From Boot Camp to Legal Operations Wizard - A Journey

OCTOBER 12, 2020  In 1981, the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC) was founded to give a home to corporate attorneys who were not eligible at the time in most cases to join ABA chapters. In-house attorney hires were becoming more popular with corporations concerned about containing legal costs.

When I started in legal operations in 2007, there were roughly 35-50 people directing corporate law department operations across North America, mostly in Fortune 500 companies. The number was by all appearances smaller in other regions, including Europe and Asia/Australia.

In 2006-2007 ACC, under the leadership of Susan Hackett with the General Counsels of a handful of large companies, founded the inaugural Large Law Department Operations Group, and for the first time allowed not-attorney professionals to participate in ACC. In this small forum of no more than three-dozen people legal operations professionals could freely discuss challenges faced and seek advice and input.

In 2010 ACC started planning for the creation of a Legal Operations Section that would expand membership to participating law departments beyond the principle administrators to include functional leaders in legal operations. The Section launched with its inaugural conference in 2014.

Three years later in October 2017 I was on the faculty of an Association of Corporate Counsel Legal Operations Boot Camp at its annual meeting. Almost 50% of the participants were lawyers with full time jobs offering advice and counsel in small departments with no more than a handful of attorneys. This group did not envision budget approval for a full time legal operations hire, and were seeking solutions to do both jobs in the same work day.

Reflecting on the boot camp experience as I prepared to stand-up a legal operations function for the third time, I realized that I would be adapting and repurposing materials developed and tested in prior positions. I was not starting from scratch. Why should anyone else  have to reinvent the wheel? Why not a standardized tool kit to jump start legal operations?

Prior to the inception of the ACC Large Legal Department group and formation of the Corporate Legal Operations Consortium (CLOC), the Association of Legal Administrators’ (ALA) New York City chapter had been an invaluable resource to me when I moved from program management in philanthropy after completing business school at Stern. In particular, the Education Committee had steered my studies for the Certified Legal Manager exam (The CLM exam remains the respected and sole credentialing certification of the profession) providing a number of study aids on a drive. Those notes were invaluable to me in preparing for the exam and in jump starting my new career.

Inspired by my own experience, these observed case examples, and healthy respect for Atul Gawande’s seminal book The Checklist Manifesto, I pulled together over 30 key templates from my first ten years leading corporate legal operations teams in a kit on a flash drive, to be packaged with hard copies and magic. 

As 2017 drew to a close, I pitched the idea in an ACC Operations section planning meeting exploring initiatives for the coming year.  ACC passed. Though disappointed, I understood.  They had a surfeit of good ideas, and could not pursue all of them. 

At Hearst I have become a Hearst Lab Scout, evaluating and advising Hearst Lab companies.  CLOC has always had a strong cohort of innovative legal operations professionals working for Silicon Valley companies. Now I can observe first hand what I had sensed among these colleagues. As start-ups reach the tipping point of needing greater infrastructure, in particular hiring their first General Counsel, they have an opportunity to grow a lean contemporary legal operation from scratch.  At the same time their core objective is to grow their business, not perfect legal operations. A core operations tool kit for legal meets this need, as well as the need of overtaxed law departments in more established companies.

Ops in a Box, Legal Edition is created to jump start legal operations. It is the first essential tool kit for new Legal Operations Professionals, or newly formed departments, seeking to launch their strategic plan, for seasoned operations teams seeking to fine tune existing tools, and for small departments that need operations help aids but do not have the budget for a full-time operations professional.

The kit materials cover Strategic Planning, Financial Management, Human Resources, Vendor Management, Technology Management, Project and Change Management,  as well as Legal Operations History & Timeline, and a little magic thrown in. Materials range from standard process guides to templates and checklists.

With this core toolbox in hand, over-committed professionals can gain a little traction and breathing room to explore the full range of resources our ecosystem supports including robust professional associations, supportive legal service providers and innovative technology developers.

My father, attorney Mike Trotter, currently a Senior Counsel at Taylor English Duma, was among the very first to teach a course on the business of law at Emory University in the mid-1990s. He had argued convincingly at the dinner table that the legal industry would be transformed in the 21st century by corporate legal departments’ increasing leverage and appointment of operations professionals. He inspired me to join that effort. I hope that in this project I am able to pay-forward the generosity of my colleagues in helping me become established in my chosen profession.