Corporate legal departments, already stretched by limited resources, are confronting new, as well as traditional, challenges, according to the 2018 Thomson Reuters Corporate Legal Department Efficiency Report: Doing More with Less and Increasing Productivity in Corporate Legal Settings.
The 2018 report — the third in a series of Thomson Reuters efficiency reports — surveyed 462 attorneys and decision-makers working in corporate legal departments nationwide to identify trends in managing resources and adapting to business needs.
The report findings stressed how survey respondents noted that data security and ethics and compliance remain key priorities, but cybersecurity ranked higher in importance to legal departments in 2018. Among the factors heightening this concern was the May 2018 deadline to comply with the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which imposed new rules for how companies manage the personal data of those in the EU and significant fines for noncompliance.
The report also underscores that legal department trends continue to show general counsel and their teams facing pressure to do more with less as departments’ roles are expanding yet staffing headcount and available resources often remain unchanged. Growing demands of and expectations on departments — such as the role of general counsel expanding to business advisor and ever-changing government regulations — are making it increasingly difficult for in-house leaders to avoid the pitfalls of inefficiencies, such as a budget stress, staffing woes, and dependence on outside counsel.
“One trend continuing to shape legal departments through each survey is how general counsel are increasingly expected to serve as business advisers in addition to providing legal advice,” explained Chris Maguire, managing director of the U.S. Corporate segment for Thomson Reuters Legal. “General counsel are becoming more involved across their organizations, particularly in terms of advising the board of directors and business leadership.”
The report also examines how corporate legal departments are making the most of the resources available to them, especially in terms of keeping work in-house around matters related to contracts, M&A, intellectual property, and litigation. It also explores the measures in-house leaders are implementing to increase productivity —such as professionalizing the role of legal department operations managers and shifting work from lawyers to paralegals — as well as confronting the ups and downs of partnering with outside counsel.
The report highlighted the measures legal departments are implementing in order to operate more efficiently. “GCs are increasingly relying on legal department operations managers to find creative ways to use resources, as well as track spending and time,” said Maguire. “This gets to the heart of the rationale for a more efficient in-house team: the ability to focus on strategic work.”
Indeed, according to 41% of survey respondents, the top benefit of being more efficient is the ability to focus on strategic work.