience with an audience of newcomers.
The presenters’ candor likely landed better with, and was more useful to, this group, in this setting, than would have been the case had one of them somehow channeled my didactic proclivities. Plus, I had my opportunity to speak to my piece (more below).
The promise is the peril. I’ve always been bullish on legal operation. I remain so. By every metric, the sold-out CGI was a success suggesting the “legal operations revolution” is accelerating. This pleases me.
But I have concerns. My concerns are not so much with legal operations itself—which is maturing apace. Rather, I worry many law departments now ‘doing legal operations’ are underestimating the true scale of the challenges they face, in the present and in the future (see Dispatch #1).
That is, I worry that law departments are expecting too much from legal ops relative to the actual level of investment in dollars, time, and willingness to change behavior—similar to law firms hiring a few talented people to ‘do innovation” as a means to satisfy that related imperative. Indeed, there is nothing unique to legal, let alone law departments, in the penchant for defaulting to organizational, process, and innovation theater because of very real resource and bandwidth constraints in a world where daily operations have inherent tension with projects—while the list of worthwhile projects is practically infinite (i.e., some things simply will not get done).
In the same vein, many legal ops professionals are under unreasonable pressure to manage up. In many cases, these are relatively new, junior team members. Asking them to completely re-orient a department they recently joined is an absurd (and unfunded) mandate.
Returning to my own unfairness, it would have been unhelpful to suggest to a room full of newcomers that they go back to the GCs that just hired them and insist on initiating a thorough operational review in order to devise a target operating model aligned with business objectives amidst an increasingly complex operating environment—even if that is what many law departments ultimately need.
Which is a long-winded way (my favorite) of reinforcing that, while it serves many functions, including educating new professionals, CLOC’s most mission-critical purpose might be shaping the broader context in which legal operations is considered.
In fairly short order, GCs have been convinced that legal operations is a necessity (with 81% of law departments hiring for the role). But it will take even more effective storytelling to not only secure appropriate levels of investment in legal operations but to ensure the right problems are being addressed, the right way, in the right sequence. We don’t only need to change the stories GCs tell themselves about legal operations—we need to change the entire narrative around how the law departments serve the business.
The collective nature of this challenge is one of many reasons I am so heartened by how genuinely CLOC has embraced an ecosystem view of community.
I have a confession. To feed my family, I support the sales of legal tech (the LexFusion business model).
I am also a CLOC member in good standing, with all the privileges thereof (cue Groucho). It was not always this way.
I am not certain how many castes there are in the legal ecosystem. But, having been a BigLaw litigator, an in-house counsel, a legaltech founder, a consultant to in-house departments and law firms, a leader of ‘non-lawyers’ in BigLaw, and, now, an auxiliary executive for legal innovation companies who must sell tech and services to survive, I submit that vendors encounter the greatest levels of enmity—treated as a necessary evil (and, often, not even as necessary).
Just last week, an in-house friend tried to invite me to a dinner conversation but was informed I was not welcome because of my vendor status—regardless of what I might contribute to the conversation or how committed I am about limiting sales talk to appropriate circumstances (I fully acknowledge poor sales decorum has rightly contributed to the negative view of vendors—and law firms, and any other group that needs to sell, which includes everyone). Also last week, an in-house friend I deeply respect sent plaudits to Stephanie Corey of UpLevel Ops and me for our Savings is Not a Strategy article and then asked if we could help him put together a panel of in-house speakers to discuss the content without inviting Corey or me to participate—despite us being the authors and our combined visibility into hundreds of law departments.
Kudos to CLOC for recognizing the essential contribution of vendors to changing how legal services are delivered.
In February 2021, CLOC expanded its membership, “inviting the entire ecosystem to join [the] community.” As then CLOC Board President Mary O’Carroll explained in the announcement, “At its simplest, this new community is about pairing diversity of thought with the right solutions to spark conversations to drive transformation of the business of law.”
A fine sentiment. But it is one thing to take money. It is another to make good on the implicit promise of an inclusive community. Yet, having just attended the first in-person CGI since membership was expanded, I am living proof that CLOC was true to their words.
Jae and I had our panel (see Dispatch #3) selected among 212 submissions for the 71 CGI sessions because the CLOC Education Advisory Committee believed the content would be valuable for attendees. It was not pay-to-play because we didn’t pay—small shops, neither Six Parsecs nor LexFusion sponsored CGI.
Jae and I are not alone. Rich Lee, founder and CEO of New Era ADR (The Future of ADR?), remarks, “My team and I were impressed by the array of organizations represented at CLOC—including vendors like ourselves—demonstrating CLOC’s strong follow-through on its mission to expand its community. As a part of this, we’re grateful that CLOC chose New Era ADR to host a panel (“Confessions of General Counsel”) despite us being first-timers and not yet being sponsors. Together is how we continue driving cost-effectiveness, efficiency, and scalability in law departments, and CLOC increasingly demonstrates that it is *the* connective tissue that makes it all happen.”
My co-author, fellow vendor, and member of yet another CGI panel, Corey, agrees, “I was surprised, and so pleased. They looked objectively at the merits of the content in the proposals, and provided a platform to the industry experts regardless of their current roles. The respect for expertise wherever it resides is a testament to how CLOC has grown as an organization.” Corey knows of what she speaks—before being a vendor, she led legal operations at FLEX and was a founder of CLOC.
Eric Laughlin, CEO of CLM company Agiloft, concurs, “CLOC is unique in that it is a community where providers and legal ops professionals can be equal conversation partners. That is on display at CGI 2022.”
The commitment to fostering an inclusive community extends beyond speaking opportunities. Basha Rubin, founder and CEO of legal marketplace Priori, is a member of the new CLOC Education Advisory Committee, which launched in December. Rubin explains the benefits of CLOC’s ecosystem focus from a vendor perspective, “Being part of the CLOC ecosystem has benefited Priori in myriad ways — from allowing us to collaborate with clients on our product roadmap, to learning more about the pain points and priorities of legal operations leaders to shape the future direction of the company and building partnerships with vendors and law firms to create more comprehensive and collaborative solutions.”
Partnership is mission critical. Indeed, Rubin’s Priori co-founder, Mirra Levitt, moderated a CGI panel—“It Takes a Data Ecosystem: Deepening In-house & Outside Counsel Partnerships”—that was so well received it garnered a punk rock shout out from the main stage during the day’s closing session from Netflix’s Jenn McCarron, who celebrated the “woman founded” company (McCarron was accurately described elsewhere as “dynamite with a laser beam”). The Priori panel comprised Andrea Kochensparger (fmr. Zimmer Biomet), Farrah Pepper (Marsh McLennan), An Trotter (Hearst), and Wendy Butler Curtis (Orrick).
Curtis’s participation is a great reminder that vendors, of course, are not the only ones welcome to the more inclusive party. Orrick’s Chief Innovation Officer, Curtis observes, “CGI is accelerating innovation by creating community.” Or, in the words of our own geek, Toby Brown, Chief Practice Management Officer of Perkins Coie, “It’s good to see CLOC working to be more collaborative with their outside counsel. It is through these partnerships we will find ways to develop win-win solutions.”
As much I like winning, and win-wins, I will stick with the Curtis characterization. Community is the key takeaway. And if some of us can get off our high horse [raises hand sheepishly], there is so much to be accomplished addressing our collective challenges together—because we certainly can’t do it alone. After some involuntary time to reflect, community was, for me, the story of CGI 2022. I’m already looking forward to adding another chapter at CGI 2023.