We’d like to thank Brad Blickstein, principal at the Blickstein Group, for serving as this issue’s Your Career guest columnist.
Are you looking for a new challenge? Are you process- and budget-oriented? Do you love finding new ways to get things done? Then maybe YOU are a candidate for the exciting and fast-growing field of Legal Operations! In 2008, when legendary law department operations professional David Cambria and I launched the first-ever Law Department Operations Survey, we weren’t exactly whistling into the wind. Just almost. We did have 33 responses and eight companies had enough vision to sponsor the survey—including Consilio (then Huron Legal), which has been our great partner ever since. But not too many really understood what we were talking about. While a few departments had seen the light and hired professional managers (note the 33 respondents), practicing lawyers still ran the law departments.
The professional role has evolved considerably. All the major legal magazines now cover legal operations on a regular basis. The Association of Corporate Counsel has a Legal Operations organization and the Corporate Legal Operations Consortium put on a conference with more than 900 attendees this year. And 124 companies responded to our survey in 2016. There are now thousands of legal operations professionals nationwide. It is not only a viable career path, but also perhaps the best career path for many.
So what do legal operations professionals do all day? The answer is a little bit of everything: According to our data, they spend their time in at least 10 different areas, ranging from financial reporting to strategy to outside counsel management to information security. Versatility is critical.
One of the first questions I am often asked about the legal department operations (LDO) role is whether these professionals are also lawyers. Typically, the answer is no. According to the 2016 LDO Survey (among respondents who don’t also serve a legal function in the law department), only about 28 percent have law degrees. Almost as many have masters’ degrees, and 19 percent have an MBA. While some believe that a law degree is an important success factor, it is really the ability to command respect and gain the confidence of the legal team that matters most. While having a law degree can help there, having the right experience, a sense of business gravitas and most importantly the ear of the general counsel can be even more helpful.
Speaking of experience, many LDOs are indeed former practicing attorneys. Thirty-eight percent have, at some point in their careers, worked as law firm lawyers and 28 percent as in-house counsel. (There is a lot of overlap between those groups.) That’s one path to the job. Another is from the legal support side: 28 percent have been legal industry consultants, 16 percent have been vendors to the legal industry and 30 percent have worked in a law firm’s back office.
For those with the right background, the good news is that the field is still growing. Almost 12 percent of the companies in our survey added its first dedicated operations professional within the past year, and another 19 percent added the position within the past two years.
More good news: The job pays well. The top LDO job is a six-figure job at 75 percent of companies, and almost a third of them earn a salary of more than $200,000. Furthermore, almost all LDOs qualify for an annual bonus, with almost half reporting a target of more than 20 percent of their salary. More than 45 percent also qualify for stock options or grants.
So maybe you’re looking to try something new? Or maybe you realize that a lot of legal work is getting commoditized and it’s time to switch gears to where you can add the most value. Or maybe you’re just looking for a new challenge. If that sounds like you, you may have a future in the exhilarating field of legal operations.
Brad Blickstein is principal of the Blickstein Group, a consultancy serving the
corporate legal community. He often focuses on the relationship between law
departments and their outside service providers and assists clients in a wide
range of activities, from strategic planning to messaging to media relations.