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More than great lawyers

While legal insight can be the product of a solitary genius, the delivery of modern legal services demands a mix of people, processes and technology. Our previous columns calling for structured dialogue between law departments and law firms are informed by our view that the marketplace should pay more attention to the mechanisms by which legal insights are converted into concrete deliverables.

Today, the most effective legal solutions leverage more than just lawyers. A prime example is data security. Good lawyering does not protect sensitive client information from hacking; good IT does. Standard legal training does not provision IT skills. Lawyers hire IT professionals, and the legal value chain is better for it. A computer is not a lawyer, but most lawyers cannot do their job without a computer and a large amount of behind-the-scenes work to make computers and other devices functional and secure.

Project managers, pricing experts, knowledge managers, technology trainers and other allied professionals are becoming increasingly important to the delivery of legal services. Indeed, legal operations — the thread that runs through this column because of the authors’ backgrounds — can be understood as the professionalization of management within a legal department. The objective is to optimize the delivery legal services in a manner that best aligns with the enterprise's business objectives. Alignment means not only internalizing business goals but also adopting business methods and vocabulary to enhance communication and integration.

Professionalization and the attendant proliferation of allied roles and technologies has important implications for the relationship between law departments and law firms. While there are instances where only legal advice is sought, most law department dollars are expended on resource-intensive matters. Filings, due diligence, document reviews, research memos and other components of complex or commoditized matters recommend reliance on allied professionals and technologies. Given that we already retain great lawyers, there is little we can do to improve the delivery of services without looking to the lawyers’ support system: allied professionals, processes and technology.

Allied professionals, processes and technology should factor into retention decisions among otherwise qualified law firms. It is incumbent upon law departments to set incentives and ensure that law firms that improve service delivery see a return on their investment. Law departments and law firms should recognize how these stakeholders contribute to properly structured dialogue. They are key to deepening supplier relationships by driving continuous process improvement and better integration.

Improved delivery of legal services means achieving the right legal outcomes by having the right people do the right work the right way for the right price. The right people are not always lawyers. Even if they are, they do not always work in law departments or law firms. The legal ecosystem has grown much richer in the last decade as alternative service providers have matured. What was initially treated as an opportunity for labor arbitrage has evolved into a host of diverse and distinct service offerings. The federated nature of large law firms means that their value lies more in scope than in scale. Alternative service providers can incorporate process and technology into their delivery models to take advantage of economies of scale that law firms cannot match. Multi-sourcing of legal services is an important element of getting to the right mix of people, processes and technology.

The ever-growing complexity of the legal ecosystem was on display at the International Legal Technology Association's annual conference. The 400+ sessions included legal operations professionals, CIO's, CTO's, knowledge managers, pricing directors, trainers, etc. along with a sizable vendor floor exhibiting a variety of legal technology. Conspicuous by their absence were practicing lawyers. While many in attendance were trained lawyers, most had moved on from practice into other roles. A vital conversation was going on without sufficient representation from its most vital participants. This is a shame. These are not distinct worlds. There is a false dichotomy between lawyers and non-lawyers. We are all working towards the same goal as part of the same legal value chain. We should act accordingly.

Connie Brenton

Connie Brenton is chief of staff and director of legal operations at NetApp. Email her at

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D. Casey Flaherty

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