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Technology

Legal department operations: Doing more with less and streamlining intake

There’s no doubt that 2020 has disrupted the way we work. For legal departments, this year brought a surge in demand and a heightened need to do more with less.

These trends were apparent in the recently released 2020 Legal Department Operations (LDO) Index from the Thomson Reuters Institute. Now in its fifth edition, the report analyzes the survey responses of more than 200 legal departments—more than 80 of which are in the Fortune 1000. It also assessed Legal Tracker benchmarking data comprised of more than $90 billion in legal spending from more than 1,450 legal departments.

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the results indicated a dramatic 79% increase in workload and a 19% reduction in departmental staff.

On top of these headwinds, respondents signaled that legal matters are more often unfamiliar, as well. In fact, 43% percent of legal departments surveyed said they are experiencing a change in the typical mix of legal matter types. Add to that a churn in the usage of outside counsel — 35% of legal departments are increasing their usage and 16% are decreasing usage — and it’s been a challenging year, to say the least.

Amidst this perfect storm, how can a legal department stay on top of work demands? The answer lies in choosing technology to streamline operations and transform legal workflow.

More in-house legal departments are implementing technology

The LDO Index addresses three areas:

  • Legal Operations, including in-house/outside counsel ratios, staffing, diversity, and metrics
  • Spend Management, including sophistication, cost control measures and effectiveness, timekeeper rates, and alternative fee arrangements (AFAs)
  • Legal Technology, including a ranking of key solutions and emerging technology trends

According to the study, a whopping 81% of legal departments reported having dedicated legal operations, a significant jump from 57% in 2019. This noticeable shift clearly demonstrates how legal operations have rapidly become the new norm in an industry where rapid change rarely occurs.

In response to the challenges of this year, more in-house legal departments are implementing technology solutions — around 27% — to deliver more responsive legal services. Nearly half (44%) have increased their use of technology tools in the last 12 months, and 30% have increased their legal technology budgets. This is a necessary shift in light of increased demand and decreased resources — and it’s a trend that will undoubtedly continue.

The LDO Index found that spend & matter management is the top technology priority for legal departments,  followed by contract management, document management, legal hold, and legal research.

When faced with doing more with less, technology offers in-house legal departments the ability to standardize and streamline legal services requests, improve response and cycle times, and free up time for lawyers to focus on higher-value work. Technology also enables the mitigation of risk by helping to analyze trends and legal demands. It can even improve the reputation of your legal department while opening up opportunities for strategic growth.

So, exactly how does technology help?

Imagine this. Using customized forms, all relevant information is gathered seamlessly during the legal intake process and configurable workflows direct intake to the right resources. During this time, you receive timely status updates along the way. As you begin to deliver essential legal services quickly and efficiently, internal perspectives of the legal department change. Your team is no longer seen as an obstacle, but instead as a valuable facilitator.

Along with this reputational boost, comes yet another opportunity. If you utilize technology to create a self-service portal that includes legal know-how, playbooks, checklists, and other guidance and make it available to people across your organization, your time is freed for high-value activities. With a renewed focus on strategic work, your legal department has an opportunity to secure itself as a trusted advisor to senior management.

Technology also enables your legal department to create a complete record and audit trail of the legal demand across your organization so you can track metrics, spot risks in real-time, and allocate team resources accordingly.

After a year of disruptive change, choosing technology can help you build an efficient and data-driven legal department and showcase the strategic value of the work you do each and every day.

Are you ready to take the next step?

To learn more about how your legal department can perform intelligent work that allows you to streamline collaboration, legal service delivery, legal operations, client engagement, and much more, visit https://legal.thomsonreuters.com/en/c/data-driven-solutions-for-general-counsel.

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