Coffee Conversation with David Cowen

The Legal Operations Department of Tomorrow...Today.  David is a thoughtful and super-active idea generator/amplifier in the Legal Ops ecosystem.  I enjoyed having the opportunity to join his podcast to discuss Ops in a Box, Legal Edition - A Magical Kit and all things magical in legal ops.

We discussed how Ops in a Box, Legal Edition - A Magical Kit is a grab and go kit that allows you to get the nutrition you need and move on with your day.

On May 11th, I'm looking forward to be joined by Becky Newman, Manager of Legal Operations at Onsemi to continue the conversation at the Cowen Cafe. 

Following are excerpts (partial transcript) from our conversation.

Increasingly there is a two-tier structure in legal operations:

1, Mature departments that have gone through multiple iterations of legal operations, refined what they do and they know what they're doing.

2. Brand new or, frankly, late to the party departments with work to do to catch up.

Ops in a Box, Legal Edition is focused on raising the baseline, allowing people who do not have a legal ops background to jump from 0 to 60 within 48-72 hours for any common legal ops task that crosses your desk.

There are 2 principle target users:

1. Brand new to legal operations, such as:

a.  An attorney asked to take on operations in additional to their day job. Need to come up to speed in a new area, or
b. A paralegal who want to grow and broaden their toolset to do so, and

3.  Seasoned folks ito help jump start the knowledge of their new team members, most often business analysts in legal ops consulting.

Ops in a Box, Legal Edition gives you the ability to get across the finish line with a project you have due today or tomorrow so that you can get some breathing room to step back and have coffee with a Cowen Cafe member, or browse the library of a legal operations professional association to look for additional information. You'll do so knowing you met your deadline with a serviceable product that meets the market standard for legal operations today.

I'm proud that ALL of my prior bosses have had their new legal operations person buy the kit. They in essence are saying, "this is a proven commodity of what has worked for me in the past and I'd like my new person to start from this baseline." 

We were all new to legal ops at some juncture. Legal operations is the very definition of a growing profession, and for everyone it is relatively new so we're all learning together. 

Technology is changing very quickly. The landscape is shifting very quickly. You need someone with the dedicated attention and focus to think through "what does this mean for the legal industry and how does this apply to me?" And that is what legal operations professionals do - they serve as the buffer between people practicing law and all of these things going on to set you up for success. As Cowen says, "There is a big difference between the practice and business of law."

He noted that HR and financial platforms are no longer questioned. First you have to cover the basics. We don't have enough staff to cover those things fully, so we cover the minimum to keep the plane in the air and moving forward. Then as we grow more sophisticated and get a few fundamental structures in place, we can take a more winding path to fill out the picture and develop more robust and adaptive systems that are going to improve our productivity over the long term, and not just the immediate emergency in front of us.

Most of our companies are not in the business of legal services. Law departments have been built up to address a market problem, which is law firms don't know the (specific) core business, they are too expensive, and they don't deliver product efficiently. The question for me is "Are we likely to have large law departments in the future?"  Probably not.  

The business model is changing. We've seen some law companies take the legal function out of the company and deliver it back as managed services.  I think there's going to be a lot more of that and we don't know where it is going to lead.  There are going to be a lot more changes over the next 10-20 years that we cannot see yet on the order of Chat GPT in the legal service delivery space.

With respect to the future, the cocktail conversation right now is Generative AI and to what extent it may stand in for some of the things we do not consider ministerial today, but may consider ministerial tomorrow.  The OGC Ops Squad has been asked by our lawyers to do a better job of exposing them to these emerging technologies and use cases for these technologies so we are planning a few demo days where we can help them get a better understanding of what the scope of the market is. We want more of a conversation and because they don't have a lot of time to life their heads up and look around the way we do we need to find ways to train them and bring them up to speed quickly.

And to go back to Ops in a Box, Legal Edition a little bit, a lot of the people I see are not junior people in their careers. A lot of them are seasoned attorneys asked to step outside a role they are used to and take on something new.  Ops in a Box helps them come up to speed quickly on an ops topic. And I think I need to do a better job of that with my team using all of the mechanisms available to us, whether it's improving our news feed or offering demo days or ...we're brainstorming about it right now so I'll have to come back to you in 6 months with what we've come up with. 

Advice: This is not a pre-arranged product plug. Cowen Cafe is a great place to start because you get to know a wide range of professionals and David Cowen does a great job of encouraging people to connect off line for a cup of coffee or lunch.  Obviously, some of the other professional associations offer great opportunities. The CLOC Institute is a lot of fun - 24/7 fun, networking and learning. It's a great conference and there are other good conferences. As well some of the informal networks, run by the tools, the consulting organizations also do a good job.  Take advantage of the opportunities to meet people, and to ask each other questions, and to have a cup of coffee or lunch with a colleague.

Advice you would give your younger self: I think I would have gotten a law degree. Legal Operators recently came out with comp survey results that say a legal ops professional with a law degree makes $1.30 for every dollar a legal ops professional w/o a law degree makes. And if you have a law degree and a business degree you are set to be the CEO of your own company and there are a lot of entrepreneurial opportunities. I might have suggested to my younger self to take a stint with a younger company when I had fewer family obligations to get that experience under my belt.

What are you reading? Right now I'm reading Thanks for the Feedback and I'm reading that because of the Cowen Cafe Book Club. In a few weeks, I have a blog post on that coming out. I've actually been procrastinating on reading this book since 2014 and the Cowen book club helped me break that procrastination streak and get it read so thank you.