Congrats to the KO law firm, an IFLP employer, for winning 2020 CLOC Legal Innovations in Operations Award.

When you’re a small growth company focused on product development, sales, and customer service, you don’t have a lot of time or interest in talking to expensive lawyers. That said, you likely do have a strong interest in plug-in solutions that solve key operational challenges or move the team closer to core business objectives.

Last week, CLOC sent a powerful message about the role of legal operations in the success of growth companies when it named the KO firm as a winner of CLOC’s inaugural Legal Innovations in Operations (LIO) award. See CLOC press release, May 28, 2020.  The KO story leaves no doubt regarding where the legal industry is headed, as we’re seeing a pattern of innovative law firms becoming true solutions providers.

The KO story

KO is a small law firm in Colorado that I know well because of its connection to the Institute for the Future of Legal Practice and its predecessor, the Tech Lawyer Accelerator (collectively “IFLP”).

KO specializes in representing emerging growth companies, most of which have no internal law department.  Recognizing the impact that sound contract management can have on a company’s valuation when raising money or being acquired, KO developed a “contract in a box” solution that includes both traditional legal work and contract management, enabling early-stage companies to handle contracting in an efficient, compliant, and centralized fashion, including analytics that improve visibility into the business.

Delivering these types of solutions requires legal professionals with both legal and operations expertise (T-shaped). Many of KO’s lawyers have in-house backgrounds, and KO has long supported IFLP in its efforts to train the next generation of T-shaped lawyers.

This began back in 2015, when KO hired a 7-month IFLP intern, Greg Garcia, who had spent the previous summer interning for a KO client.  At the end of the internship, KO recognized that the intern had the T-shaped skills and practical experience necessary to deliver value to clients immediately and hired the intern as an associate even though the firm had a practice of not hiring new law grads.  (Garcia is now a corporate counsel at Techstars, a Colorado-based innovation accelerator.)

Ben Oelsner

More recently, KO partner Ben Oelsner developed a flipped classroom exercise for our recently completed 2020 boot camp. The exercise was based on KO’s extensive experience with the automation of NDAs. As a result, another crop of students are learning that what looks exotic and high tech from far away is actually not that complicated once you have foundational knowledge in legal operations.

A similar example at BCLP

When it comes to supporting emerging growth companies, other members of the IFLP ecosystem have taken a similar legal operations approach.

For example, earlier this year, IFLP supporter Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner (BCLP) took first place in the UK Managing Partners’ Forum for “Best Business Innovation.” The winning project was BCLP Cubed,  another solution offering in which expert advice on complex legal issues is combined with access to low-cost, high-volume service centers and support from legal ops and technology professionals.  The elegance of the BCLP Cubed reflects the diverse skill sets of long-time IFLP instructors Katie DeBord, BCLP’s Chief Innovation Officer, and Angie Ligon, BCLP’s Director of Legal Operations.  Further, it flows from many years of paying close attention to the business needs of clients.

For example, in 2016, BCLP partner Mark Weakley led an engagement with IFLP and Fathym, an early-stage software company, to pair the firm’s expertise with a 7-month IFLP intern to develop and implement a legal document management protocol designed to make Fathym “diligence ready” at any time. In addition to delighting a client, the IFLP intern, Stephanie Drumm, entered the firm with an advanced skill set that has kept in high demand with clients and other partners.

This activity yields several conclusions.  First, even companies that are still too small to have a law department can benefit significantly from legal operations.  Second, law firms that innovate and use their scale to make this service available to their emerging growth clients can achieve a competitive advantage.  Third, delivering these types of services requires legal professionals who have T-shaped skills and experience, and T-shaped interns, young lawyers, and contract managers can have an impact that far exceeds their level of experience or traditional pedigree.