By Cash Butler and Jeff Kruse.
Adam Becker wants everyone to understand the tremendous value legal operations professionals can provide to their organizations. He is on the Board of the Corporate Legal Operations Consortium (CLOC) and a frequent speaker on the value of legal operations.
Adam believes that over the last decade, the legal operations community has demonstrated the value of legal operations to General Counsel and Chief Legal Officers. But he believes that the legal operations community “could do a better job of educating Deputy General Counsel and others in the legal departments.” While the legal operations community continues to expand its messaging to the broader legal departments, Adam has already done a fantastic job of proving the value of legal operations to the companies where he has worked.
A Winding Path to Legal Operations Leadership
Adam did not start out as an advocate for legal operations. Like many legal operations professionals, Adam started as a practicing attorney. After a handful of years of practicing, Adam moved into legal recruiting, office administration, and attorney development at top 20 law firms.
While working at one of those large law firms, a friend suggested that he would be perfect for a new legal operations position that had become available on the West Coast. At the time, Adam was in New York and reluctant to move back to the West Coast for a position he previously did not know existed.
But the concept of legal operations stuck in his head. Adam did not take the first legal operations job mentioned to him. But after considering the power of legal operations, he found a position as Vice President of Legal Operations position at MetLife, a Fortune 100 company. His journey into the legal operations operation had begun.
Early Experience in Legal Operations
After landing a leadership position in legal operations at a large enterprise, Adam quickly recognized the value legal operations could provide to the organization. As a legal operations leader, Adam focused on a goal of “helping others do things faster and making processes more efficient.”
Adam also noted that as legal operations professionals, “we have to align our work with the values of the company.” A consistent theme in talking to Adam is that he always evaluates how the legal department’s work “impacts customer life.” His goal is to simplify and streamline to improve customer experiences.
However, large organizations frequently have what Adam calls “legacy processes” that can make change more difficult. According to Adam, one of his former General Counsel described “legacy processes” as “processes that were put into place that made a lot of sense at the time to solve a problem, but as time went on, nobody ever looked at the process again to see if it still made sense.”
Despite the challenge of “legacy procedures,” Adam found ways to improve efficiency, speed processes, and provide greater value. For example, he focused on “getting the right work done at the right level.”
To right-size certain work, Adam orchestrated a program within the legal department by transferring some work traditionally done at the company by attorneys to paralegals and then shifting other work to different legal professionals in the department.
By shifting work, Adam was able to deliver substantial value to the company by freeing the attorneys to do what they do best and by allowing the other legal professionals to take on greater responsibilities and achieve professional growth. As a result, the department was “able to get more done and provide more value.”
Embracing New Opportunities
After a few impactful years as a legal operations leader at MetLife, Adam spent two years at a large entertainment company. He then embraced a new challenge by becoming the first legal operations leader at Cockroach Labs, a database startup company headquartered in New York City.
At Cockroach Labs, Adam says he is “fortunate to have a general counsel who is 100% in favor of legal operations.” Plus, because Cockroach Labs is only eight years old, “it is more streamlined and people are not wedded to older procedures.” Additionally, as a technology company, “the population inherently embraces new things.”
Although he works for a fast-growing technology company, Adam deliberately took time before making certain changes in the legal function. He explained, “I waited almost a year before I proposed any new technology here, because I really needed to see what our problems and pain points were.”
Focusing Directly on Client Needs
To that end, Adam focused on what the end-users needed and how proposed changes would benefit those end users. To help with change management and adoption, Adam took a different approach to selecting a legal technology vendor. While many legal operations practitioners interview their clients to discover their needs and wants, Adam took the process a step further.
During the vendor selection process, Adam invited one of the main internal clients to participate in evaluating the vendors. He then had that client identify who in that person’s organization could work with the legal team to help design the product for their specific needs.
By involving the internal clients in the selection and adaptation procedures, Adam ultimately saved time in the adoption and change management process. By doing so, he delivered tremendous value to the company by making it “the least amount of change management” he had ever had to do for a major project.” He also noted that it was the “quickest adoption [he] had ever seen.”
