Smooth Operations for your Legal Team: Service Delivery

Last month, Arbor’s seasoned Legal Ops specialist Neil Smith introduced us to Legal Operations: what it means, how to get started, the interplay of tech and measuring success and why all in-house legal teams should be considering Legal Operations.   

In this month’s Smooth Operations blog, we are chatting to Neil about all things Service Delivery. 

When we talk about Service Delivery in the context of Legal Ops, what do we mean and why does it matter? 

Service Delivery might just as easily be labelled ‘Working Effectively’, ‘Service Excellence’ or even ‘Getting Things Done’.  Essentially, we are talking about the core work of the in-house legal team: what they do, how they do it and how it serves the rest of the wider business. Service Delivery might cover any number of practices and initiatives including:  

  • Life Cycle Process Mapping: from the moment work enters the legal team, what is done by the legal team and at what point does it leave the team? 
  • Practice Area Analysis: for what types and categories of legal work is the legal team engaged by the business? This has a knock-on effect of the skills mix of the legal team (more to come on this in our blogs on People and Continuous Improvement later on in this series). 
  • Engaging Legal/Legal Instruction Form: when and how should the rest of the business interact with Legal? What can the business expect from Legal in terms of how it serves the business? 
  • Legal Traffic Light Policy: this ties in to the business’ stance on risk tolerance.  Commonly this is scenario or threshold-based and dictates the level of involvement of the legal team. For example, a ‘Green’ item [below £x in value and no IP involvement] may not require legal team involvement. 
  • Contract Management and Approval: a huge area, the overhaul and refinement of which can drive real business benefits. 
  • External Counsel Management/Panel Review: when and how should Legal and the rest of the business instruct External Counsel?  How are budgets controlled?  What formalities need to be followed?  Should there be an initial qualifying complexity control? 
  • Net Promoter Score: a good starting point to create a baseline of the business view of Legal and what might be improved. The team can then measure Year on Year improvements. 

Legal is an integral part of the effective operation of any business. The smoother Legal can operate, the quicker the throughput of work, the quicker revenue can be generated.  

Happy stakeholders all round. 

You have mentioned that Contract Management and Approval is a huge area and the benefits that overhauling and refining this can bring. Why and how? 

Contracts play a big part in the daily work of in-house legal teams. It’s really important to ensure that you have good processes in place around them. Even if you have great policies in place, are they actually being followed?  There is no point the Contract Management Policy being a glass-encased artefact which everybody knows is there but nobody follows.  Go back to the purpose of the contract management and approval policy. Consider common provisions which should be considered including checks and balances to ensure that: 

  • Appropriate contracts are being entered into  
  • Contracts are properly documented with some consistency 
  • They contain appropriate protections  
  • They are approved by appropriate people/teams  
  • The have the correct signatories  
  • Contracts are properly stored.   

It is worth stress testing each of the above aspects to ensure they remain fit for purpose. Contract Management and Automation systems can ensure forced compliance with this process. 

What are common challenges for legal teams when it comes to Service Delivery? How can these be addressed? 

It’s always the same challenge for busy in-house legal teams. And that’s time. In-house legal teams are so busy serving the ever-increasing demands of the business that they feel that they have no time to step back and take a holistic view of how Service Delivery can be improved.  All these projects require substantial time commitment and often financial investment. But I have yet to see an instance where the initial outlay has NOT generated time, cost and risk savings, not to mention better stakeholder satisfaction for the Legal team. 

In what ways can we leverage technologies old and new to improve Service Delivery? 

We’ll be covering Tech as a separate initiative later on this in this series. For any legal transformation journey, tech should be considered every step of the way. There are a multitude of solutions out there to assist busy in-house teams. The issue is knowing what solution will work best for your team and your business.  Consider: 

  • Where are you now 
  • Where do you want to be 
  • How are you going to get there 

You can then start investigating tech solutions to decide what will work best for you.  ‘Big bang for buck’ areas include contract automation, Legal Front Door [systems to deal with work intake and triage] and contract management systems.   

What are some simple things teams can be implementing on a daily basis? 

Lifecycle process mapping can flush out repeated, redundant and overlapping steps in the Service Delivery journey.  Your Service Delivery plan is often born from this exercise.  

Think about tactics to speed things up such as bypassing the Legal team by using self-serve wherever appropriate.  For this make sure you maximise use of the company intranet and leverage SharePoint functionality. 

Failing an all-singing, all-dancing ‘Legal Front Door’ a shared ‘Legal Queries’ inbox is a great starting point. 

How can you report on Service Delivery success? 

Service Delivery processes and offerings mean that it is easier to capture really insightful data, MI and other metrics.  This is especially so where tech is rolled out to facilitate Service Delivery improvements. Where tech is not yet utilised, better structure around the Service Delivery piece can have similar effects.  For example, more consistent processes around when and how Legal should be engaged (by Legal Instruction Form) enables data to be captured around Legal team workloads and turnaround times.  Practice Area analysis enables MI and data to be captured around which teams most heavily rely on and use the Legal team.   

As Legal continues to transform, in-house teams need to continually evaluate Service Delivery practices, challenge assumptions and explore new processes and systems. It’s only by embracing change and continuous improvement that Legal can continue to deliver value and results for the businesses they work for.  

If you are a legal team looking for support when it comes to legal operations projects, contact Neil on 

We will be returning with some more of Neil’s thought as we continue with our Smooth Legal Operations next month.