Nearly three-quarters of legal operations leaders are lawyers who have successfully transformed their skill set, a new study into the role has revealed.
The Anatomy of a Director of Legal Operations study analyzes 235 profiles of current Directors of Legal Operations on LinkedIn. The analysis and infographic, produced by the Corporate Legal Operations Consortium (CLOC) and LawGeex, the leader in Contract Review Automation for businesses, reveals that law degrees remain the most common route to becoming a Director of Legal Operations.
The research finds that 71% of Directors of Legal Operations have a law degree, but legal training is not essential — the remaining 29% of those in the role has no formal legal expertise. The analysis also reveals that 59% of those in the role are female.
The analysis also found that 25% of Directors of Legal Operations have an MBA and that a business degree is the most common bachelor’s degree for those currently in the role (24%). Other first degrees include English (3%), natural science (2%), art history (1%), and journalism (1%).
Those in the role have been at their company for an average of 6.7 years, often transitioning into the position. The most common stepping-stone to a Director of Legal Operations is a general legal role or General Counsel (54%) or paralegals (10%), while 24% have previously held a role of Director of Legal Operations in a different company or have been promoted from a position of Senior Manager in Legal Operations.
“The Director Of Legal Operations Role can attract annual salaries of $300,000”
The study showed that companies embracing the role, which can attract annual salaries of $300,000, include Fortune 500 firms (making up 21% of the sample), Fortune 1000 businesses (an additional 6% of those analyzed), and top 500 listed UK companies (3%). The majority are headquartered in the US (78%), but companies which have introduced the position are also based in 14 other countries, led by the UK (4%), Canada (3%), Netherlands and Switzerland (both 1.3%).
“Frankly, it puts them in a position of power, which a lot of lawyers have never been in”
Powerful, but evolving position
Julie Brush, a legal expert in recruiting for the role, describes the position as “exploding” in demand which is justifying high salaries and transforming the legal profession.
She says: “Right now companies are viewing this role at a director role typically. If you are at a director level and you have a certain number of years and experience you can get anything from $200,000 to $250,000 on the base, plus bonuses. If you are being brought in at a more senior level, senior level or VP, it will be closer to $275,000 – $300,000 range.”
Career option: Power and Prestige
Brush continues: “There are a lot of lawyers out there who want something different, they don’t want to practice law anymore and so those who want to stay tethered with the law, it’s a great option for them. And frankly, it puts them in a position of power, which a lot of lawyers have never been in.”
Bringing Disruption to the Legal Profession
The role has not only been a trend over the past three years, it is also a major disruptor in the legal profession. In an age of “more for less”, the Director of Legal Operations stands at the helm of moving legal teams into a core business function. The Corporate Legal Operations Consortium has seen its numbers rise from around 80 companies to more than 1000, including 25% of the Fortune 500. These departments, with the Director of Legal Operations, wield a purchasing power of $50billion.
Brush continues: “It is not just disrupting law firm relationships, it’s disrupting the internal legal department structure as well. It is a significant role, but it’s not really a fully baked role in my opinion. It’s continuing to evolve. Three years ago, to be a legal operations professional you just needed to be a lawyer. The substantive piece of it, in terms of the skills required, wasn’t as relevant because it was a new area. There were people who were litigators who were going into this, or who were tech transactions people, corporate people, there were less seasoned people doing it, there were people who weren’t as well credentialed who could not find work, and there were some that were very well credentialed. The importance of it is going to continue to evolve.”
The secrets of becoming a Director of Legal Operations
“Good legal Operations professionals bridge gaps between Legal, IT, Finance and the business.” Aaron Van Nice, Director, Legal Operations, Baxter Healthcare
The analysis suggests that the high-demand role is a powerful alternative for lawyers who are interested in project and process management and consulting. It is also a dynamic role for those with a strong consulting and operations background. Aaron Van Nice, Director of Legal Operations at Baxter Healthcare, has held the role for 10 years at his current company and was previously Director of Legal Operations for more than four years at Merrill Lynch. He graduated in business and holds a Certified Public Accounting Certificate.
Nice comments: “I think the key skills are around being a change agent and being able to get things done within the organization. Good Legal Operations professionals are the most successful when they bridge gaps between Legal, IT, Finance, and the business. The core prerequisites are financial acumen, project and process management expertise, and a consulting (continuous improvement) mindset.”
He continues: “The key difference in the past three years is the expansion of the role to many more things beyond vendor management, legal technology, and administrative processes. Today, Legal Ops is involved in lots of areas, some of them outside of typical legal work, such as privacy, cybersecurity, eDiscovery, Compliance, and Policy Management. I think it has also expanded to much smaller departments than was the case 10-15 years ago.”
The Anatomy of a Director of Legal Operations is the first deep-dive insight into one of the most recent but powerful positions in law and business. The Director of Legal Operations has had a dramatic impact on disrupting the $600billion legal market.They are challenging law firms to achieve efficiencies, and power a rapidly-growing LegalTech market designed to transform the way legal departments work.