Legal Technology is not Just for Legal Any More
Adam has an interesting take on legal technology. He thinks “legal tech is advancing to the point where it’s speeding up some regular tech.” He acknowledges that “not everybody agrees with [him] on that,” but his personal experience demonstrates that legal technology can be used outside of the legal department.
As Adam put it, “Because legal tech has worked so hard for some of the issues that lawyers face and how they work, there are a lot of applications to other departments now.” For instance, some legal technology solutions are quite good at creating templates. Adam recognized that “other departments do template letters all the time” and that the legal technology solution could help create those templates. As a result, the people in those departments “don’t need to be doing cutting and pasting anymore.”
As he put it, Adam helped “enable other departments to do it on their own.” Now, the people in those departments “are saving time and legal is not taking on work that is not really legal work in the first place.” By thinking more expansively, Adam was able to not only “make legal more efficient, but we also helped other departments with some of their really routine sorts of things in ways that they had not heard of.” Plus, Adam helped the other departments save on their budgets through the expansive use of the technology.
He delivered value through time and financial savings. He “provided visible value both to the department and the company.” Adam described the outcome as a “win-win because we provided people with something we were using, and now they can use it on their own.”
But Wait, There’s More Value
The template example is not Adam’s only success in socializing solutions beyond the legal team. He also implemented a triage intake system. The new triage system is “one of the value things that we’ve added so we can get a better sense of who’s working on what, where our requests are coming from, and how we can allocate resources.” Interestingly, for the first time in his career, Adam had “people outside of legal asked if they could use a system” that the legal team implemented.
Adam’s team also created “an intake portal with a knowledge management platform.” The portal allows company employees to “search commonly asked questions” to get immediate answers without waiting for a response from someone in the legal department.
Adam notes that the legal department is “ really quick to respond,” and that they “don’t want to hold you up unnecessarily.” But he notes that questions routinely come into legal at the end of the day, “especially at 4:00 p.m. on Fridays.” Through the portal, the legal department is “enabling the business to keep going” by reducing delays.
Consistently Delivering Value
Adam doesn’t just talk about providing value through legal operations. His goal is to deliver value by “helping others do things faster” and by “keeping the business going.” He has consistently delivered value through right-sizing work, empowering other departments to use legal technology, and by implementing an innovative intake portal.
Adam has two pieces of advice for other leaders in legal operations. First, he encourages legal operations leaders to remain curious and avoid getting stuck in “legacy mindsets.” Second, he implores leaders “to cherish and celebrate others’ successes.” According to Adam, “celebrating wins publicly and praising those who help” has been instrumental in developing positive cultures where he has worked.
Externally, Adam is a strong believer in celebrating other people’s successes and achievements. He enjoys seeing the developments in the legal operations landscape and the innovations other people are delivering for their organizations.
As we neared the end of the interview, Adam explained: “I love hearing success stories from peers at other organizations and watching them shine in their roles. I’m so excited when I see friends take on new and bigger roles and cheer them on as they continue to drive the way forward for legal operations – and for themselves.” With all his accomplishments as a legal operations leader, we should cheer Adam on as well.
Disclaimer: The statements of the interviewees in the Value Article Series are opinions and observations of a personal nature and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and policies of their respective employers.
About the Authors
Jeff Kruse (l) is the Founder of Key Legal Operations Consulting LLC, where he consults with legal departments and law firms to help them operate more efficiently through process improvements, technology implementation, and outsourced legal operations management to help them improve their bottom lines. https://keylegalops.com/
Cash Butler (r) is the CEO of R3 - Legal Operations Consulting and the founder of ClariLegal. Cash has over 20 years of experience in the financial services and legal vertical markets. He is a seasoned legal technology innovator and digital transformation champion. He focuses on helping organizations by improving legal operations, eDiscovery, litigation & compliance. Cash is an expert in operations, legal vendor, pricing, and project management.