Smoother Operations: The Importance of Good Governance in your 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, how to get started with legal technology and how to make sure you are supporting the most important asset in your legal team: your people. 

For the penultimate part of this series, we are looking at governance in Legal Operations and the three pillars of policies, communication and culture.

So, Neil, how would you define good governance in the context of Legal Operations?

As with everything I have talked about so far with regard to people, processes, technology there is no one single correct answer or approach.  The right approach is the one that works for your legal team.  

‘Good governance’ speaks to the safeguarding hat worn by in-house legal teams, a vital aspect which happily sits alongside some of the more ‘progressive’ initiatives I’ve discussed in the past.  

What frameworks are important for robust governance in Legal Operations?

Begin by asking three key questions: 

  1. What risks do you already know about within the business?   
  2. What risks are inherent within the field of operations in which the business operates?   
  3. What regulatory and compliance rules and requirements exist within your sphere of operations now?    

Good across the board examples of good governance include GDPR processes and protocols, Claims and Dispute Reporting (what, how, who, when), Investigation and Crisis Protocols (what, how, who, when) and Counterparty Risk assessment tools.   

It is also important to horizon scan to pre-empt what regulatory or compliance issues might soon impact the business, for example, environmental laws and the growing importance of CSR.  As I’ve mentioned in the past, there are numerous technology solutions to help you here, but it is key to find the right fit for your legal team and business (as I discuss in the Legal Technology blog above).  

What strategies do you recommend for effective communication between the legal team and other stakeholders, eg external law firms and company executives? 

This is about policies, communications and culture.   

The policy sets the benchmark for good governance. It should be clear on the risks you are seeking to avoid and the consequences of ignoring those risks.  

Communications should then be tailored to all relevant stakeholders; from different departments to the legal team itself to external law firms. Do leverage your law firm panel here, as they may also assist in the creation of the policy, by reference to their own resources and knowhow. 

Culture plays a key role in how effectively these communications land. It’s important for legal, the C-Suite and the business to align and understand that governance is not just “something for legal.” It’s a business imperative.   

It is also important to ensure that the legal and CoSec teams are both aligned in what they do to ensure good governance across the business.    

Are there specific benchmarks or standards of governance that legal teams should be aiming for?

The best governance is that which works effectively for the business.  Governance means listening to the concerns of your stakeholders and building protective measures around this, plus taking a proactive horizon scanning approach.

Compliance matrices can also help you baseline which departments and internal committees are responsible for meeting relevant legislative and regulatory requirements.   

How does good governance facilitate change management within a legal team?

There is no point in having a framed polished perfect policy if nobody is following it and/or do not know about it. There needs to be effective messaging at the point of launch, refresher comms and a visible home for all things governance.  

Interactive learning modules and Q&As work well to embed a culture of governance and hammer home key messages and the risks of non-compliance.  

The compliance program needs to be rolled out both inside and outside of legal and completion should be tracked. There are many technology tools out there which can help with this. 

For legal teams looking to establish or improve their governance in Legal Operations, what are your top three actionable recommendations? 

  1. Process map to problem solve and flush out likely (horizon) risks and issues for the legal team and the business. This requires open and continuing dialogue within the team and out in the business. 
  2. Scrupulously document those risks and issues and diarise regular check ins–within and outside legal. Build your ‘governance plan’ and policies around that. Think about storing these records in a shared location, to the extent confidentiality allows. 
  3. Don’t be afraid of unearthing skeletons. A surfaced risk or issue, for all of the immediate heartache it may bring, is immeasurably better than a buried, unquantified and potentially growing risk. Full knowledge of a risk or potential risk also allows for governance policies and processes to be rolled out to better protect the business. 

Thanks as always Neil. The final part to our Smoother Operations series is on Continuous Improvement. So make sure you tune in for this!  

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