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3 steps GCs can take to improve in-house legal operations

After the disruption and upheaval of recent years, in-house legal teams are still facing continued change. The good news is they can manage this change to help them thrive going forward. The process of modernising operations, bolstering their businesses and delivering great legal work despite many external pressures is ongoing. However, as Jennifer Dezso, Director, Client Relations at Thomson Reuters puts it,

“This also leads to new possibilities in how legal departments work and what they can accomplish.”

So, how do GCs drive positive change for their teams and their work? There are three concrete action steps that lawyers can take to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of their in-house legal operations. They are:

1. Assess legal operational efficiency gaps

Look at how much administrative work your team is doing “the old-fashioned way.” For example, are you trying to track projects using spreadsheets? If so, you’re not alone, as many in-house legal departments have tech gaps. For example, according to a recent report:

  • Almost two-thirds (65%) of legal departments aren’t using contract management software
  • More than eight in ten (82%) don’t use contract management solutions
  • One in six (18%) don’t use e-signatures

Your team can get more done in less time with modern legal technology. While the effort to take on new tools or systems may seem formidable, the long-term effect will be considerable.

For instance, legal project management software enables departments to systematically track workloads as well as determine scope and priority, schedule projects, and allocate appropriate resources. This can dramatically improve how work is organised and boost efficiency.

If your legal department has big gaps in technology, start small. Choose a few easy wins and build an ongoing case for investment in tools that help your team work more efficiently.

2. Demonstrate legal department value through strategic partnership

In-house legal teams still have work to do in order to be seen internally as a value centre rather than purely as a cost centre. In-house lawyers are more likely to be seen as an overhead when they focus on reactive activities, whereas those that focus on tasks such as proactive risk management and making the company’s strategic and growth goals into legal department priorities are more likely to be seen as strategic partners that add value.

“There is no magic bullet when it comes to showing the value of the legal department,”

says Sterling Miller, a three-time GC and frequent contributor to Thomson Reuters. “It’s the accumulation of many different steps taken persistently over time. You must be patient and work at enhancing the value perception every day.”

Make a list of your key stakeholders and consider whether you know what their goals are — what gets them fired up and what work they dread. If you do know what they’re trying to accomplish, make sure your dialogue with them shows how your department helps them. If you don’t, schedule an informal meeting to get yourself grounded in their priorities. From there, you’ll identify plenty of opportunities to reposition your department as a partner in the success of the business.

3. Align legal department metrics to business goals

Make sure you are measuring what matters: develop a set of key performance indicators (KPIs) that reflect the concerns of your stakeholders. Then you can connect in-house legal work and progress to the goals of the organisation in a tangible, demonstrable way.

“The metrics you share with the organisation should align to business goals,” said Gina Jurva, a lawyer and former manager of market insights for corporates and government at the Thomson Reuters Institute. “Think: tracking losses and settlements, the impact of training and education, and internal customer satisfaction.”

Make sure that corporate goals and supporting organisational strategy are high on the legal departmental agenda. Dezso recommends that,

“In-house teams should use technology to improve efficiency, squaring their department goals with the goals of the business, and communicating metrics that clearly lead to better business outcomes.”

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Taking these three action steps to improve legal operations can help your legal department go from strength to strength through ongoing business change.  Click here for more insight on current trends for in-house lawyers.

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