The Future Is Bright for ACC Legal Operations

Wednesday, January 2, 2019 - 16:40

 

Senior Director of Legal Operations at AbbVie Sam Ranganathan takes the reins of ACC Legal Ops. Here, he shares his hopes and goals for the future of the group.

CCBJ: How did you become involved with ACC Legal Operations? Who were some of the key players in the beginning?

Sam Ranganathan: ACC Legal Operations was founded about four years ago. The kernel that became ACC Legal Ops was based on a meeting of the minds of a few enterprising people, including Tania Daniels, who is the vice chair now; Elizabeth Jaworski; and Catherine Moynihan (ACC Associate Vice President, Legal Management Services), who initially spearheaded the organization. As we gained momentum for the key principle of ACC Legal Ops being for members by members, we decided to formalize it into a governance structure with Reese Arrowsmith as the first chair, a rotating role.

My involvement started with one of the interest groups. I saw the opportunity to create some structure, drive direction and bring benefits to the membership. As we started to build the leadership team for ACC Legal Ops, I was asked to be the vice chair. And here I am today, taking on the role of chair.

What resources are available to ACC Legal Ops members?

The most recent, overarching resource is the ACC Legal Operations maturity model. Many of the attendees at the 2018 conference in Chicago expressed an interest in using the model to assess their organization’s maturity. Further, we’ve developed a set of tools around this model that help an early stage company transition to an intermediate stage.

In addition, we have seven interest groups, each a forum to share knowledge and come together as a group and ask questions. Each of the groups also produces webinars for the larger membership. Furthermore, we have a resource library, where we collect relevant legal ops materials, including templates, articles and information about initiatives. To communicate with the members and other peers, we have a newsfeed, a newsletter and a LinkedIn page.

Lastly, members can request benchmarking projects. This year, for example, we conducted qualitative benchmarking on managing legal operations outside of the headquarter countries, and on protecting third-party trade secrets – to name just a couple.

What were some of the key presentations at the ACC Legal Operations Conference in Chicago?

The keynote panel of Brad Lerman from Medtronic, Phyllis Harris from Walmart, Bill Deckelman from DXC and Cindy Abbott from Chicago Public Media kicked off the conference. They each brought a valuable yet different perspective that was informed by their company’s profile and organizational needs that was helpful for the audience to hear. The attendees could connect the priorities the speakers set based on these two factors, mind-sets about their legal models and how they envision the future. It highlighted to all the legal ops professionals in the room how they should consider their own legal functions and the importance of aligning to the company’s goals.

We also heard from Sterling Miller of Marketo on the practical uses of AI, while Phyllis Harris during the keynote talked about how Walmart is using AI as well. We’ve heard so much hype about AI, and it was really good to see the practical applications.

Another hyped topic is blockchain. We had a couple of very entertaining sessions that introduced the concept, highlighted how you could use blockchain in the future, where it’s headed and the applicability to the legal space.

During the conference, one of the things we stressed to our presenters was the need to provide practical information to the audience. To that effect, we run a boot camp every year that gives people a buffet of legal ops practices. It is the most popular session we have – over 125 people attended this year. It introduces the key areas of legal ops – the role of legal operations, tips on how to be successful in this role, an introduction to the maturity model, setting a roadmap as well as financial, technology and vendor management – and gives attendees tools for their day-to-day jobs.

There were also sessions throughout the conference that helped with common challenges facing legal operations teams such as managing accruals, mapping legal workflows, change management and how to staff your legal function going forward. I felt that the sessions were a good mix of practical advice and a curated set of forward-looking ideas.

As someone with a certain amount of maturity in this space, what were some key takeaways for you from the conference?

The first thing that I got out of it was there’s a great deal of opportunity to be self-reflective using the ACC Legal Operations maturity model, whether you’re a mature organization or not. At AbbVie, we’re assessing ourselves as a legal operations function to identify opportunities to further our team’s growth.

The second piece is a chance to focus on and discuss with peers how the legal function and ecosystems are changing as we speak. There are models being established, whether through the use of AI tools or a completely different legal services model, for how you structure an organization. It got me thinking about how we should evaluate these new opportunities when we get back to our desks. How might an alternate resourcing model work or not work in our context, for example?

I thought those two strategic initiatives from the conference along with several best practice workshops such as ones on process improvement delivered a great deal of value, to both mature organizations and those new to legal ops.

As chair of ACC Legal Ops, what are some of your goals and hopes for the continued development of the group?

The tools and knowledge we have developed over the last three years have been a great help to our members, so we’d like to continue to build additional tools, have webinars that are relevant to the membership and offer opportunities that help members grow as legal ops professionals. Also, we want to identify what approaches there are for us to help intermediate-stage organizations, of which there are quite a few and we will start to see more. We would like to help them with the question of how do they assess the opportunities for growth and identify solutions that help them continue up the maturity curve.

Another area of focus is to develop a vision for legal operations as a practice. We have many established leaders that are forward thinking, knowledgeable, with practical implementations on a variety of legal ops initiatives. They have advanced the ball quite a bit within their own companies, so what I want to do with them is look for what legal ops 2.0 will look like.

Last, as we evolve the organization, I would like to make sure that everyone is engaged and we are making the right connections between members. We have to develop creative ways to connect the community and capture member stories that share knowledge of what to do and in many cases, as importantly, what not to do – to be successful.


Sam Ranganathan, senior director of Legal Operations at AbbVie, spends most of his days devising innovative ways to make legal functions more efficient.