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Maturing Legal Tech Market Looks to Legal Ops Pros for Innovation Edge

By Victoria Hudgins for

Last month, Mary O’Carroll stepped down from her post as Google’s director of operations, technology and strategy for its legal department to join contract lifecycle management (CLM) software provider Ironclad as its chief community officer.

O’Carroll’s move was a significant acquisition for the legal tech market, given her 13-year tenure in Google’s legal department and her previous role as president of the Corporate Legal Operations Consortium (CLOC). But O’Carroll’s jump to Ironclad also encapsulates the broader trend of legal tech and service providers maturing and turning to legal ops veterans to bring more client insights into their business and development processes.

In the last six months alone, big names in legal ops have exited corporate legal departments to bring their in-house experience to legal tech and service providers. Liberty Mutual vice president and senior corporate counsel Bob Taylor, for example, joined Deloitte Legal Business Services in mid-March. That same month, Taylor’s fellow Liberty Mutual in-house leader, legal department director of innovation Jeff Marple, also exited the insurance company to work for law firm spinoff Keesal Propulsion Labs (KP Labs). 

Shortly after in early April, e-discovery tech and services provider Compliance snagged JDX Consulting’s document intelligence practice lead and former BNY Mellon managing counsel Charles Post. 

While numerous, the recruitment isn’t surprising, said O’Carroll during a recent interview. “If you’re targeting the legal ops market and that’s your core audience and user base it’s probably wise to have someone that understands their user journey and the desires of those in that role,” O’Carroll noted.

To be sure, the ability to lure and pay corporate legal ops professionals is bolstered by legal tech’s increasingly large outside investments and market share. Still, as funding and clients grow, software companies can be lulled into complacency, said Eric Elfman, CEO and co-founder of enterprise legal management automation platform Onit Inc.

“We are pushing 11 years old—which by General Motors standards is still an infant—that being said, the average software company [at Onit’s age] is starting to approach mediocrity,” Elfman said. “They’re thinking about bottom-line profitability, they’re losing their innovative edge and not experimenting.”

Keeping clients’ needs and perspectives top of mind was the main reasoning behind Onit hiring TIAA’s former chief operations officer and chief of staff Brad Rogers as its vice president of strategy and growth, Elfman added. “With Brad we’re trying to bring the voice of the customer inside of Onit to make sure the ways our customers think and what they value and care about is in our ears everyday,” he said.

To be sure, sales and marketing teams are essential for collecting client insights during the early stages of a legal tech company. However, some legal tech companies have now set their sights higher by tapping into the direct insights of experienced legal ops professionals, said Rudy DeFelice, co-founder of KP Labs.

“Sales and marketing bring scale and insights and that’s useful but I think the most fundamental [asset] is …vetting ideas, providing insights, helping you craft ideas that’s not necessarily going to lead to more sales tomorrow but long-term you’re better allies to customers,” DeFelice said.

Still, while the influx of legal ops hiring by legal tech providers is spurred by growth ambitions, Ironclad’s O’Carroll noted the timing of these announcements was partially influenced by legal ops’ own maturity.

“Legal ops is very new,” she noted. “To get someone that’s a veteran, we are probably [now] reaching that vintage to have that experience under our belts and to have seen a lot of things.”

O’Carroll added that the executive-level jobs legal ops is securing also highlights additional career opportunities for the emerging field.

“The impact on the industry, in general, is more movement toward a variety of career paths or more options for people in the legal space,” she said. ”Legal has always been a place that it’s very hard to transition from, because there’s not a lot of skills or backgrounds you can easily move into different parts of the organization.”