By 2016, most corporate legal departments have grown accustomed to doing more with less. With cost constraints and evolving corporate legal department responsibilities, leaders are continually under pressure to find new ways to be more productive. It’s not just resources; consider how valuable an extra half-hour in the workday would be. How can corporate counsel find 30 spare minutes, and once they do, how do they make the most of it?
Many in-house teams are figuring it out, according to the 2016 Thomson Reuters Legal Department In-Sourcing and Efficiency Report. The report examined in-house teams’ ongoing efforts to improve efficiency and productivity, and featured results of a survey of 429 attorneys and operational professionals working in corporate legal departments. Among the key findings: In-house teams are discovering that being able to work more strategically is a major benefit of achieving greater efficiency and productivity.
Focusing on more strategic work
According to the survey results, just under half of respondents (41 percent) indicated the top benefit is being able to focus on more strategic work. These findings support those of a recent survey from legal placement firm BarkerGilmore, which showed that general counsel are increasingly called upon for strategic and business advice, not just legal advice. The evolving role of the general counsel means the function will extend beyond providing legal guidance to advising the board and the CEO. This expanding role is a prime example of legal departments being required to do more with less, and it underscores the pressure on in-house teams to realize efficiencies.
But not all corporate counsel would devote their extra time to strategic work. Another 25 percent of the Thomson Reuters survey respondents reported the advantage of improved efficiency is being able to focus on the legal aspects of their jobs, while 16 percent indicated they would use it to pursue personal interests.
Best practices for finding 30 extra minutes
Whether spare time is dedicated to pro bono work or spent with family, opportunities abound for in-house teams to win back 30 minutes in the workday. Thomson Reuters shares three best practices that make the most of people, processes, and technology.
1. Hire legal department operations professionals
The Thomson Reuters survey uncovered a developing trend: Most departments are besieged by the operational activities that come with being part of a corporation, and it’s generating a backlash against time-consuming administrative work. Many general counsel are addressing this by bringing in legal department operations (LDO) professionals to concentrate on business operations. This, in turn, helps the department achieve greater efficiency and productivity by allowing corporate counsel to focus on legal work and become more proactive in how they advise the business. For these corporate counsel, improved efficiency translates to more time dedicated to the practice of law.
General counsel are charging LDOs with becoming their change agents, whether it’s for managing outside counsel, employing legal managed services providers, or identifying and deploying new technologies across the legal department. As more departments hire LDOs and adopt their best practices, it could spark even more efforts to achieve productivity in other areas, from using metrics and analytics to implementing emerging technologies.
2. Deploy new technologies
Many legal departments depend on technology to automate processes and improve productivity. In particular, the Thomson Reuters survey found in-house teams are prioritizing electronic document storage and management, alongside knowledge management, to achieve greater efficiencies. The advantages of these technologies include less time spent searching for buried organizational knowledge, forms, and templates.
Automating time-consuming activities can increase efficiencies in terms of in-house legal department structure too, by enabling staff resources to be shifted to other projects as needed. In the future, artificial intelligence will undoubtedly be among the technologies that help legal departments realize greater efficiencies. The full impact of AI remains to be seen, but now is the time for using technologies to automate department processes.
3. Use playbooks and templates
Beyond technology and automation, legal project management tools and techniques can help in-house teams streamline their services. By developing playbooks and templates, legal departments can avoid recreating the wheel and standardize how they approach projects. It may be as straightforward as creating a customizable Microsoft Word template to serve as the starting point for projects, guiding users on how to consider the scope of the project and how to best allocate resources to it. Templates can be easily adapted, depending on the jurisdiction or other factors involved with a project.
Implementing formal processes like this to codify a legal department’s best practices may have a domino effect. For example, creating the above-mentioned template for starting projects may make it easier for in-house teams to structure and price projects, and in turn, apply alternative fee arrangements, leading to even greater efficiencies.
From hiring LDOs to deploying new technologies and using playbooks, legal department management has endless options for improving productivity. Corporate counsel can make changes involving people, processes or technology – or a combination of the three – to find 30 extra minutes in the workday. All that’s left is deciding whether to devote the newfound time to legal work, strategically significant roles (like advising board members), pro bono work, or personal interests.
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