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Corporate Legal

Cost control strategies to manage expanding in-house legal workloads 

· 5 minute read

· 5 minute read

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icon-orange abcs   Increase use of existing tools 

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  Build a case for self-funding technology

  Prepare your team for change


The work is piling up for legal departments, and efficiency is on everyone’s mind. That’s because while workloads are increasing, the resources to address the workload are staying the same or shrinking.  

A 2023 survey from Thomson Reuters found that “A strong majority of law departments are experiencing an increase in the volume of legal work. At the same time, many are trying to handle an increasing share of their workload with internal resources rather than outside counsel.” 

Figure 1 With matter volume up and budgets flat or decreasing, law departments are looking for ways to maximize the resources they have 

No new budget means no new people or tools. So, what’s a Law department to do? Here are three strategies you can use to help the team cover their workload without overtaxing your people: 

  1. Increase adoption of existing efficiency tools and processes 
  2. Build a case for new technology that “pays for itself” in a short time 
  3. Prepare your team for change 

Increase use of existing tools

Most Legal departments represented in the Thomson Reuters Legal Department Operations (LDO) Index reported that they plan to use legal technology more. Instead of buying and implementing new tools, many can better utilize the tools they have. For instance, 39% of respondents said they have a tool that provides practical know how like checklists, standard documents, and clause libraries, but aren’t fully utilizing it. Know-how tools like these provide a significant head start for legal professionals looking to take on a new type of matter. Law departments could use them to cross-train colleagues to help each other when one is overloaded and the other has a lighter workload. 

Similarly, 19% of respondents reported having an e-billing and spend and matter management system but not fully utilizing it. Systems like this can help you enforce billing guidelines and provide insight into how your outside counsels’ rate increase requests compare to the market. This enables significant cost savings that your department could use to better manage the overall workload.  

Figure 2 Many law departments can find more efficiency without increasing spend by better utilizing the tools they have 

Build a case for self-funding technology

Some technology really does pay for itself. While most law departments have some form of e-billing, spend and matter management system, they still may want to make a case to change systems. Why? Because while a new, more powerful system may cost more upfront, the capabilities it provides could drive significant savings. For instance, a Forester Total Economic Impact report on Thomson Reuters Legal Tracker found that the system paid for itself in six months, largely due to savings in outside counsel rate increases. Instead of adding to overall spend, the technology freed up hard dollars the department could use elsewhere.  

In Three measures to improve ROI for legal spend, Thomson Reuters offers three main elements in calculating ROI: the cost of the software, the quantifiable benefits, and the unquantifiable benefits. When you look at the equation across all three elements, you may often find that it will cost you more in hard dollars to maintain the status quo than it would to switch to a more efficient or insightful system. 

Prepare your team for change

The LDO Index found that most law departments experience slow to moderate progress in technology advancement, despite the imperative to be more efficient and control costs. The report on the Index notes: 

In-house law departments compete with several strong inertial forces when trying to drive change. First, the lawyers who run the department are well versed in their work and very good at what they do. This calls to mind the old maxim that the greatest impediment to change is success. To compound this struggle, lawyers are naturally risk-averse. This is perhaps especially true of in-house lawyers, whose departments exist primarily to protect the enterprise from risk exposure. Add to this mix the fact that many businesses are, themselves, slow to adopt changes to ways of working, and one finds a recipe for exactly what the findings here demonstrate – an environment ripe for moderate pace of change at best. 

“Lack of buy-in” is often cited as a reason for low tech adoption. That may be part of the issue here. It’s also possible that people in the department believe in the project overall, but they don’t see how a specific piece of technology or process change can benefit them in the short term. They have significant work to deliver, and breaking a process they know works (even slowly) is hard to do. Consider ways to help the team find time to learn how to use your new or existing tools – and be sure to factor in the fact that they may work more slowly before they are able to work more efficiently.  

In-house legal teams are under tremendous pressure to deliver excellent legal guidance and work product with flat or declining budgets. The 2023 Legal Department Operations Index offers an industry-wide perspective that can help law department leaders make data-driven decisions about how best to navigate that tricky dynamic.  



Download your copy of the 2023 Legal Department Operations Index for more insights on how your colleagues are approaching the Technology Conundrum. 


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