ACC Finds Inhouse Innovation Still Glacial, (As Expected…)

There are many GCs and legal functions that are doing great work in terms of rethinking their processes and driving real change, whether with legal ops support or not. And this site applauds them. However, they are – even now – the minority, a new report has found, and unfortunately that is perhaps to be expected.

A report by the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC), in partnership with Wolters Kluwer Legal & Regulatory, called ‘2020 Legal Operations Maturity Benchmarking‘, found that innovation management and a host of other key areas, such as metrics and KM, are at best at a low to medium level of maturity in most businesses’ inhouse legal teams, (see table below).

In fact, considering that the inhouse legal sector has been exploring many of these issues for at least two decades (e.g. go back to the work of DuPont in the late 1990s), the level of progress can be described at best as glacial for many legal teams, (Artificial Lawyer’s words, not the ACC’s.)

ACC Data: Development level score ranges from 1 (Low/Immature) to 6 (High/Advanced)

As seen above, the weakest of all the areas the ACC asked about was innovation management, scored at 2.09 out of a total possible of 6 points. But, even areas where one might expect some real changes, such as eDiscovery, were also weak.

The best-scoring area was compliance, although this is a basic and ‘tactical’ step that one would expect even the slowest-moving inhouse team to be on top of.

As noted above, there are a growing number of very driven legal teams around the world, genuinely looking at their work processes, redesigning how data is managed and leveraged, with everything from clause libraries, to working hand-in-hand with law firm process groups, ALSPs and law companies, as well as using AI tools directly, tapping RPA, and perhaps central to all of this working on standardised documents and benchmarking what legal matters should cost.

But….again, these ‘fast-movers’, relative to the market, are clearly outliers.

It was interesting also to see that some sectors were clearly more ahead than others, namely financial services, insurance and retail – which mirrors much of the market feedback this site has heard over the years. That said, telecoms and tech companies – in certain cases – have also led the way.

ACC data: The sectors doing best,
Percentage of Companies in Advanced Stage by Function and Industry.

There is a ton of data in the report, but the overall picture tells a very simple and perhaps predictable story: things are still moving really, really slowly. Legal ops has no doubt helped, so too all the interactions with law firms that have process centres and MLS groups, along with input from the legal tech world. But, it has not been enough to really move the dial across the sector.

Perhaps the Covid-19-driven lockdown and downturn will increase pressure on legal teams to cut costs and thereby drive more rapid change in how legal matters are handled for their internal clients? We can only hope.

Also, perhaps the slower majority will take some inspiration from those GCs and legal ops groups that are driving change? We’ll see….

[ Note: 316 lawyers and legal operations professionals participated. ]