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Is your corporate law department’s workflow causing unseen headaches?

Corporations increasingly have a watchful eye on law department performance, and increasingly that eye is scrutinizing how the department manages its workflow.

Workflow may carry a simple definition — the process by which work gets done within the department — but that one word carries with it the potential for a lot of inefficiencies, ineffectiveness, and waste for corporate law departments.

In some ways, workflow is just the passage of a legal matter through a department — for example, through a couple of in-house attorneys, a paralegal, and maybe five other legal professionals at an outside law firm, as they pass emails and documents back and forth. That’s a workflow, albeit an inefficient one.

Indeed, many typical law department workflows follow such similar circuitous routes. The current state of corporate law department workflow is too often a collection of slow, manual processes that navigates legal tasks through a team in a series of slow and often undocumented steps. This all-too-often results in the inconsistent treatment of legal matters, slower response times, and high-value employees stuck servicing low-value, routine tasks.

Over time — and often just a short time — these inefficient and ineffective processes can impact the department’s internal (and sometimes external) reputation, putting them at odds with the company’s other business units, which come to resent the department’s drain on time and resources.

Specifically, those corporate law departments that cannot manage their workflows well often engage in time-wasting processes like manually allocating legal requests or providing insufficient status reports that waste time on follow-ups and clarifications. And too often such departments do not make sure that their intake data is collated, tracked, and analyzed to a proper degree in order to be useful.

When change is needed

What if you could help your law department change this dynamic, moving it from perceived workflow bottleneck to a trusted partner that offers quick and quality work in a smooth, easy-to-deliver manner?

In today’s highly competitive corporate environment, businesses increasingly look to their legal teams to deliver agile, responsive, and strategic services, but that proposition is extremely difficult — and value is much harder to maximize — when inefficient processes and low-value work get in the way, bogging down even the best in-house legal teams. Worse yet, such poor performance can get even the most well-meaning law department branded as a “cost center” rather than a true partner to the business units of the company.

Little surprise then that in the recent 2020 state of corporate law departments: Effectiveness, efficiency and expanding the guardian role, published by Thomson Reuters and Acritas, now part of Thomson Reuters, the top two strategic priorities for corporate law departments — based on interviews with more than 600 U.S.-based law department leaders — were identified as increasing department effectiveness and improving department efficiency.

However, the question vexing many of these same law department leaders is simply, How can we make our workflow more efficient and effective given the current constraints on our time, resources, and personnel?

The case for workflow automation

Improving your law department’s workflow by automating certain routine tasks can carry enormous benefits, and those potential cost- and time-savings can help you make the case to company management that utilizing some automation tools would very quickly pay greater dividends.

For example, if you allow automation to do the heavy lifting, such as creating a process in which business partners can request legal work directly, this will enable these stakeholders to self-serve their own routine requests, such as non-disclosure agreements or other such simple contract drafting. Then, the greater benefit accrues to the department as its in-house lawyers, now freed from these low-value tasks, can spend their working hours on higher-value work, ultimately improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the whole department while enhancing its reputation among business partners.

It’s a rather simple proposition: If departments can make the case, they can get the tools.

That’s why it’s important to focus on the benefits that additional automation of department workflow can bring and communicate these advantages to company management.

In addition to freeing in-house attorneys for higher-value work, deeper workflow automation will also improve the department’s response times and shorten the cycle required to finish certain legal matters. Other benefits include being able to standardize and streamline legal service requests by allowing business units to draft or change their own needed legal documents within guardrails set by the legal department. Finally, this level of automation can also greatly mitigate any risk of human error or omission, and can further enhance workflow processes by analyzing any trends and legal demand developments that the department is fielding.

Overall, law departments should make the case to company management that automation will allow the department to deliver more efficient legal services, even amid growing demand; free up in-house lawyers to focus on higher-value work, reducing the need for outside legal spend; and analyze its own workload to see where its demand for legal services is coming from, in order to become a better partner to the business side.

Click here to find more information on HighQ, Thomson Reuters’ intelligent legal operations hub, and how it can help corporate law departments manage documents and contracts, collaborate internally and with outside counsel, and automate their legal workflows.

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