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Emerging Legal Role: Chief Reality Officer

Emerging Legal Role Chief Reality Officer
Economics are forcing legal department to function more like a business and less like a practice. Increasingly
corporate law departments have budgets and GCs are being held to account.  This is moving the concept of the legal department operations (LDO) manager “well past the incubation stage” to more clearly define the role.

This according to our own Mike Haysley in a contributed article to the Metropolitan Corporate Counsel: The Chief Reality Officer: Crafting A New Title For Legal Department Operations Managers.

What is the current role of a LDO manager?

Drawing on a decade in such a role, at a large publicly traded company, Mr. Haysley breaks down the role of the legal department operations (LDO) manager into three roles (paraphrase):  triage, project management and in-house legal consultant.

– Triage. Advising senior management about risks tied to high dollar legal issues, and problem solving in real-time to get the legal department back on track.

– Project management. Running point on projects that have a high potential to save a lot of money – perhaps millions – which sometimes means dealing with menial data entry tasks no one else wants or has time to perform.

– In-house legal consultant. A problem solver that servers as the catch-all for the inevitable problems that often trip up standard procedures.

Every corporate counsel faces the challenging requirement of straddling the legal profession and the business world

Reality needs a better title

“Every corporate counsel faces the challenging requirement of straddling the legal profession and the business world,” writes Mr. Haysley. “Successful in-house attorneys partner well with business clients, offer viable business solutions and help clients meet business objectives. That said, when in-house attorneys get too caught up in process, technology and best practices for the business of law and managing the department, they’re dealing with a potentially unproductive distraction.”

The solution he suggests is the advent of the Chief Reality Officer (CRO) – someone with both the responsibility and power to identify and eliminate workflow inefficiency, improve outcomes, enhance the quality of work, and identify ideas and areas for reducing the overall legal spend.

Enterprise legal reality

The CRO is responsible for the overall enterprise legal management (ELM) from e-billing to matter management to legal hold.  While corporate counsel is focused on practicing law to mitigate corporate risk, the CRO is focused on the business of law, creating and enforcing process and standards, including:

– Legal invoice automation. This calls for a focus on less paper handling and more efficient data entry processes in order to capture cost saving from electronic auditing of charges; the CRO simplifies the invoice review and approval process.

– Matter standardization. From collaboration with internal and third-parties to matter tracking and status reporting, the CRO implement standard operating procedures for the entire legal department.

– Devil that commands the details.  The CRO loves numbers – and digs into the details behind them to reconcile budget forecasts and enhance overall financial reporting for the legal department. 

– Data-driven decisionsCROs with experience both in law and management have the data necessary to make informed decisions on vendors and resources based on key metrics.

Few doubt the importance and significance of the work performed by the corporate legal department, according to Mr. Haysley.  However, like most departments in a business, corporate law is increasingly being judged based on the strategic contributions to the company.  It’s not a replacement for the General Counsel, rather it’s an augmentation.  Mr. Haysley sums up his idea this way:

Position titles aside, the reality suggests that the topics of Process, Performance and Perceptions are too important to assign as “extra duties” to people already tasked with full time jobs handling legal matters. Someone should be managing these business and operational activities as a dedicated responsibility, with decision-making authority, the backing of the General Counsel, and a position of visibility and importance to the entire department.

The complete article is available for reading at the link above.

Photo credit Flickr via Creative Commons, CC 2.0

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About Frank Strong

Frank Strong
Frank Strong is the communications director for the LexisNexis software division located on NC State’s Centennial Campus in Raleigh. In this capacity, he leads communications efforts in support of software products for law practice and law department management and also litigation tools – across large law, small law and corporate counsel segments. With more than 15 years of experience in the high-tech sector, Strong previously served as director of public relations for Vocus, which developed marketing, PR and media monitoring software. He has held multiple roles both in-house with corporations, ranging from startups to global organizations, and has also endured the rigors of billable hours, having completed gigs at PR firms including the top 10 global firm Hill & Knowlton. A veteran of two year-long deployments, Strong has concurrently served in uniform in reserve components of the military for more than 20 years, initially as an enlisted Marine and later as an infantry officer in the Army National Guard. Strong holds a BA in Film and TV production from Worcester State University, an M.A. in Public Communication from American University, and an M.B.A. from Marymount University. He is a PADI-certified Master Scuba Diver and holds a USPA "B" skydiving license.