The future of legal operations: From bottleneck to business enabler

Leading legal operations professionals are now strategic business enablers, driving efficiency and effectiveness within their organizations.  

In the ever-evolving business landscape, the role of legal operations has expanded beyond the boundaries of traditional law departments. Leading legal operations professionals are now strategic business enablers, driving efficiency and effectiveness within their organizations.  

But what skills are required of legal ops professionals, what do their career tracks look like, and how do they enable the business? Read on for insights from two industry pioneers: Mike Haven, Head of Global Legal Operations at Intel and former president of the Corporate Legal Operations Consortium (CLOC), and Steve Harmon, Chief Operating Officer and General Counsel at Elevate. Through their stories, we gain a context for how legal operations has become a vital role for modern businesses.  

The non-traditional path

When someone thinks of legal ops, they might assume that it requires going to law school and training as a lawyer. This is not the case for all legal ops professionals.  
Harmon’s journey into legal operations, for example, began with a non-traditional role in venture capital. Harmon’s focus on optimizing processes, particularly reducing contract cycle times, laid the foundation for his future endeavors in legal operations.  
Haven’s background as a litigator also helped him build skills to become the legal ops professional he is today. 
“As a litigator, you’ve got to have thick skin, right? And as a legal operations pro, you’ve got to have thick skin. As a litigator, you have to be persuasive. As a legal operations pro, you have to be persuasive. As a litigator, you have to grind. You have to be resilient and patient and keep grinding. And same with legal operations pros. So there’s a lot of the skills, the inherent skills in litigation, that translated, I think for me, to legal operations,” Haven said. 

Enabling the business

Mark Chandler, the former Chief Legal Officer at Cisco Systems, played a pivotal role in shaping Harmon’s approach to legal operations. Chandler believed that the legal department’s primary purpose was to enable the business.  

“Like many support functions within an organization, the legal department is viewed as a tax on the profitability of the business. It slows things down. Lawyers, by their very nature, tend to be risk averse. And Mark’s approach was different,” Harmon explained.  

By emphasizing the importance of supporting the organization’s goals, Chandler challenged the perception of the legal department as a hindrance to profitability. This mindset became ingrained in Harmon’s approach, driving him to find ways to assist the business while ensuring legal compliance.  

“[Mark] reminded us on a very regular basis that the only way our salaries got paid is because the organization was designing, building and selling products. And we certainly needed to do that in a legally appropriate way, and that was the nuance that we brought and contributed to the conversation. But every operation, every task that we took on within the legal department, was designed to enable the business in some way,” Harmon said. 

Soft skills for success

Both Haven and Harmon highlighted the significance of soft skills in legal operations.  

“My point of view is that you don’t have to be a lawyer to be a very good legal operations professional,” Haven said. “It’s a cross between a business role and a legal role. And you may come at it from the business angle. You can come at it from the law angle. You can come at it from the IT angle. You can come at it from the finance angle, HR, procurement, then the list goes on.” 
He continued: 

“There are so many skills that you need in this role that you’re never going to come into it with all of them already. You’ll come in with a couple of the skills probably from those various angles. And you have to learn the rest on the job in a lot of cases.” 
Haven stressed the importance of EQ (emotional intelligence), empathy, listening, and understanding the pain points of different departments. This enables legal operations professionals to prioritize and solve problems effectively.  

Harmon emphasized the adaptability quotient (AQ), the ability to be flexible and nimble in a constantly changing environment. Legal operations professionals must remain flexible while keeping the big picture in mind.  

“A legal background certainly has some advantages. It helps in some ways, but it’s far from being a necessary skillset to be successful with operations,” Harmon said. “I think the more important skillset is a recognition around systematic thinking and looking at ways to make things repeatable.” 

Promoting user adoption

One of the biggest challenges in legal operations is navigating organizational dynamics and driving user adoption of new technologies. Legal operations professionals often face resistance from process owners who fear being displaced or having their roles significantly changed.  

Harmon emphasizes the need for change management and aligning goals to build confidence among team members.  

“From an EQ perspective, one of the things you really have to emphasize is the ability to help people be confident, that your goals are aligned. And that there is a real desire to free up the team members, the department members, to focus on additional, important tasks that are strategically important,” he said. 

By demonstrating the benefits of process optimization, such as freeing up time for more strategic tasks, legal operations professionals can gain support and cooperation from stakeholders, Haven said. 

“The beauty of it is that legal operations teams can configure processes and workflows that optimize contract management for the business. And that makes more money for the company, that makes shareholders happy. And that’s probably why there’s been so much investment in [Contract Lifecycle Management] (CLM) tools in recent years,” he said. 


The rise of legal operations signifies a shift in the legal profession. Legal operations professionals are no longer confined to the traditional role of supporting the legal department. Instead, they have become strategic enablers, driving efficiency and effectiveness throughout the organization.  

The experiences of industry pioneers like Haven and Harmon exemplify the evolving nature of legal operations and the skills required for success. As the legal landscape evolves, legal operations is sure to play an increasingly vital role in shaping the legal profession’s future. 

Learn more about how CLM can help your legal team focus on what really matters. Schedule a demo today.

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