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Corporate Law Departments

Corporate law departments focusing on key priorities amid altered legal market, says new report

Gregg Wirth  Content Manager, Legal Executive Institute

Gregg Wirth  Content Manager, Legal Executive Institute

Corporate legal leaders say their teams and departments are still focusing on key priorities even amid the current crisis, which is dramatically changing the legal market, according to a new study from Thomson Reuters.

Indeed, the current pandemic crisis, in which the norm of work has been upended across the world, is only going to exacerbate those pressures.

And while it would be natural to assume that the strategic priorities that corporate law departments identified in late-2019 have gone completely out of the window, given how much has changed and how much more is uncertain due to the global pandemic amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

Yet, as our research teams went back and spoke again to several General Counsel, they report this is not necessarily the case. Certainly, some projects and transactions have been put on hold, and many new priorities have arisen, such as making sure everyone can work from home safely and effectively; yet, for many departments, the core strategic priorities remain as they described them.

In a new report, 2020 State of Corporate Law Departments: Effectiveness, Efficiency & Expanding the Guardian Role, we see that these priorities may even be more important at the current time and effectively demonstrate how law departments continue to face pressure on a multitude of fronts. Even more so now, corporate leaders say it is crucial for them to decide where to place their focus in order to deal with the myriad of challenges they are facing. The annual report draws on data from Thomson Reuters Legal Tracker LDO Index, a combination of quantitative benchmarking, and Thomson Reuters Acritas’ latest Sharplegal research, which is based on 2,000 phone interviews with senior in-house legal counsel.

The report identifies three strategic priorities for 2020 that corporate law department leaders have cited:

  • Improving functional effectiveness;
  • Increasing efficiency; and
  • Safeguarding the company.

And while none of these are a surprise — indeed, most of these are goals reflect what many other corporate business units would say — the management tools and processes that corporate law department teams have at their disposal to achieve these goals are evolving. For those leading law departments, this means that they need to consider each of these goals more fully.

Improving functional effectiveness — How corporate law departments seek to improve their effectiveness — the way they undertake their business and how it impacts the overall corporation — reflects strongly on the kind of law department its leaders want it to be.


You can join our expert, Jennifer Dezso, Vice President of Acritas US, for a new webinar, Corporate Law Departments: Identifying Your Department’s Priorities for 2020, at 1 pm, EST on May 7, that will look into what corporate law department leaders should be doing to tackle these priorities in the year ahead.


For example, collaboration — much more than a buzzword now — is an expected norm for many corporate leaders who expect all their departments (including legal) to work with one another to create a more integrated approach to how the company does business. The corporate law departments that pursue such collaboration with other business units — while keeping up with their own day-to-day demands — will go far toward this corporate goal, the report says.

Further, the more advanced law departments will understand that this effort could be streamlined by more reliance on data analytics and other efficiency tools — such as those for matter management, contract life-cycles, documents, and legal project management — that are capable of improving quality and speed of process.

Increasing efficiency — Corporate law departments, like other departments all across the corporation, are being pushed to find new ways to increase efficiency in their processes, including reducing waste and duplication, and finding faster and easier ways of managing workflow for less cost.

And with the pressure from company leaders to cut costs in all departments, legal teams need to find innovative ways to meet this goal, especially if their outside counsel costs have plateaued. For many, that means looking inward at where cuts could be made even amid this crisis.

Indeed, the current situation gives even more incentive for corporate law departments to look at adopting new legal technology and more innovative processes that could streamline the way the department gets its work done, allowing its team members to work remotely and reducing its costs overall. Of course, a key part of this equation would be undertaking a process to measure the department’s success. This would allow law departments to demonstrate the value they are bringing to their corporations, including how well departments have their costs under control.

Safeguarding the company — In an environment where corporations seem to be under threat from a variety of legal and regulatory challenges — dealing with the current crisis, potential climate change regulation, changing enforcement regimes, and unforeseen legal developments — the corporate law departments’ role in safeguarding the company goes beyond just mitigating immediate threats.

Safeguarding means ensuring the sustainability of the company and its business model in a way that gives the company the ability to face any new regulation or external problem which may occur. To fully promote this effort, the report suggests that corporate law departments should foster an environment for their in-house team that supports their career advancement and well-being, ensuring the department will continue to have the most qualified team for the job.

No doubt, as the report demonstrates, this is a monumental task for the average corporate law department. For those that are able to keep their focus on these tasks, however, the reward in increased effectiveness, improved efficiency, and the department’s improved perception of value within the company is well worth the effort.


You can download a copy of the 2020 State of Corporate Law Departments: Effectiveness, Efficiency & Expanding the Guardian Role, here.

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