Law department Business Operations Directors areincreasingly becoming an integral part of most law department managementteams with the growing recognition of the value they can bring. These Business Operations Directors are essentially chief operating officers for the law departments they serve. They frequently have MBAs, JDs or other advanced degrees, and some are CPAs, attesting to the growing emphasis onthe business aspects of providing legal services. In the most law departments, Business Operations Directors are involved in nearly everything the department does, with the exception of practicing law and managing attorneys who practice law. Depending on the size of the organization, they may manage anywhere from a handful of individuals togroups of 100 or more employees who support the business aspects of the law department.1
While both their titles2 and their responsibilities vary depending on their departmental needs, the following are the top ten roles a law department Business Operations Director may perform:
1 For more information about the evolution of law department operations management, see the annual Law Department Operations Survey published by InsideCounsel and Blickstein Group in cooperation with Huron Legal. The initial survey report, published in the November 2008 issue of InsideCounsel, discusses the “coming of age” of the role of the professional law department business operations director, and subsequent reports have provided additional information about that evolution. Information related to the Fourth Annual Law Department Operations Survey (December 2011) is available at http://www.insidecounsel.com/pages/microsites/ldo/pages/.
2 Representative titles include Law Department Operations Director, Director of Legal Administration, Legal Department Business Services Manager, Vice President of Legal Operations and Administration, and more.
1. Financial management.
Financial management is typically a major component of a Business Operations Director’s role. Responsibilities often include financial planning, management and reporting, as well as development of associated departmental practices and policies. Related activities typically include budgeting and forecasting, working with finance on accruals and reserves, as well as measuring performance against budgets. The Business Operations Directoroften uses key information management tools (e.g., matter management and e-billing systems) to collect and communicate financial information both within and outside the law department. He or she may serve as the law department’s primary liaison with the company’s finance and accounting department and may assist the general counselin communications with the chief financial officer. Careful financial management helps the Business Operations Director identify the actual drivers of law department expenses and trends, in order to provide recommendations for cost reduction/avoidance along withprocess and functional improvement. The maintenance and reporting of historic financial information can also help the general counselidentify problem areas allowing for more informed decision-making and case management.
2. Vendor management.
Related to the role of controlling expenses, the Business Operations Director often guides the department’s external vendor relations, including overseeing vendor rates, billing and compliance with company policies and billing guidelines. In addition tomanaging the tracking and reporting of vendor expenses, he or she often works with the law department, its leadership, and other departments such as Procurement to select vendors, develop vendor assessment tools, identify and address vendor relationship issues, and develop strategies for leveraging and maintaining solid vendor relationships.
3. Outside counsel management.
Some Business Operations Directors are also involved in outside counsel management. Typical roles may be similar to those related to managing other vendors, for example, taking part in the selection and evaluation of counsel and indeveloping outside counsel guidelines and cost control programs. The Business Operations Director may be involved in billing issues and may be a contact with outside counsel for billing and collection concerns, and sometimes for other matterssuch as litigation support.
4. Human resources.
Human resources is another area of responsibility for many Business Operations Directors. Typically, they are involved in the hiring and management of all non-attorney department personnel and are responsible for workload allocation, training and development, and performance reviews. They work with the corporate HR department to ensure compliance with corporate policies and to address specific personnel issues as they arise. Some are also involved in HR functions related to department attorneys, including working with the general counsel to develop succession plans and performance metrics, and coordinating attorney professional development.
5. Department operations and management.
Business Operations Directors oversee day-to-day department operations issues including anything from floor space and equipment to workflow management. As a member of the department’s leadership team, they may be involved in strategic planning for the department including the development of departmental goals and the metrics to evaluate progress toward those goals.
6. Systems and technology.
Many Business Operations Directors are responsible for systems and technology. Because they often oversee departmental workflow, they can recognize opportunities to improve productivity. They identify the law department’s needs, oversee technology programs, develop strategic technology roadmaps and manage the department’s technology resources, in particularthose systems and processes that are dedicated to the law department (e.g., matter management or e-billing). They may also serve as liaisons with the corporate IT department regarding technical support of the law department and integration of the law department’s processes with companywide systems.
7. Knowledge management.
Business Operations Directors often lead their law department’s knowledge management functions, developing and overseeing systems and technology for efficiently creating, storing, and sharing written material. They engage in strategic planning regarding the sharing of information such as legal research, transactions, and historical information.
8. Litigation support.
In addition to their role in selecting and managing external vendors such as those used for outsourcing and offshoring discovery services, some Business Operations Directors are also responsible for internal litigation support functions. They are often engaged in identifying cost-effective meansto support litigation discovery processes, including the approach takenand supporting technology. They may be involved in the development of enterprise-wide discovery processes and policies.
9. Program management.
The Business Operations Director may also be considered the program manager for a variety of programs within the law department. Program management is the process of managing a group of related projects that are directed toward a common initiative, often with the goal of improving the organization’s performance. The Business Operations Director typically oversees a variety of departmental projects such as the implementation of new or updated technology. Because of his or her project management expertise, he or she may be asked to assist the department’s attorneys in implementing project management for legal matters.
10. Freeing attorney time.
Finally, Business Operations Directors give the general counsel and department attorneys the flexibility to perform their primary function – meeting the legal needs of the business. In the past, attorneys within the department often performed many of these roles, if they were done at all, and that is still the case in many smaller law departments. A Business Operations Director frees attorneys from most financialand supervisory tasks, allowing the attorneys to dedicate more time for substantive legal work and client “face time.” And because they often have specialized financial or other training, law department Business Operations Directors may be better equipped to handle these roles than attorneys.
The right law department Business Operations Director will develop operating strategies and take ownership and responsibility for implementing, supporting and enforcing the use of solutions that address the law department’s business needs. He or she can help the department to take control of its people, process and technology, by:
- Freeing attorneys from most financial and supervisory tasks, allowing them to dedicate more time for substantive legal work and client “face time.”
- Putting responsibility for issues such as human resources, financial management, etc., in the hands of someone with that expertise.
- Implementing financial controls through tracking and timely invoice payment to support partnering arrangements, etc.
- Ensuring optimal personnel utilization resulting in reduced overall spending, as well as more even distribution of workload and consistency in quality.
- Developing or improving business processes and implementing department-wide policies and procedures.
- Streamlining systems and technology management, allowing for internal efficiencies and resulting cost control.