In-house lawyers are getting busier and working harder—with the volume of legal work only increasing. While there is clearly more demand, growth in resources largely remains stagnant. It’s clear that we are in the midst of an in-house resource crunch, and the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on the business and legal landscape means that this is likely to continue for some time.
General Counsels (GCs) are responding in different ways. Cost-efficiency is critical, so large corporate legal teams are increasing budget internally to handle more work in-house and meet the growing demand. This enables legal teams to respond to the greater workload—as well as save money on external counsel costs. However, not all legal departments have the capacity to absorb the work, which is why small and medium-sized legal teams may be increasing external counsel spend.
Not only are corporate legal teams battling to service this growing legal demand from their organisations, but in-house lawyers are also increasingly expected to act as strategic business advisors. This is a challenge when the legal team is already stretched.
GCs and corporate legal teams must respond to these shifting trends while continuing to master their key objectives—identifying, monitoring and mitigating risk, and helping the organisation succeed by delivering value and increasing the effectiveness of the legal function. Dynamic legal departments are becoming leaner, more commercial and operationally focused—the reason we have seen a much greater focus on legal operations in recent years.
It’s become clear that GCs must now run their legal function like a business, and they’re doing it by using technology and a platform strategy to create a centralised legal hub.
Legal operations technology that enables efficiency
Technology is one of the most powerful enablers when it comes to meeting the challenges of the shifting in-house landscape. The intelligent use of technology relieves the pressure to deliver value to the business as well as enhance productivity and effectiveness.
The Corporate Legal Operations Consortium (CLOC) lists technology as one of their legal operations core competencies. However, in many ways, it is the cornerstone upon which all the other competencies depend.
Sadly, corporate legal technology is often limited—many in-house lawyers still spend the majority of their time working in Microsoft Office. Other, more tech-savvy lawyers, have taken matters into their own hands to seek out legal operations technology to help them become more effective.
To satisfy this need for better communication and efficiency, in-house lawyers are using products like Trello, Evernote, Dropbox and Google Apps. However, commercial tools like these create information silos and raise significant data security issues. To combat this risk, it’s critical that legal teams deploy a legal operations platform with centralised technology tools now, in order to properly support the legal function.
Thankfully, corporate legal teams are increasingly seeking out new technology to help increase their department’s efficiency in the delivery of legal services. The 2020 State of Corporate Law Departments: Effectiveness, Efficiency & Expanding the Guardian Role report found that 70 percent of respondents in a survey stated that using technology to simplify workflow and manual processes was a high priority.
While more corporate legal teams are increasingly seeking out new technology to help increase their department’s efficiency, not all in-house lawyers have legal operations professionals or legal technology managers who can identify and implement legal tech tools.
With resources so limited, corporate legal teams of all sizes should look to adopt a technology platform that can offer the greatest possible return on investment—both for the legal department and the wider business.
Platform versus point solutions
When evaluating new legal technology, GCs and legal operations professionals must decide between point solutions—which each aim to solve a single business problem or process, and platforms—which are designed to tackle multiple core use cases.
Point solutions may offer a faster speed of delivery, but they are often inflexible, lack interoperability and create data silos. Many legal teams struggle with point solutions because they are trying to fit their team’s unique problems and processes into a rigid product.
As well as the difficulty of effectively capturing and sharing information, point solutions are rarely useful to the business at large and typically only offer value to one department.
On the other hand, platforms provide the building blocks to deliver multiple legal and business solutions in a single, unified user experience. Unlike rigid point solutions, legal operations platforms can easily adapt to, and optimise, existing workflows. As the business grows and evolves, it’s easy to adapt and scale a platform to accommodate new processes.
Platforms also offer better third-party feature and integration options that work with technology already used by the legal team, or that may be purchased in future. This interoperability also helps to centralise and connect data across systems, breaking down data silos and offering lawyers and business users greater analysis and reporting capabilities.
The legal hub: take your legal operations platform to the next level
Adopting a platform strategy offers legal teams the opportunity to create a legal hub of multiple tools, resources and solutions. The platform optimises the team’s effectiveness and enables them to focus on the right information in real time so they can quickly and more effectively respond to the needs of the business.
These central legal hubs should not only be accessible to in-house lawyers. They should be collaborative platforms that serve as the legal front door, empowering business users to engage with the legal function and access legal services. The legal hub also streamlines external counsel management by creating a central location to share information and collaborate with the legal team on key projects.
A legal hub should be seen as the operating system of the corporate legal team—it’s the platform that redefines the way that the legal team and its lawyers work, manage and engage.
The legal hub offers value by delivering efficiency to four key areas:
- Business engagement and enablement
- Legal management, collaboration and productivity
- Contract, asset and risk management
- External counsel management
As the legal team takes on more work in house and seeks to demonstrate their value to the business, these four areas of focus offer the biggest opportunity to deliver significant, quantifiable results.
Business engagement and enablement
Businesses expect their lawyers to be trusted business advisors, providing legal advice for a range of strategically important projects and initiatives. However, it’s difficult to fulfil this role when in-house lawyers spend precious time on routine, low-value work. One way to improve the legal team’s efficiency and cost-effectiveness, as well as free up lawyer time to focus on more strategic work, is to empower the business with self-service.
Many corporate legal teams have created full self-service portals that act as a legal front door for standardising service requests and providing business clients with access to a range of legal services from contract assembly to matter intake.
Legal management, collaboration and productivity
In addition to engaging the business, the legal hub can streamline the actual performance and operation of the legal function itself. The legal hub moves matter management and tracking from cumbersome spreadsheets into a dynamic, transparent system. By combining matter management and matter collaboration in the same platform, lawyers and business users alike have access to real-time matter information and documentation.
When talking to in-house lawyers about their frustrations, one issue comes up time and again—they feel undervalued by the business. Legal departments should establish key performance indicators for the legal team (such as legal spend against budget, cycle times, number of matters per lawyer and spend by business unit) and then use this matter data to build reporting dashboards available to the Board and senior management in the legal hub.
Contract, asset and risk management
Contracts are the legal function’s bread and butter—they are at the heart of most transactions. However, CLOC’s research shows that nearly half of legal operations professionals say that their department has no contract management system in place. Of those teams that are not leveraging a contract management system, many will rely on spreadsheets, email and their local drives to manage contracts.
A legal hub, built on a platform, allows the legal team to manage the entire contract lifecycle transparently in one central location. In addition, data that is generated by the contract management system can be used to drive dashboard reporting to deliver insights and analysis for contract portfolios, empowering better asset and risk management.
External counsel management
For several years now, external counsel firms have been providing their clients with simple extranets for document sharing, in the hope of creating stickier relationships. However, legal departments must be agile when working with external counsel, especially when it comes to information and data which should ideally be controlled by the legal team. For this reason, some corporate legal teams are starting to create their own portals within their legal hubs in order to interact and engage with their external counsel.
Alignment and visibility is improved by creating a holistic approach to external counsel management and centralising document sharing, collaboration, project management, communication, regulatory compliance tracking and more within the legal hub.
A legal hub, built on a platform, empowers in-house lawyers and legal operations teams to stay in control of the legal function and offers tools to adapt to the shifting corporate legal landscape. GCs, legal operations professionals and legal teams that leverage a platform to build their legal hub will be able create a series of dedicated legal operations solutions that drive greater efficiency, effectiveness and value of the legal function.
The legal hub helps legal teams respond promptly and effectively to business needs, work more productively and collaboratively, account to the business for their performance, manage and mitigate risk, and optimise engagement with their external counsel firms. The end result is a highly efficient and effective legal team that is helping their organisation succeed.
For more information about how to build your legal hub click here.