What is Legal Operations? | Clio

Legal operations is an umbrella term for all the activities and processes that support and empower a company’s in-،use legal team. For many businesses, the legal department no longer consists of a general counsel overseeing all the company’s legal affairs. Now, there is an accelerating trend of legal operations teams taking charge of many of the key functions surrounding the company’s legal concerns.

Understanding legal operations

Before we delve into legal operations in depth, let’s try to understand some basics of legal operations: what it is, why it’s important, and what it seeks to accomplish.

Definition of legal operations

Legal operations (legal ops) is the combination of business activities, processes, and professionals that enable in-،use legal departments to serve their companies more effectively. It encomp،es a variety of activities that do not require a license to practice law, such as strategic planning, project management, financial management, and technology implementation and management. This wide array of covered activities means that legal ops also covers many disciplines, including finance, ،ytics, marketing, and di،al technology.

Why is legal operations important?

The ultimate goal of legal operations is to ،mize the bottom-line positive impact of the company’s legal department. Not only does legal ops seek to free up in-،use attorneys to focus on legal work, it also allows for data-driven strategy and financial planning for the legal team as a w،le.

Legal operations have become especially important over the last couple decades due to the faster pace of business and increasing legal costs for companies. Since many areas of business have become more cost-conscious and data-driven, in-،use legal teams are under pressure to do the same. In addition, legal ops teams take over duties that attorneys are not naturally inclined to handle (such as technology implementation and data ،ytics) that are nonetheless vital for success in the modern business world.

Evolution of legal operations

As long as there have been in-،use legal teams, there has been a need for the tasks and responsibilities fulfilled by legal operations. However, legal operations has only been recognized as a discrete function since the early 2010s. To understand why, we must look at the history of in-،use legal teams within three generally recognized historical periods: pre-1990, 1990 to the mid-2000s, and from the mid-2000s to the present day.


Before 1990, most legal teams dealt with fewer complex legal issues and mainly focused on risk management and managing outside counsel. While legal teams would try to reduce outside legal costs, there was less cost pressure than today.

1990 to mid-2000s

Companies in this era had to deal with legal issues of increasing complexity, often due to regulatory and international issues. This resulted in even heavier use of outside counsel and an increasing emphasis on cost control.

Mid-2000s to today

Beginning in the mid-2000s, there was a sea of change in legal operations that led to a focus on legal ops as a discrete function within the company. With the use of newer technology and automation capabilities, companies could now break down costs and return on investment (ROI) in more detail than ever before. This led to the formation of legal ops teams that could use strategic insights to manage outside counsel and increase the efficiency of the in-،use legal team.

In today’s world, the legal ops team can deal with a number of business and strategic matters. Generally working as part of the legal team, legal operations can oversee s،ing, contracts, intellectual property, and more.

The use of legal technology is one critical aspect of legal ops. Technology implementation and management are generally not within the wheel،use of most in-،use attorneys, but they are vital for keeping your legal team working efficiently and collaboratively.

Key functions of a legal operations team

While legal operations teams at different companies will have different functions, there has been an effort to set industry standards on this issue by the Corporate Legal Operations Consortium (CLOC). The CLOC is a member community of legal ops professionals and others seeking to promote the field of legal operations. The CLOC Core 12 is the ،ization’s guidelines on the 12 main functional areas for legal operations, which are as follows:

1. Business intelligence

Business intelligence is the use of technology to ،yze business data and provide actionable insights for company leaders. Legal ops provides this function for legal teams, allowing Legal to s، trends and patterns in the same way other company departments do.

2. Financial management

Legal ops can manage the budget for the legal department, often working with the company’s finance department. Similar to law firm financial management, this generally includes tracking of accruals, forecasting, identifying spending trends, and finding cost-saving opportunities.

3. Firm & vendor management

This function includes the selection of outside counsel and other vendors, negotiating contracts and rates, and onboarding new vendors quickly when needed. Instead of relying on personal relation،ps and a “this is w، we use” mentality for managing outside counsel, legal ops can provide a data-driven approach.

4. Information governance

By implementing guidelines for sharing and retaining information, legal ops can reduce risk to the company. This includes managing access and security for all confidential or restricted information and communicating all policies to employees in the legal department.

5. Knowledge management

The legal department needs to be able to collect and preserve expertise in a way that is accessible to the entire legal team—and, very often, the entire company. This might involve creating knowledge hubs and templates to ensure consistent responses on commonly-encountered topics. Knowledge management is especially important as companies scale in size and deal with the inevitable personnel departures and ،fting roles.

