By Catherine McGregor,
Legal Operators is a community of leading legal operations professionals that is uniquely focused on the use of data for DEI. We spoke to CEO and Founder Colin McCarthy to ask – can general counsel and heads of legal operations work together to use data to drive meaningful change?
LEGAL OPERATIONS IS AN INDUSTRY THAT HAS GONE FROM 0 TO 60 AND THEN SOME OVER THE PAST 20 YEARS
All areas of business are more focused on process and efficiency, and legal departments are no exception. Given the newness of legal operations as a discipline – and the varied backgrounds of those working within it – sharing information,
Colin McCarthy, Legal Operators
and creating communities within which to do so, is important. One community which sprang up organically three years ago is Legal Operators, run by Colin McCarthy, who previously worked in legal operations roles at Rubrik and Twitter. It started small. “We had 12 members,” recalls McCarthy. “We would do TED Talks to each other, sharing information and best practices, and use case scenarios. But by month six it had grown to 80 people!”
The group grew quickly and spread from San Francisco to LA and then New York, where there were 350 registrants for its most recent in-person event. The group’s Slack channel saw more than 1,200 members join in its first year.
DIVERSITY & DATA COMING TOGETHER BUT WHERE DID DEI COME IN? It has always been a passion of McCarthy’s, and one of the early members of Legal Operators was Akshay Verma, then Head of Legal Operations at Meta, whose commitment to driving meaningful change is explored in another article. “Akshay felt a pillar should be diversity,” explains McCarthy. “I said I couldn’t agree more, but let’s make it meaningful. That’s how we came up with the Diversity and Empowerment pillar. Not just increasing diversity – we want to actually empower the people"
It has always been a passion of McCarthy’s, and one of the early members of Legal Operators was Akshay Verma, then Head of Legal Operations at Meta, whose commitment to driving meaningful change is explored in another article. “Akshay felt a pillar should be diversity,” explains McCarthy. “I said I couldn’t agree more, but let’s make it meaningful. That’s how we came up with the Diversity and Empowerment pillar. Not just increasing diversity – we want to actuallyempower people.”
One of the innovations in legal operations has been the collection, analysis and use of data to drive decision-making around legal departments’ strategies, spend and processes. But such collection and analysis is also fundamental to increasing diversity. Getting more legal operations professionals involved in the DEI strategy of their legal teams may help progression, because these are people who know how to gather, analyze and make decisions based on data. They and their companies also recognize the power of diversity.
“Diversity brings unique experiences that help businesses build technologies that are thoughtful and inclusive of all potential users,” states Rajan Gupta, Head of Legal Technology and Compliance at Meta and one of Legal Operators’ members. This synergy has been part of the rationale for McCarthy in making Diversity and Empowerment one of the pillars of Legal Operators: “We have so much data at our fingertips, and more and more of it is becoming available. Many of us in legal operations are very used to using Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). As the collection of data on a range of diversity metrics is increasing, I think that legal operations professionals are going to be the change agents that make the difference with diversity. That’s going to be a result,” McCarthy feels, of the general counsel role moving more toward a C-suite position, which leaves many legal operations professionals with the role of making decisions on what the legal team’s DEI strategy will be and which outside suppliers they will hire. That, coupled with the fact legal operations professionals are comfortable analyzing and making decisions based on data, results in legal departments being better placed than ever not just to get DEI data, but to use it for empowerment. Elizabeth Miller, Head of Legal Operations at Dolby and a member of Legal Operators, agrees: “Legal operations professionals utilize data to find opportunities, set goals and measure progress. The lack of law firm diversity that has always been obvious is now impossible to ignore when armed with the statistics.”
COLLABORATING FOR CHANGE
As part of this drive to put the legal operations community at the heart of DEI, Legal Operators has partnered with data collection and analytics firm Justice Bid on its Operation Empowering Change initiative (which is covered in a separate article). Getting this data creates a basis for the Legal Operators community to have conversations based on facts, not supposition or performative diversity. The intention is to ensure accountability and transparency, emphasizes McCarthy. “It’s meant to be more of a carrot than a stick approach, but if clients get this information, then they’re on the same page as their suppliers and they can ask questions that need to be asked. For example, a firm might have 2,000 lawyers and only four women of color who are partners – why is that? That’s a question that should be asked.”
McCarthy and the other members of Legal Operators, who comprise some of the biggest corporates in the U.S., agree that there’s no longer any excuse for DEI information being hard to access for buyers of legal services: “There’s hundreds of millions of dollars being spent on these firms every year; clients should have access to this information. It is absolutely normal to be asking questions based on that data.” Elizabeth Miller at Dolby agrees: “The legal departments I’ve been a part of truly believe that diversity is necessary to bring the best ideas forward. We’ve dedicated a lot of effort internally to measuring, benchmarking and course correcting from pipeline to recruiting to retention. The same should be expected of the law firms who represent us.”
DATA TO PROCESS TO ACTION
Collection is only the beginning; it’s also about listening to the stories the data tells and using those to propel change. Legal Operators’ membership will be able to use data to bench-mark across suppliers, identify where there are issues, and start conversations with firms about particular data points. This could also lead to collaborations where in-house legal teams and law firms work together to create change. But this can only start with having the right information, understanding that information and using this to establish behaviors that will change cultures.
Legal operations professionals excel at creating processes. In DEI, this means combining the story that the data tells with the systematic creation and implementation of processes to change that story for the better. McCarthy and his members believe that the current interest in DEI – and the way in which this can be used by legal departments to drive change – is going to lead to more systemic improvements. Says McCarthy: “It’s going to lead to an overhaul of the whole education system, getting more access to education and making a diverse workforce mandatory. But being systematic about this is going to be key and that’s something my members in Legal Operators can certainly bring!”
One thing is for sure: the genie of data and the stories it can tell is out of the bottle for these leading legal operations professionals – and it’s not going back in!
This article was published in the BIhC Annual Report
About the author
Catherine McGregor is an author and management consultant. She has worked for a range of legal publications and consults to law firms and legal departments around the world. She works across several BIHC initiatives including the Annual Report.