Lawyers think different, or so we learn in law school and some practice settings. Although expressing concepts in the language of lawyers is a fundamental skill for all legal professionals, additional languages are needed to drive successful operations initiatives.
1. Technical (a/b/c’s to 1/0’s): In order to design practical systems for lawyers, operations professionals need to understand the a/b/c’s of the legal practice and translate that into the 1/0’s of internal and external technology partners. The reverse is true. AI-enabled contract analytics platforms are interesting and will be compelling. Still, how does this technology solve a real business issue and make the practice of law more effective? Speaking the technical language is necessary to design, select, and implement solutions that people want to use and that deliver value.
In parallel, data and analytics strategies are essential to manage deliberately the business of practicing law. Professionals who can speak the technical language also understand what to measure, where you can capture suitable data, and how valuable that data is to make intelligent decisions.
As technology has spread, so have opportunities to move past the standard partnership and its over reliance on human HiPPOs (highest-paid person’s opinion), and to move toward more data-driven decision making. The data show that companies that do this usually have an important advantage over those that do not. —Andrew McAfee & Erick Brynjolfsson, Machine, Platform, Crowd 
Technical language fluency enables the delivery of actionable reports based on relevant data, perhaps helping leaders make an effective business case for additional talent or technology.
2. Financial (a/b/c’s to $1/$2/$3’s): Although there are exceptions, many legal professionals do not like to budget, review invoices, or price legal work. Managing a legal project is not only about the work (the a/b/c’s) but also proactively aligning that work to a defined budget that makes financial sense (the $1/$2s/$3’s). Professionals who speak the financial language partner with A/P and the rest of the finance team to manage accruals and budgets, seamlessly shifting into alternative fee arrangement (AFA) negotiations and pricing for value. Concurrently, financial fluency facilitates tactful purchase order (PO) or RFP negotiations with a procurement team. And, at some point in an enterprise’s history, financial language skills will help translate mandated business cost reductions into a plan that will not degrade service delivery.
3. Business (a/b/c’s to client1,2,3’s): Business partners typically do not think like lawyers. Depending on their role, these clients may focus on marketing content, sell-side agreements, tax consequences, privacy, security, or employeee orientation. Professionals who speak the business language collaborate with these partners to align these and other business contexts with legal team service delivery strategies. For example, the business language facilitates the thoughtful routing of requests for legal support, the creation of self-service solutions, and the exchange of best practice resources such as updated templates & playbooks.
In parallel, speaking the business language enables legal teams to scale legal processes with changing business demands. How are service level agreements (SLAs) for contract reviews and approvals created, shared and assessed? Do the SLAs created when a company was much smaller make sense in today’s business environment? Professionals who are fluent with the business language proactively adjust these processes.
Although all legal teams want to understand the demand for their services (e.g., # of requests, the type, the timelines, and department/geographic source), the business focuses on contract review cycle times, sequencing with revenue generation, and risk avoidance. Operations professionals rely on their business langauge skills to understand what performance measures are important, reporting to the appropriate stakeholders how everyone is complying with agreed-upon policies and procedures. In sum, the business language supports business-legal alignment that meets the business imperatives for today and tomorrow.
4. Leadership (A/B/C’s to a,b,c’s): How do you break down complex decisions and strategies into bite-size pieces for the legal professionals and the clients they support? How do you (re)connect seemingly disparate initiatives into a broader strategic plan? For example, how do you translate why your internal/external talent spend makes sense in light legal service delivery trends, flexible staffing models, and industry benchmarks? Professionals who speak the leadership language translate all the moving legal operations parts into concrete, pertinent business terms for business and legal team leaders. In turn, the leadership language is essential to operationize strategic business imperatives from those leaders, enabling the creation of a cohesive project portfolio that delivers value.
5. Change (a/b/c’s to d/e/f’s): Change management is a critical building block for any legal (operations) initiative. Effective change management strategies are built on relationships. How do you frame a discussion, know what is actually going to change, understand different mindsets, inspire people, communicate value, and build reciprocity? You don’t dive into discussions about the new way to staff legal work or by promising astonishing benefits of a new records retention schedule. You begin with conversations. Professionals versed in the change language can explain the what, why and how of change in sensible terms. Successful change language facilitators influence a legal team to do more with less, revealing the benefit counsel will derive by doing higher value work.
These languages are not taught in (law) school. Speaking even one takes time to develop and master. When looking for talent, start by looking for linguists who can speak the necessary languages to drive and calibrate an astute legal service delivery strategy.
©2017 Peter Krakaur. All rights reserved.
- See e.g., kReveal: http://kreveal.com; Seal: https://www.seal-software.com; LawGeex; https://www.lawgeex.com; Kira: https://kirasystems.com; eBrevia: https://ebrevia.com; Luminance: https://www.luminance.com. ↑
- cf. Andrew McAfee & Erick Brynjolfsson, Machine, Platform, Crowd, p.60, https://www.amazon.com/Machine-Platform-Crowd-Harnessing-Digital/dp/0393254291. See also id. at (“The evidence is overwhelming that, whenever the option is available, relying on data and algorithms alone usually leads to better decisions and forecasts than relying on the judgment of even experienced and ‘expert’ humans.”) ↑
- See ACC Value Challenge: Guide to Value-Based Fees: http://www.acc.com/advocacy/valuechallenge/toolkit/loader.cfm?csModule=security/getfile&pageid=967965%20%0A. ↑
- See See De Smet, A., Lackey, G., and Weiss, L., Untangling your organization’s decision making: https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/organization/our-insights/untangling-your-organizations-decision-making. ↑