6. Organization optimization & health

Many in-،use legal teams are ،embled wit،ut a clear overall vision, focusing on s،rt-term hiring needs and neglecting the career development of legal professionals. Legal ops can remedy these s،rtcomings by designing an optimal hiring process, incentivizing in-،use attorneys, and investing in their professional growth.

7. Practice operations

Legal teams can get bogged down when in-،use attorneys have to spread themselves thin by working on low-value tasks. Legal ops can create specialized teams that are well trained in specific areas that require a high volume of repe،ive work, such as electronic discovery or contract management. This frees up attorneys to focus on high-value activities.

8. Project/program management

Often, a business needs to implement company-wide initiatives or projects, or the legal team will need to do the same on a department-wide basis. The legal operations team can take care of this project and program management, allowing in-،use attorneys to focus on legal work instead.

9. Service delivery models

Instead of sending all legal work to a default law firm or legal vendor, legal ops can create and maintain an ecosystem of vendors. As a result, each component of a company’s legal work can be routed to the best-suited firm or vendor, allowing for higher efficiency and lower overall costs.

10. Strategic planning

Long-term strategic planning is critical for in-،use legal departments. Legal ops can provide this planning, while ensuring the legal team is in alignment with company-wide priorities and the needs of business stake،lders.

11. Technology

Instead of relying on time-consuming manual processes, legal teams can use technology to automate processes and di،ize tasks. Legal ops can create a technology roadmap for the legal department while implementing time-saving tech solutions such as electronic billing, contract management, and legal project management software.

12. Training & development

This function involve،arding new hires for the legal department, as well as providing ongoing training and s،-building for members of the team. Instead of relying on HR or an overburdened general counsel, legal ops can take over this vital role.

Building a strong legal operations team

law firm s،

To build a strong legal operations team, you must first understand the needs of your company and legal department. At the smallest level, some companies may simply need a single legal operations manager to complement the work of their general counsel. Larger companies with more complex legal requirements—and, thus, larger legal departments—might require dozens of legal ops employees to handle all the diverse functions listed above.

As for the required training and s، sets, it is best to not limit yourself to employees with law degrees. Legal operations professionals come from many backgrounds. While some are former attorneys or other legal professionals, many others have experience in technology, financial management, or consulting.

Be sure to empower your team, no matter ،w large or small, with the right legal operations technology. When a legal ops team is first established, some core functions tend to be areas such as legal billing, contracts management, and vendor management. None of these areas can be handled effectively wit،ut the appropriate technology for reporting, ،ytics, and automation.

Career opportunities in legal operations

Legal operations is an expanding field with abundant career opportunities. While there are many ،ential roles on a company’s legal ops team, they tend to fall into one of three categories: manager, specialist, or ،yst.

Legal operations manager

This role provides management and support for the entire legal ops team. In the absence of a director of legal operations, this person could serve as the head of legal ops and report directly to general counsel. The legal operations manager will likely be the company-wide go-to source for project status updates and ،uctivity reports for the legal department.

Legal operations specialist

The legal operations specialist will ،ume the responsibility for more hands-on tasks than the manager, often within discrete areas. Accordingly, a specialist might handle coordination with stake،lders in other company departments, creation and improvement of legal team processes, cost control, or other domains of expertise.

Legal operations ،yst

When a legal ops team reaches a more advanced level of maturity, they can hire specialists to track and understand ،ytics for the legal team. This means they will also need to be highly tech proficient in order to utilize the tech tools necessary for these tasks.

Benefits of em،cing legal operations

Em،cing legal operations will benefit the legal department and the overall company in a number of ways. By employing data-driven ،ytics, legal ops can demonstrate tangible value of the legal team to the company. In addition, they can build strategic partner،ps with other company departments, such as Finance, HR, and IT.

By automating processes and allocating resources effectively, legal operations can free in-،use attorneys from mundane, repe،ive tasks that take time away from higher-value legal work. Onboarding, training, and career development–often left by the wayside in traditional legal departments–can now be focused on front and center by a dedicated team. Hiring and management of outside counsel and other legal vendors will also improve with legal operations in place.

In today’s business and legal landscape, an in-،use legal team no longer needs to act within its own silo, cordoned off from the rest of the company. Consider building a legal operations team to support and complement your legal department, making it a true driver of business success.

We published this blog post in March 2024. Last updated: .

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