Smoother Operations: Getting personal when it comes to your Legal Ops

Smooth Operations is our blog series on all things Legal Operations.

Arbor Law’s Legal Operations expert Neil Smith has so far covered everything from the basics of what Legal Operations is, to excellence in service delivery and how to get started with legal technology.

Now we are getting personal!

Because change cannot happen without buy-in from those who power it.

So let’s take a moment to find out from Neil how Legal Operations can play a part in making the life of an in-house lawyer better.


So Neil, how can Legal Ops create the nadir of a positive and empowering work environment for legal professionals?

I definitely believe that an effective Legal Ops programme contributes to this nadir! The reason for this is wrapped up in some of my favourite definitions as to what Legal Ops actually is:

“Maximising and enhancing the productivity of legal functions, reducing costs and streamlining processes with a focus on doing more with less to create value.”

“Providing the strategic planning, financial management, project management, and technology expertise that enables legal professionals to focus on providing legal advice.”

“Running in-house legal like a business, focusing on competencies like financial management, analytics and service design to make legal efficient, effective and fit for the modern business.”

I can’t think of more positive, empowering or experience-enhancing mission statements than the above in the context of in-house legal team operations. It is all about making things better. Including the professional lives of lawyers.

How does a Legal Operations programme support the professional development of in-house lawyers? Are there any specific initiatives you have found successful?

All the innovative ideas and solutions in the world will not help a team that isn’t motivated, engaged and bought in.

Some examples of initiatives I have worked with in-house legal teams to roll out include:

Legal Expectation Wheels: these offer clear and transparent guidance so that every member of the team understands what they need to do to progress to the next level of seniority in their personal career journey.

Succession Plans, Talent Reviews, Team Structure and Operating Model reviews: so the team knows that the business is equally as invested in their personal development.

Other cogs which feed into the overall people and culture workstream include:

  • Clear onboarding systems and processes
  • Team meeting cadence and purpose enhancement
  • Team brand and comms reviews
  • Deep-dives into strategic networking and collaboration between the legal team and the rest of the business

How can Legal Ops contribute when it comes to collaboration and knowledge sharing within a legal team? Are there any tools you recommend?

Collaboration and knowledge sharing are key components of any Legal Ops programme. They sit at the heart of development and optimisation.

Nine times out of ten your organisation will already have tools which can help – whether that be Microsoft Solutions (such as Teams, SharePoint, MS Forms) or equivalent Google Workspace or Apple solutions. So examine your own shelves first.

Failing that, there are many bespoke collaboration and knowledge sharing tools. My top tips if you do decide to buy a solution include:

  • Exhaustive requirements gathering with the widest range of internal stakeholders possible.
  • Hand-in-hand progression with any internal procurement processes.
  • Careful shortlisting, demos and an agreed tech roll-out plan, remembering all of the time that the tech provider will be at least as invested in the success of the roll-out as you are.

When it comes to investing in the team, what are some key areas within Legal Operations that can lead to benefits?

One proven winner is Discovery Insights profiling.

Team members answer a series of apparently unconnected questions and are then provided with a report which characterises personality type, success and failure triggers and tactics and tricks to get the best out of themselves and others.

Thoroughly recommended! There are lots of different providers for this.

How can Legal Operations ensure that the introduction of new systems and processes is seen as a way to empower and support team members, rather than as a threat to their roles?

This is about comms and messaging. It is important to set out and communicate in detail the What, the How and the Why in as SMART a way as possible.  Investing MORE time in this stage than you might think is necessary will always pay dividends.

A good topical example of a BIG and (for some) worrying change is the explosion in media coverage and awareness of AI and AI-assisted solutions.  It’s important to focus as much on mitigating people’s concerns as the more obvious headline-grabbing benefits. Let’s not ignore the development. Instead, we should accept that while it will fundamentally alter the way we work, it will absolutely be a journey within which a dedicated focus on people upskilling and skill-adaptation will lead to an exciting future.

Finally, what role does leadership play in managing change within Legal Operations?

Change management, ownership and leadership is key. The tone is set from the top. Create fans and advocates as high up in the organisational chart as you can and from this the messaging can cascade down.

For me it is about focusing on everyone but with a laser focus on those identified as being ‘resistant to change’.

To steal NPS (Net Promoter Score) language, if you can convert this group from Detractors to Promoters, the battle is half-won. All of which assumes that any resistance to change is not in fact a welcome call-out of an unforeseen issue or issues with the proposed initiatives. In which case, refine, fix and (re)launch.

With thanks to Neil, for his insights on the essential people part of all things Legal Ops.

And stay tuned as they say, for the final two blogs in our series on Continuous Improvement and Governance.

If you are a legal team looking to get your people on board when it comes to legal operations projects, contact Neil on