The legal market keeps waiting for the Holy Grail that will finally drive real change — change that involves innovation in delivery methods and meaningful value propositions, and in the way legal services are procured. The legal press carries regular articles on many pressing trends in the industry, always looking to identify the one that will matter. An oft-suggested candidate for such trends is that clients have become more sophisticated buyers of legal services. The main point here is that clients are increasing the pressure on law firms, leveraging their buying power to force firms to embrace meaningful change.
In theory this sounds good, but the reality is that in-house legal departments are made up of lawyers who used to work at large law firms themselves. In most circumstances, it has only resulted in rate discount requests. Without more skills in pricing, budgeting, project management, and other leading topics, legal departments have not been well-positioned to drive change. It's not that the lawyers in these roles aren't well intended, it's that they lack the skills and experience to affect change.
Legal departments realized the need for adding those skills, and in recent years expanded their teams by adding new roles. This is putting them in better position to work with outside counsel on change. Of course some legal departments have had roles like these for some time now, but the broader market has only recently embraced this new approach of empowering allied professionals to help legal departments evolve.
Another trend driving the need for these new roles is an increased number of client-side lawyers. The trend of legal departments bringing more work in-house via larger legal teams has been well documented elsewhere. And as clients have bulked up their teams, this has further increased the pressure for more legal operational support. With so many lawyers, legal departments now need to address needs like professional development, knowledge management, practice innovation, etc. This further expands the need for allied professionals with a broader range of skills.
With all of these new legal operations roles and functions, the demands on them have increased, resulting in an obvious need for sharing best practices across in-house legal teams. A group of professionals in these legal operations roles came together and decided to form an association to address this issue: the Corporate Legal Operations Consortium, more popularly known as CLOC. CLOC originated in the Bay area from a group of legal operations directors, but has quickly grown far beyond that. The group saw the need for an official organization and moved quickly to form one.
Key founders and current board members include Connie Brenton, who is Chairman of the Board. She works as the Senior Director of Legal Operations for NetApp. Other officers include Jeff Franke from Yahoo, who serves as the Corporate Secretary, and Christine Coats with Oracle, who functions as the CFO. Also on the Board are Mary O'Carroll from Google, Brian Hupp from Facebook, Lisa Konie from Adobe, and Steve Harmon with Cisco. The heavy influence of technology companies in the forming and leading of CLOC is obvious.
After incorporating in late 2015, CLOC quickly started planning for their first conference. Despite the short planning window that conference, held in San Francisco in May 2016, drew an incredible 500 attendees. Clearly there was a demand for knowledge on legal operations. This garnered much attention from a broad spectrum of players in the legal market. There was a full slate of programming, and many in-house legal departments sent multiple people. Additionally, law firms and vendors attended and in many cases became sponsors.
The program sessions covered many topics but had the theme of creating better spend management and driving efficiencies both internally and from their law firms. There was also some frustration expressed that law firms are not driving enough innovation in their delivery models.
On the heels of that successful conference, CLOC expanded its efforts to include a number of working projects. One of the initial projects was developing a standard set of Outside Counsel Guidelines (OCGs). Since OCGs have become more common and have grown in complexity, having some standard for the market makes sense. Another needed standard identified is patent prosecution. CLOC feels that a commonly-understood, consistent way for describing the process of securing and maintaining patents would aid in developing non-hourly pricing and matter budgets.
Other CLOC projects aim to:
- Better define legal operations roles
- Develop model job descriptions
- Write an Internship Playbook
- Create a Career Skills Toolkit
- Develop a standard electronic signature policy
- Establish common performance metrics for outside counsel
- Define dashboards templates for in-house teams
- Describe how legal project management can best be utilized
There are a number of other knowledge management initiatives too. And if this isn't enough of a challenge, CLOC encourages its members to propose additional initiatives, providing a road map for proposing and leading new ones. To help bring enough members to the table to run with these many initiatives, CLOC developed membership categories and began accepting paid members in 2016, including academic and student categories.
All of this effort was capped off with the May 2017 conference held in Las Vegas. The event drew about 1000 attendees, doubling the 2016 numbers. The numbers were driven both by more legal departments participating, as well as attendees from law firms, vendors, consultants and other providers to the legal market. Presenters included luminaries such as Richard Susskind, and the opening segment utilized live, voice-activated technology demonstrations including Amazon Echo.
Considering CLOC is a volunteer-run organization, its growth and success are phenomenal. The amount of time and effort put into the planning and execution of the event and all of the projects is herculean. And this is all from people with very demanding full-time jobs.
The explosive growth of CLOC in terms of the number of people involved, the new skills and expertise these people bring, and the litany of projects underway is a large sign that legal operations is taking a strong foothold in the market — and that these roles will play a significant part in driving real change for the profession. The deep, underlying trend here means new roles that are focused on driving efficiency and effectiveness are taking a front-and-center place in reshaping the industry.
We should fully expect strong, continued growth of both CLOC and legal operations roles. Law firms and other market participants would do well to not only recognize this meaningful development, but to actively participate in its growth. This trend presents an opportunity to more deeply engage with clients on meaningful issues that support their success in new ways.
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