Corporate legal teams need to focus on establishing goals and measuring outputs, not inputs, if they are to successfully align their operations with their companies’ overall business objectives.

By Nathan Cemenska, Wolters Kluwer’s ELM Solutions 

Running a corporate legal operation like a business can be a double-edged sword. While a dedicated legal team should operate in lockstep with the parent organization’s business practices, it can be a detriment when that team takes on some of the bad habits associated with them. This includes focusing on tactics rather than goals, or measuring inputs rather than the outputs that truly matter.

Let’s say a legal operations department wants its lawyers to be more aligned with departmental priorities. The legal operations director determines every attorney should attend a certain number of hours of departmental training every year and requires those hours be tracked.

This is an exercise in futility. Tracking training hours, in addition to being difficult, doesn’t necessarily address the alignment goal. The number of hours an attorney spends in training may or may not improve the degree to which that attorney is aligned with the department, and there is no way to be sure. Thus, it is like a person who meticulously calculates the number of Weight Watchers points they’re consuming, but refuses to step on a scale. It reflects a focus on input while the degree of alignment with actual, concrete departmental goals is ignored.

Focusing on the latter and using metrics to measure progress toward objectives can help corporate legal departments stay on track and drive their initiatives forward. With knowledge in hand, legal operations teams can build out long-term roadmaps that can help them deliver true value for their organizations. Here are a few strategies that teams may want to consider as they move forward.