16 May 2024

Legal operations – New York style

We chatted with Shelley, the Legal Operations Manager at a New York-based organisation.

FF: Shelley, could you start by describing your role? 

ST: I work for a private foundation based in New York City. Our internal team consists of a General Counsel, me and our Director of Research Compliance.

My day-to-day consists of anything that comes across my desk. Some people will come with questions or projects that might have some legal substance, and some people just like the reassurance of input from Legal.

Your course resonated with me because it highlighted the fact that sometimes the lines are blurred between what Legal does and what Legal doesn’t do. We’re a multifaceted client services provider to our organisation.

Right now, I’m in the middle of a CLM implementation project. I’m also part of two teams: Governance, Risk & Compliance and the Privacy team. I help with the external partners and our IP portfolio management. So, I’m all over the place, not by choice. But this is how it’s evolved.

FF: Wearing many hats seems to be a big part of Legal’s role. What did you learn from our course about communicating what you do and don’t do?

ST: The ‘Legal does and Legal doesn’t’ was fabulous. I’d already told my GC that it had been on my wishlist to try to scale back. ‘Who we are’ is important because people have preconceived ideas about what Legal should do.

But now we’re taking the opportunity to shift some of the responsibilities. We’re characterising this change as ’empowering our end users and stakeholders’ to keep everyone on track as much as possible.

We are trying to take a step back and analyse what fell into our department because either:

  • Nobody else wanted to do it
  • Nobody had the answer
  • Somebody just punted it to Legal because – more than likely – they knew that we would help.

Otherwise known as ‘Legal not setting boundaries’!

As a private organisation, we do everything. We manage grants, have an internal research organisation, conduct clinical research, publish two editorially independent publications, and have a documentary filmmaking arm. So, aside from manufacturing, offering B2B products, and being financially compliant as a financial services provider, we’re working on many different things on any given day.

But it also means we have to be reactive. We’re trying to put better SOPs in place. Better guidance. So, we can state ‘read here’ instead of constantly repeating things.

FF: I love that. It’s very Jerry Maguire: ‘Help me  help you!’ So, when you describe your role as Legal Operations Senior Manager, does that term mean the same thing to everyone?

ST: No, absolutely not.

FF: How do you describe it, and what do others think it is?

ST: My definition of what it means to our organisation is still evolving. Outside our organisation, I think it’s defined as a group of individuals, regardless of their background, who help facilitate running Legal, thereby supporting the business.

I had an interesting debate with an external services advisor the other day about what it means to use the term ‘running Legal like a business’. Because, in essence, the counterargument is that Legal doesn’t operate as a business, even though it shares certain basic elements.

I would say the role is seeking out opportunities to be more efficient and effective, keeping up to date, and ensuring that Legal has the tools to provide services to its internal team and the client.

I also think an important element of what legal ops folks could do – if they aren’t already doing it – is to manage professional development for Legal as well. And that’s where courses like Front Foot can be invaluable.

FF: Thanks so much, Shelley.

ST: I hope that more people will find out about Front Foot Academy. I’m sure that there are people in a similar position to me who are looking for this kind of content, so I’ll definitely spread the word.