A new survey of 183 senior inhouse legal professionals by LOD (Lawyers on Demand) has found several positive indicators about the direction of travel for corporate legal teams, with self-service contracts and the focus on volume management both showing an increase.
The survey-based report ‘Trust: an antidote to uncertainty‘ understandably looked at remote working – (companies will stay flexible); and trust of inhouse teams in a distributed work environment – (employers appear to trust their legal teams even more now). But, for this site, the most interesting aspects relate to the legal workflow itself.
One key finding was that there has been a 35% increase of legal self-service systems, compared to last year, which LOD sees as a sign that legal teams in turn are trusting their organisations more.
I.e. lawyers who naturally are focused on risk reduction are now feeling more confident in the self-serve technology and templates that allow fellow employees to create basic documents, such as NDAs, or standard sales contracts.
The next bit of good news (see below) are the top four priorities for inhousers, with staying on top of volume and improving efficiency listed as key issues.
While this could be seen negatively, i.e. inhouse teams are struggling with volume, this site would see it the other way around: that inhouse teams are now really focusing on finding solutions to these problems.
The thing is, high volumes and efficiency challenges have been there for a very long time, but inhouse teams just found a way through without getting to the root of the issues.
Maybe they just kept hiring more junior staff to help out – but without changing their workflows and systems, or maybe they just sent it to law firms to handle – for a high price – but knowing they could always unburden themselves that way.
The results here suggest that GCs and other inhouse lawyers are more focused now on dealing with the root causes and really focusing on the challenges.
This is seen again in another table about working practices (see below) and how they have changed or been sustained from 2020 to 2021.
Aside from remote working, which we’d expect, we also have 30% saying they now have a greater reliance on legal tech tools, (not just tech in general). And 13% are using data, i.e. about their workflows in the legal team, to help make decisions.
One might think that 13% using data for management decisions is very low – and it would be in the sales or finance departments, but in the legal team this is a big step forward. Just getting some solid data objectivity about what the legal team actually does all day is a breakthrough.
Feedback from the market to this site suggests that we often overestimate how much inhouse teams know about their own functions. Everyone is so busy, with work cascading into the team every day, that without tools to collect data, e.g. as can be provided by some CLM systems, and then having the time to stop and analyse it, one cannot easily make decisions that really get to the root cause of one’s challenges.
Without data, GCs have to work on instinct and what they see immediately around them, which leaves them constantly in a state of tactical short-term responses, rather than being able to see the big picture and then make medium-to-long-term strategic decisions that change how their part of the business works.
Another positive is the top challenge in 2021 for inhouse leaders: finding the time to think. This connects to the point above. You cannot drive change management if you are always immersed in day-to-day work. That is why large law firms, for example, in the 1980s and onwards started to build out management teams that had no requirement on the lawyers to earn fees by providing legal advice, but instead to focus just on managing the business….because what they were in charge of was now indeed a large business that needed managing.
But, to manage you need to devote time to it. To drive a change project, e.g. setting up a self-serve programme, or introducing a CLM system, you cannot just hand it over to consultants – you need to stop and think about what you want to do – and why – and what results you hope to get – and how you will measure the outcomes.
Then, after figuring this out, and hand-in-hand with external consultants, you can get good results. I.e. organisational change cannot just be delegated, it needs leadership. And leadership needs some clear space to operate within and to be effective.
Commenting on the survey, Tom Hartley, CEO at LOD, said: ‘Lawyers, contract managers and paralegals have shown how as individuals and teams they can thrive in a distributed model – the in-house team now has more options to work differently and this multi-layered increase in trust is enabling progressive in-house teams to boost their productivity and add more value to their organisation.
‘As a result, in-house team performance is increasingly being measured by the volume of business-critical projects completed, such as complex commercial contracts signed favourably for the organisation.’
While, Alistair Maiden, the founder and CEO of SYKE, which is in a partnership with LOD, added: ‘This increase in trust is welcome news for in-house lawyers and their organisations. And it’s the proliferation of tech that will make the change sustainable. Legal teams who implement self-serve tools and tech systems will be well equipped to ride the wave of this newfound faith and deliver the greatest long-term value as a result.’