Legal professionals who can marshal new technologies, products and processes to improve business are in the catbird seat in today's market, legal operations leaders at Google and Square, Inc. said at a panel discussion this week.
The panel, “Where Legal Technology is Headed (for better or worse)," hosted by Mountain View-based legal operations startup SimpleLegal, featured Mary O’Carroll, head of legal operations at Google, Stephanie Lamoureaux, legal operations lead at Square, and Nathan Wenzel, CEO of SimpleLegal. James Maguire, a senior managing editor at Datamation, moderated the discussion.
O’Carroll told the group there had been an "explosion of growth" in the legal operations field. “Now you look around, every company, whether it's big or small, is scrambling to find someone in this role.”
In-house departments began to ramp up hiring of legal operations professionals in 2008, during the recession said O’Carroll.
Google's Mary O'Carroll at a CLOC event earlier this year. Photo: Caroline Speizio
"GCs were suddenly getting their doors knocked on by the CFOs, saying, 'everyone is tightening their belts. You guys need to too. What are you doing?'" she said.
Demand for such expertise has continued to grow as legal operations becomes a more central issue for companies, including efforts to maximize their investments in their legal teams, legal vendors and legal technologies.
“Legal operations and legal technology are linked, and really tied at the hip,” said Wenzel, noting that legal ops professionals are driving the adoption of new legal technologies.
Lamoureaux, who just joined mobile payment company Square from Twitter last year, said she recently made a new hire at Square to bridge the gap between the companies' technology and legal goals.
“There has been more focus on legal operations and what legal operations can do,” said Lamoureaux. “I definitely feel a lot more reliance on me than I did even five years ago.”
And because legal operations is still a relatively new, dynamic field within the legal industry, Lamoureaux added, the profession has been attracting people with diverse experience, backgrounds, and skills.
The panelists pointed to the growth in recent years of the Corporate Legal Operations Consortium (CLOC), one the leading organizations focused on in-house operations issues, to highlight the growing importance of the field. And, they suggested, it's becoming an area in which companies are more openly in competition with one another.
Wenzel said legal departments are feeling internal pressures to improve operations even as the market keeps presenting new solutions to do business faster and more effectively.
"That dual pressure—from the financial point of view and the bottom-up pressure from the vendor side—is a big part of what's driving that demand for legal ops and for the legal tech to scale that solution out,” he said.