Legal Operations: the engine to power growth for your in-house team?

Legal Operations is evolving fast within the global legal sector, as in-house legal functions look for ways to deliver more effectively for their internal clients as well as demonstrate their worth to the company. With General Counsel busier than ever—dealing with cost and regulatory pressures and the demand to manage legal risk while helping to drive business growth—they are turning to Legal Operations professionals to help their teams realise their potential.

At the forefront of this Legal Operations development is John Bennett of Melius Law, a legal function consulting firm. Marsden’s in-house recruitment experts Amanda Chard and Sarita Rai sat down with John to find out more about Legal Operations and how it can help General Counsel and their teams thrive.

Marsden: Thanks for talking to us, John. Why did you make the shift from running legal teams into running your own Legal Operations consulting business?

John Bennett: I think anyone considering setting up their own business needs three things – someone to inspire you, the right skills and experience, and passion. The inspiration came from my wife, Keeley. She founded a successful food company having entered a local village show with her home-made piccalilli, and within five years was supplying Marks & Spencer! Skills and Experience? Well, I spent two decades leading and transforming legal teams, which gave me the confidence to set up my own business, and my passion comes from seeing individuals and teams realise their potential. And so Melius Law was born. ‘Melius’ means ‘better’ in Latin – and that’s what I am helping in-house teams to achieve – to do legal better. It’s tough being a General Counsel right now, and the role of legal operations has never been more important as an enabler for them to run high performing legal teams.

Marsden: Why Legal Operations specifically?

John: It’s what I do.  It’s what I’m good at. I think my science background has given me a unique perspective on solving problems – and this is at the very heart of legal operations.

I was a bank General Counsel when an opportunity arose at a global bank, where the Chief Legal & Regulatory Officer needed a COO to help build a high-performing multi-disciplinary team. It was a huge opportunity to make a difference and inject a fresh approach. I helped transform and simplify the operational effectiveness of the division. Delivered improved systems, processes and working environment; enhanced our ability to identify, manage and mitigate risks; supported the bank’s evolving business needs and improved controls to prevent new control fails and subsequent remediation. Taking this experience and moving into Legal Operations consulting felt like the next natural step in my career.

Marsden: What does the ideal legal function look like, and how does a General Counsel know when they need help to achieve it?

John: It’s different for every company, but its starts with a hard-headed assessment of where the team is at and where it wants to get to. Legal Operations can bridge the gap. There are many ways in which having a legal operations capability can help teams realise their potential and add value to the wider business. For example, corporate legal teams will often have many talented lawyers who spend far too much time doing low value, low risk work and would be of much greater value to the business if they were able to focus on more strategic issues. Helping teams make this transition to being strategic advisers—creating the conditions for them to flourish—is key to what we do.

An element of our approach involves recommending technology solutions to address client problems, and there are a raft of tech providers out there so it can be hard to navigate through. The key is to not start with a solution looking for a problem, but figure out what you’re trying to fix and implement a solution, which may be tech, to address it. Developments such as generative AI will provide real opportunities for teams to do things faster and at a lower cost in the near future.

Overall, one of the most important things we do is to create a shared purpose and vision for the team and help advocate for how they can benefit the organisation. Ultimately,  we work with companies either on a consulting or project basis to help them design and build an effective legal ops capability.

Marsden: What are the skills and mindset that make a good Legal Operations person?

John: Resilience, first of all. You meet a lot of resistance, either to ideas or implementation. You need to be a good influencer in order to navigate the way through change. You need to be able be creative and devise new solutions to get things done where others might have failed. Ultimately, as a Legal Operations consultant I am hired to fix things that a General Counsel has not had the time or resources to tackle and it requires an eclectic mix of skills from different areas.

Marsden: How are legal teams currently resourcing their Legal Operations requirements?

John: In a variety of ways. Some are ignoring it; some of the tasks required are given to people doing a similar organisational role or those that have an interest in specific areas, such as technology, AI, ESG, or diversity and inclusion. Some come from technology backgrounds, some from legal. I think there is great value in having lawyers involved, with the skill sets they bring. From an in-house perspective, banks are really leading the way in having market-leading legal operations capabilities.

Marsden: Finally, what does success look like?

John: It’s different for every organisation. Some want external recognition that they have the best legal team via legal industry awards. Others benchmark their engagement scores of their legal team across the business. I’ve come across teams that have had issues with recognition and reward, which can make it harder to retain people. The first can be resolved with best practice elements such as recognition lunches and instilling in managers the need to provide regular positive feedback; the second by providing clarity on pay scales, promotion paths and introducing opportunities for people to upskill and progress. Making changes such as this requires a lot of engagement across key stakeholder areas such as HR and finance to ensure that everyone has a clearly defined role and way forward to create balanced and inclusive teams. It’s ultimately about making in-house lawyers and the teams they are part of better versions of themselves.

You can find out more about Melius Law here. If you are a lawyer interested in legal operations or a General Counsel or Head of Legal looking to recruit specialists for your team please connect with Amanda Chard (interim) or Sarita Rai (permanent).