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Legal Operations in a Law Firm

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Legal Operations – what the hell is that?

Guest writer, ILFM member and Head of Legal Operations at The Burnside Partnership, Lynda Bradbury.

ILFM Guest Writer on her role as Head of Legal Operations in a law firm, Lynda Bradbury

Like many of my colleagues in Legal Operational roles, my journey has been transitional. I have been fortunate enough to work across a range of departments in law firms, so know first-hand the challenges each can face. 

From Legal Secretary to Head of Legal Operations in a Law Firm

I began my career as a Legal Secretary, trained as a Paralegal within a busy Immigration Department, set up and ran Credit Control/Accounts Teams and have worked directly with business owners to implement policies, streamline operations functions and improve profitability. 

My passion is reviewing and managing processes (change management), developing people and improving performance (the three P's) to achieve agreed outcomes and a positive experience for our clients and for the business. What works well? What doesn't work? Why doesn't it work? What can we do to make it work! There is a saying, (I think wrongly attributed to Einstein), " the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results". Challenging some of the more traditional methods and ways or working in law firms for the past 25+ years has felt like this on occasion!

Challenge the Process for Risk Management & Cashflow

A perfect example is the client instruction to payment cycle. Record time, argue about time, argue about time write offs, bill it, don't communicate, get credit control to chase, delays, poor cash-flow, stress, complaints....and rinse and repeat. By working with legal teams and encouraging them to spend more time at the outset, communicate clearly with clients, scope and price collectively, re-scope where necessary and asking for money on account will dramatically improve your cash position and will save an awful lot of time and stress. Be outcome focused. What does the client want/need as an outcome? What does the lawyer/the business want/need as an outcome? Do we still need to keep beating ourselves with the same sticks? As Head of Legal Operations, it is often part of my role to be the disruptor (or Marmite, as I like to call it) and challenge processes.

The role of Legal Operations is often defined by the firm you work for and its culture, be it a large firm where you have responsibility for specific tasks, such as improving the PMS to attain efficiencies or areas of compliance.  Or, in a smaller firm, where you may have a broader role, encompassing Financial Ops, training, wider tech and compliance tasks. It might be you are involved with more traditional areas of Ops, such as premises, HR, insurance renewals etc. It is a role that is ever evolving and so can be extremely rewarding. Change, project and people management skills will all play a part in your day to day.

At The Burnside Partnership, I am extremely lucky to work as part of the Senior Management Team. To get an idea of some of my general day to day responsibilities, I have implemented a wonderful Accounts Team – with our Accounts & Billing Manager, Charlotte Gibbs AILFM (ILFM qualified Associate Level (AILFM). Designed billing and recovery processes, digital client onboarding options, PMS tender, selection and full project management, AML compliance and audits, Team Leader financial management and reporting, recruitment, office moves, inductions and training, loo cleaning…wasp attacks……no job is too big or too small – focus on the outcome it will achieve!

Top Five Tips for a Career in Legal Operations

Finally, my top five tips for anyone considering beginning a career in Legal Ops or moving into Legal Ops:

  1. Listen to learn (the role can be so diverse, gain as much knowledge as you can from colleagues and others in the industry. You can gain as much insight from your own and others’ mistakes, as you can from the wins!).

  2. Do not over complicated anything and always consider the user. It might be fun to create a 30-step workflow but think of the person being asked to use it and the role it plays in achieving the agreed outcome.
  3. Be honest if you make a mistake or you do not know how to do something. We are all human and Ops roles can cover a lot of ground. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
  4. Be kind – we hear this a lot, but honestly you can be kind to people and care about their well-being/career progression AND be tough on performance. Set goals and be clear with delegation and timescales. Help those around you prioritise their workloads if they are overwhelmed. Give colleagues the time to get it right first time, a rushed job can lead to mistakes and stress (measure twice and cut once as my husband says!).
  5. Have fun and bring your own unique personality and flare to the role. A sense of humour will help see you through the challenges (like spending weekends checking data as part of a PMS move). It also makes you more approachable. I have made some marvellous friends in the industry over the years and generally we are all a pretty decent bunch of people.

Hopefully, we will continue to see those in Operational roles flourish and be recognised within the industry for the vital part they play in the success of any legal business. In addition, I hope to see a more formal training route become established as a defined career choice for those looking to work in the operational/management side of law. After all, having well trained and happy colleagues and clients is the outcome we should all be working towards.

Lynda Bradbury is a Chartered Manager and an Associate Member of the Chartered Institute of Credit Management. Lynda is Head of Legal Operations at The Burnside Partnership, Specialist Private Client Lawyers & Tax Experts