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What Law Students Need to Know about the Rise of Legal Operations

Theresa DiCenzo


  • Legal operations, a growing field in the legal industry, offers career opportunities for law students not interested in practicing law. This field involves applying business and technical practices to improve legal services, focusing on strategic planning, financial management, project management, and technological expertise.
  • Legal ops teams comprise professionals from various backgrounds and play a crucial role in streamlining legal processes. They help reduce outside counsel costs, automate tasks, and enhance client services.
  • Law firms are increasingly adopting legal ops to provide consultancy services to clients. Legal tech investments are on the rise, making this an attractive field for students looking to work in a nontraditional legal role.
What Law Students Need to Know about the Rise of Legal Operations WONG

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If you’re one of the many students who came to law school not to practice law, you need to know about the growing practice of legal operations. Whether you have a business background and want to merge your previous experience with your law degree, whether you’re pursuing a dual-degree JD/MBA program, or whether you’re looking for something else entirely, legal operations might be a good fit for you.

What Is Legal Ops?

Corporate Legal Operations Consortium, a global organization for legal operations professionals, says legal operations help legal departments serve clients more effectively and efficiently by applying business and technical practices to the delivery of legal services by providing strategic planning, financial management, project management, and technological expertise.

Legal ops isn’t new. The functions and responsibilities of professionals in the space have existed as long as in-house legal departments have been around. It wasn’t until about two decades ago that legal ops started to coalesce into one cohesive unit within organizations.

Most recently, the increasing use of artificial intelligence has ushered in a new era of legal ops, shifting the focus to technology adaptation, increased efficiency, and keeping costs down.

Who’s Who of Legal Ops Teams

Legal operations professionals come from a variety of professional backgrounds. They can be finance or marketing professionals, attorneys, and more. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach, and each company will have its own organizational structure based on its industry, size and maturity level, and many other factors.

If you’re interested in learning more about the strategic makeup of legal ops teams, CLOC’s 12 Core Competencies Reference Model is a fun and interactive place to start.

Law Firms Add Value with Legal Ops

According to CLOC, the original focus of legal ops teams was risk management and trying to reduce outside counsel costs. However, if you think you’re still interested in working at a law firm, you might be delighted to know that legal ops has since evolved into much more. Many law firms are taking note and building legal ops teams to provide additional external services for their clients.

In other words, many large law firms are branding these units as consultancy hubs that can advise and support clients in their efforts to mature their in-house legal ops team. In today’s world, there’s a movement to do more with less, and you could find yourself working for a law firm but in a different capacity than you’d originally envisioned.

As competition grows and the market tightens, law firms must look at their processes to provide the best and most efficient services for their clients. Legal ops allows firms to automate contract management, knowledge management, and data governance—all while promoting smooth internal operations and allowing the firm to be proactive in the marketplace.

“The most exciting thing about this is the outsized support of legal tech, improved processes, and staffing structures allows lawyers to practice law at the highest levels and be more proactive in their approach with clients,” stated Beatrice Seravello, a partner and co-head of the new law practice at Baretz + Brunelle. “It elevates the practice of law while enabling attorneys to provide better and faster service to their clients.”

Preparing to Work in Legal Ops

If you’re interested in this area, understanding the dynamics of managing through change would be helpful, says Seravello. “Every law firm is wedded to its culture, and learning to use the foundational elements of a firm is essential in being successful with change,” she stated.

“Understand that there are an increasing number of different jobs other than attorney,” she added. “Law firms and others are increasingly adding legal operations professionals, data scientists, project managers, technologists, and more to their teams.”

Diving into the legal ops team requires you to understand what lawyers do, said Christine Hasiotis, founder and chief legal officer at Zeteo Litigation. “You need to facilitate innovation and technology adaptation and become a strategic business partner to the legal team,” she said.

“Legal operators are the liaison and interpreter,” explained Hasiotis. “They’re the ones who help connect the dots.”

Legal tech investments are on the rise, and corporations and law firms are catching on. According to CLOC, legal departments are expected to triple their legal tech budgets by 2025. Artificial intelligence breakthroughs are pushing the boundary forward, and students interested in this space will be well-positioned to find work.