CLOC is a movement.

You’ve heard me mention this before, that CLOC (also known as the Corporate Legal Operations Consortium) is a community, a movement. It’s a drumbeat. And it’s not going away. But why is it so important for lawyers and law firms to be paying attention? Three reasons.

One: The legal market is changing.

“The market is changing, blah, blah, blah.” I can hear you all saying it. But although the pace can be slow at times, it IS changing. The rise of legal ops itself is proof of that. In an interview with Bloomberg Law, CLOC founder, Connie Brenton, talks about the rapid growth of the organization itself:

In two years we went from an informal group of 40 to nearly 1,300 legal operations professionals, representing 40 states, 37 countries, on five continents.”

That in and of itself is staggering, but it’s not just about the rise in numbers in the role – it’s about the changing role of the general counsel, and the leverage given to the legal ops professional role itself. In “Not Yet at the Tipping Point,” for Canadian Lawyer, Jennifer Brown says,

Legal operations used to be [a role] that existed only in large departments focused on efficiencies and effectiveness. It’s now often the first hire after the general counsel in a new legal department. ‘The value and impact of this role is being recognized and the voice of the client has really started to come together and demanding we change the legal industry,’ she [Mary Shen O’Carroll, head of legal operations, technology and strategy with Google Inc. and CLOC board member] said.”

Clients are no longer just looking at their law firm relationships to find out where they can get the best value – they’re looking at the entire marketplace to see where the best value lies. And that might be outside of the law firm. While there’s resistance, it doesn’t mean there isn’t change. Brown shares from Mark Cohen, CEO of Legal Mosaic and chief strategy officer of Elevate Services:

“When lawyers are no longer controlling the buy and sell sides of legal, I think you will begin to see a real change and people will focus more on law as a business. I was a bet-the-company trial lawyer for 30 years, so I know a bit about the practice of law, but let’s not pretend anymore . . . the profession is being subsumed within the industry and the business.”

If you haven’t been paying attention before, you should be paying attention now. The legal market is changing, and the law firms that aren’t changing with it, will be left behind.

Two: CLOC is changing it

In a Law Geex interview with Brenton about her day job at NetApp, she lists one of the key imperatives for her team as “busting silos and burning bridges.” She could just as well be talking about what she’s doing in the industry. CLOC as an organization is already working together to share best practices among legal operations professionals, to create core competencies to better the profession, and is driving the charge to make changes in US legal professional rules. They’re not just talking about taking action – they’re taking it. But what’s extremely important to the leadership of CLOC is community. Says Brenton:

We have found that it is impossible to answer these questions in isolation. It is going to take a community. One of the founding principles of CLOC is a culture of collaboration and a culture that embraces the legal ecosystem. Solutions of the past, built in isolation, don’t work; that’s been proven. The new and expanded legal ecosystem comprises in-house counsel, outside counsel, law companies, technology companies, law schools, and regulators. Collaboration among these sectors creates efficient win-win-win solutions.

The purchase of legal services has also fundamentally changed. There are new entrants offering options to source more routine legal work at a lower cost and higher quality.

There are many law firms, law companies, technology providers and others that are keeping up with the changes in the industry. We are working closely with many of them, changing the legal industry, together.”

It’s an anathema to many of us who have worked in law firms to engage in a culture of collaboration. It can feel unfamiliar to share, to discuss, to clasp hands across silos rather than to work within them. But to survive the shift that’s happening in the industry, that’s exactly what it’s going to take. The legal industry has always been, and will always be, about people. And CLOC is people at their best.

Three: The Tipping Point is Coming

The title of Brown’s article suggests, as Shen O’Carroll mentions within the piece, that the tipping point is not yet here in terms of big shifts in the legal industry, and I’d agree with that. But it’s coming.

Shen O’Carroll said the ‘elephant in the room’ is the law firm business model. ‘If it doesn’t fundamentally change everything around it will change and eventually it will have to. What we’re really seeing more of is the demand for change than the actual change. We’re not at the tipping point yet — we are getting there — everyone is pushing towards that and at some point something is going to break. We keep dancing around the idea of hiring new roles in law firms and thinking about innovation — putting technology in place — but we’re missing the meaty part of the conversation, which is who is going to uproot this entire model?’

If the tipping point is coming and WE are the elephant in the room…shouldn’t we be clamoring for a seat at the table with the group of folks driving change?