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By Yin Wilczek
Running corporate in-house legal departments like a business is quickly gaining traction, says Connie Brenton, chief of staff and senior director of legal operations at NetApp Inc.
One example of that trend, she said, is the membership growth of the Corporate Legal Operations Consortium (CLOC), a group dedicated to helping legal operations professionals. CLOC, which became a nonprofit in 2016, has nearly 1,300 members worldwide.
The increasing importance of the profession reflects evolution in the legal industry, including changes in how companies are purchasing legal services and the rising responsibilities of general counsel, said Brenton, CLOC’s president and CEO.
Brenton Feb. 12 discussed with Bloomberg Law how CLOC began as a Silicon Valley initiative .
Bloomberg Law: When and why was CLOC formed?
Connie Brenton: I founded CLOC in 2010. I was new to California, in a new legal operations role at Oracle, reporting to the general counsel, Dorian Daley. Dorian had identified a need for benchmarking information as part of a large legal operations project. Having recently moved to Silicon Valley, I had not yet developed a large local professional network, so I started with my colleagues at Google (Mary O’Carroll [Google head of legal operations]), Christine Coats, from Symantec, (who is interestingly now the VP of Legal Operations at Oracle), and a few others to see if they could help. I did not know them well at the time, and what I was looking for was input on best practices in the new field of legal operations—information that you couldn’t get with a Google search. We met in person and immediately realized that we could benefit from these kinds of exchanges. We affectionately refer to this original group as an information book club (others referred to it as therapy). We shared best practices and provided each other support and encouragement.
Over the years the group grew and grew and by 2015, the role of legal operations had become a more common role in the industry and its influence had spread, globally. Thus, around January 2016 we turned our book club into a nonprofit 501(c)(6) corporation: the Corporate Legal Operations Consortium (CLOC).
Today, CLOC is the world’s largest, fastest growing and most active group of legal operations professionals. In two years we went from an informal group of 40 to nearly 1,300 legal operations professionals, representing 40 states, 37 countries, on five continents. We will hold three global institutes this year—the inaugural London institute; Las Vegas (the largest of the three institutes with an expected 2,500 attendees), and the inaugural Australian institute to be held on Sept. 4, 2018, in Sydney.
Bloomberg Law: Since you formed, your membership and attendance at your conferences have jumped. Why is legal operations becoming such a trend?
Brenton: Since the role of the general counsel has fundamentally changed, the job of running legal like a business must be handled by someone other than the GC. Thus the rise of the corporate legal operations professional.
CLOC was created in response to two fundamental questions: What does it mean to run a corporate legal department like a business, and how do you do that? Since this role is new to the industry and the law schools have not yet incorporated training for these skills into the law school curriculum, the need to educate fueled our growth. Providing exceptional and practical content is driving interest not only in CLOC but in the rapidly growing field of corporate legal operations.
Bloomberg Law: You see CLOC not only as an industry-initiated group, but also one that will transform the legal industry. How so?
Brenton: We have found that it is impossible to answer these questions in isolation. It is going to take a community. One of the founding principles of CLOC is a culture of collaboration and a culture that embraces the legal ecosystem. Solutions of the past, built in isolation, don’t work; that’s been proven. The new and expanded legal ecosystem comprises in-house counsel, outside counsel, law companies, technology companies, law schools, and regulators. Collaboration among these sectors creates efficient win-win-win solutions.
The purchase of legal services has also fundamentally changed. There are new entrants offering options to source more routine legal work at a lower cost and higher quality.
There are many law firms, law companies, technology providers and others that are keeping up with the changes in the industry. We are working closely with many of them, changing the legal industry, together.
Bloomberg Law: Going forward, CLOC is planning to try to make changes in U.S. legal professional rules. Why, and where do you anticipate starting first?
Brenton: CLOC leaders have met with the GCs of some of the largest law firms in the world. We are discussing ways to collaborate and collectively move the industry forward, together, talking about topics like the non-authorized practice of law, and others.
Bloomberg Law: CLOC would like to see a legal services ecosystem underpinned by collaboration and the sharing of information and expertise. The phrase ‘open source’ comes to mind. How realistic is this?
Brenton: It is already real. We refer to these as “CLOC Initiatives.” The solutions are crowd-sourced, leveraging every member of the legal ecosystem, and these solutions are then freely shared throughout the entire legal community. Check out CLOC.org to see the Initiatives that are completed.
Last week 28 of us in the legal ecosystem, led by Gary Tully, [director of legal operations at] Gilead Sciences, met at NetApp. The cross-functional group included AmLaw100 CIOs, legal operations professionals and technology providers. We spent two days together discussing the creation of a joint cybersecurity solution, an industry standard. We discussed a solution where we can not only crowd-source the content, we can crowd-source data and analytics.
Raise your hand if you’d like to lead an industry initiative. By creating standards, we can drive efficiencies, solidify best practices, and keep our focus on the more complex areas where we can add value to our firms, to our companies, and we can graduate a new generation of law students, ready to practice law, upon graduation.
From the beginning, CLOC was about how can we collaborate to do it better, together.
Bloomberg Law: How is CLOC helping in legal operations?
Brenton: As CLOC became a more formal organization, encouraging a more structured sharing of best practices, we realized that we needed to codify the essential disciplines of legal operations. We created an industry standard definition of legal operations: legal operations is a multi-disciplinary function within a legal department that optimizes services delivery to a business or government entity focusing on CLOC’s 12 core competencies.
These competencies represent areas of focus that every legal department must manage to have a disciplined, efficient, and effective legal function. The 12 core competencies are: cross-functional alignment, strategic planning, financial management, vendor management, data analytics, technology support, service delivery and alternative support models, knowledge management, growth and development, communications, global data governance/records management, and litigation support.
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