In this monthly series, legal recruiting experts from Major, Lindsey & Africa interview law firm management from Am Law 100 and 200 firms and other industry leaders about how they navigate an increasingly competitive business environment. Discussions delve into how these key management roles are changing and introduce the people who aspire to improve and advance the business of law.
Next in this series, Rod Osborne talks with Gary Tully, head of legal operations at Gilead Sciences. Tully began his career working in the information technology department of several law firms. When the opportunity to move to the business side arose, he moved to Qualcomm, finding a role where he could balance law, business and technology. In 2015, he joined Gilead Sciences to build out their legal operations function.
Q: No one has grown up wanting to be a legal operations professional — the role didn’t exist until fairly recently — so how did you find your way into doing what you now do?
A: I started in IT because I loved computers from a very young age and ended up supporting law firms in IT, where I developed an understanding of both legal culture and IT. After receiving my MBA, I decided I wanted to see how larger corporations functioned. I was attracted to a position at Qualcomm, where I supported their legal department in an IT role. I met the new general counsel at Qualcomm and he offered me the opportunity to create a legal operations role. I eventually ended up at Gilead because I saw opportunities to make the legal department a more efficient part of the organization.
Q: When you moved into this new field, were you aware of how other people were doing it or were you pretty much just finding your own way?
A: I was finding my own way. I ended up connecting with other people who were similarly situated. I would fly to the Bay Area, have dinner and talk about collective challenges, where we can add value and who's doing what. Legal operations covers a broad range of activities, but most people started with the financial aspects of the legal department. This unofficial professional collective has since manifested into the Corporate Legal Operations Consortium organization.
Q: How has the role of in-house legal operations evolved over the last 10+ years?
A: I was heavily focused on technology when I was at Qualcomm. Part of the challenge was to get certain technologies in place and working well. My role, however, has changed significantly, I sit on a companywide global efficiency task force at Gilead — I now look at organizational structures and processes not just within legal but throughout the entire corporation. The role isn't just about legal services; it's about managing the business of legal and budgets, improving processes and creating efficiencies to better leverage legal resources.
Q: What do you find most satisfying about this work?
A: It’s satisfying to add value by successfully transforming the way work is done by freeing up lawyers' time from unnecessary administrative work. The goal, of course, is to access the untapped value in our legal professionals. Many lawyers are capable of advising business leaders in creative ways, not just on legal issues but on business issues. Lawyers are trained to be creative and consider all sides of a problem. Their way of thinking complements the other skillsets that a business person brings to the table.
Q: What are the greatest challenges you face as the head of legal operations?
A: The greatest challenge is implementing the changes necessary to be most effective. Legal operations people are disruptive by nature and usually find opportunity for efficiencies by changing age-old practices. We tend to challenge the way things are done and people get a little nervous at a very fundamental level. We experience this challenge with just about every initiative. Every change initiative requires executive-level sponsorship, a clear change management plan and an effective communication plan.
Q: Describe the relationship between legal operations teams and the company’s outside counsel. Where do you see it going from here?
A: One of the primary roles of legal operations is managing the legal finances. We take input and insight from outside counsel and process that information into outputs for finance. We also get involved in the annual rate increase with law firms. Those negotiations open up the conversation about how well outside counsel is doing in an area.
From here, we continue to have meaningful conversations about the quality of work being produced by the firm. We track quality metrics, and firms have been receptive about where they need to improve. We continue to have conversations about how firms secure our data and protect our intellectual property. We're also interested in a firm's diverse makeup — what their profiles are and what their teams bring to the table. We have a lot of efforts around improving the diverse makeup of our workforce, and we're looking for the same commitment from our suppliers, not just in legal but across the board.
Q: Would it help to have a J.D. or to have practiced law or do you think that could get in the way of what you do?
A: MBAs are essentially trained in operations management, so it comes down to a couple of basic questions: What work do you want your J.D.s and paralegals doing? What skill set do you need to perform the legal operations role? What training and skills are essential to execute that role? Strategic planning, quantitative analysis, budgets, accruals, technology, organizational behavior and structures are all topics of an MBA program. Don’t get me wrong, experience matters but J.D. training does not cover the fundamentals of operations management.
Q: What does leadership mean to you?
A: Leadership is very involved. For me, it is the ability to make a decision, stand by that position and motivate others through tough times to ensure that the inevitability of change will be a positive. Leadership is providing a vision, being responsible for decisions made and trusting your folks to implement them in a way that can achieve the organization’s goals.