2017 CLOC Institute: 4 Focus Areas to Establish Your Legal Operations Foundation

Kevin Clem | June 02, 2017

Last month, nearly a thousand members of the legal ecosystem from around the world came together at the Bellagio Resort in Las Vegas for the second annual Corporate Legal Operations Consortium’s (CLOC) Institute. This year’s four-day conference attracted nearly twice the number of attendees as last year’s conference, and once again featured content-rich sessions and numerous networking opportunities.

CLOC was founded in 2016 to help legal operations professionals better share knowledge and best practices. Since its inception, CLOC has grown rapidly by hosting industry-leading events focused on navigating challenges and opportunities for corporate legal departments, including the inaugural 2016 CLOC Institute in San Francisco and CLOC Europe, which I attended earlier this year.

At this year’s conference, myself and several other consultants from HBR’s law department consulting practice had the chance to lead a workshop on, “Architecting Operational Excellence: Blueprints for Success.” The interactive session took a deep dive into specific strategies and techniques for instilling operational excellence at participants’ respective organizations.

A Look At Where Legal Operations Stand

To kick off the workshop, participants took an online survey to gauge how their departments are progressing in four of CLOC’s competencies we consider to be foundational:

  • Strategic planning and metrics
  • Financial management
  • Outside counsel / vendor management
  • Technology enablement

The survey revealed that technology enablement was the least developed foundational competency among the workshop attendees. When we dug further into this during the technology enablement breakout, participants said they were relatively mature in their data quality and caliber of tools, but most were underdeveloped in terms of a technology roadmap and user adoption plan.

Both the strategic planning and the outside counsel / vendor management core competencies were slightly more developed than technology enablement, but still in need of improvement. Within vendor management, no one responded as having an efficient law firm performance management program in place. This was the topic of several other sessions during the Institute, as efforts are underway to define an industry standard set of evaluation criteria for wider adoption.

Financial management was found to be the most developed area, likely due to the fact that managing legal spending is often where legal operations functions place their initial focus.

Best Practices for Operational Efficiency

Following the survey and an introductory overview, participants broke into groups focused on one of the four previously mentioned competencies. Each group set the stage by discussing current challenges they are facing. From there, HBR discussion leaders dove into specific best practices law departments can put in place and how to make sure blueprints for change stick.

Key takeaways and best practices discussed by the group included:

  • Strategic planning and metrics - This breakout session was led by Lauren Chung, managing director at HBR, and had the largest group of attendees among the four competencies. This group delved into best practices around resource optimization and alignment, and creating a comprehensive talent management program. Many attendees revealed they are struggling to leverage the right mix of work across senior and junior attorneys.

    The group discussed strategies for more proactive client relationship management, as well as how to improve ongoing performance measurement and communication with internal and external stakeholders.

  • Financial management - While the survey revealed financial management to be a more mature competency for most attendees, a significant number admitted they can improve upon identifying opportunities for cost savings, ensuring more consistent and comprehensive budgeting, and using financial management technology.

    Matt Harmon, manager at HBR, led this session and discussed best practices for supporting data-driven matter planning and budgeting, as well as how to focus on total legal spending (internal, external and resolution costs) amid growing legal demands. Participants were also eager to discuss how to best leverage the use of analytics tools and dashboards to drive data-driven decision making.

  • Outside counsel and vendor management - Led by Marc Allen, director at HBR, this session focused focused on how many law departments are consolidating the number of firms and vendors they engage though preferred provider programs. The group also discussed methods for implementing a structured vendor rate review process and consistent performance evaluation programs.
  • Technology enablement - Wafik Guirgis, managing director at HBR, led the group discussion around how operations professionals can better leverage technology. The group delved into solutions for two of their biggest challenges - crafting a legal technology roadmap and creating strategic hooks to improve solution usage. The group also explored best practices for establishing proper governance rules within their departments and improving user feedback mechanisms.

The workshop concluded with a debrief where each group summarized key discussion points and best practice takeaways. Participants left with templates, tools and best practice checklists to put into action at their respective legal operations groups. While it certainly takes time, talent and the appropriate resources to master all operational core competencies, collaborative events like this workshop, the greater CLOC Institute, and the ACC Legal Operations conference next week are helping legal operations professionals drive peak in-house legal department performance.

For further guidance on how to improve legal operations at your organization, schedule a briefing with our law department consultants by contacting me at