Corporate legal departments face increasing cost pressures as their volume of legal work continues to grow despite plateauing departmental budgets. As a solution, more legal departments are committing to a strategic focus on their legal operations, desiring to improve the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of their service.
As was outlined in the third edition of the Thomson Reuters Legal Tracker™ Legal Department Operations (LDO) Index, those legal departments that are conducting comprehensive operational analyses, examining process improvements, and embracing innovative technology will put themselves in a better position to deliver on key initiatives that their corporate organization has designated as imperative; specifically, lowering the cost of outside legal counsel and simplifying department workflow and manual processes.
This new focus, combined with the growing prominence of dedicated legal operations professionals who now run many legal departments, has allowed in-house counsel to reframe the conversation with company management and cast the department in a new light as a valued business partner.
The Corporate LDO Forum
The Legal Executive Institute’s upcoming event, The Corporate Legal Department Operations Forum on Sept. 27 in Atlanta, will take a deep dive into this fascinating subject. Attendees will learn from plenary discussions, keynotes, and case studies about how some of the most progressive legal departments in the country have made the transition from cost center to strategic ally in the eyes of their respective organizations.
Indeed, one panel at the event will discuss the growing trend of legal departments using data metrics and analytics to offer a clearer picture into their legal operations, including ways in which the legal department can offer even more value to their corporate parent. Using Thomson Reuters Legal Tracker data, the panel will offer an assessment of the state of corporate legal departments nationwide and show that while the industry may be diffused by size, region, and organizational structure, some strong common concerns emerge.
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The Tracker data also notes, however, that larger legal departments are reacting to this pressure differently: Larger legal departments report they are more likely to send work to outside counsel and increase staffing, even though they cite that bringing more work in-house is a high-priority for them.
Further, legal departments report they are focusing on optimization, including process improvements and technology, with 45% of legal departments noting an increase in the use of legal technology. Interestingly, the largest increase in tech use was among smaller legal departments, with 52% reporting an increase in tech use, and among large legal departments, with 63% reporting an increase. Also, the LDO Index report noted regional differences in the sophistication of legal department operations among departments in the West region of the U.S. as compared to those in the Northeast. Perhaps this could be explained by departments in the West using more technology or having less inflexible practices around operations.
Seeking Strategic Alignment
Other sessions at the Corporate LDO Forum will give attendees an opportunity to roll up their sleeves and work collaboratively on practical exercises that legal operations professionals can implement at their respective organizations. For example, one panel — moderated by Dan Hamilton, President & Co-Founder of Mosaic Consulting; and including panelists Susan Hackett, CEO of Legal Executive Leadership; and Michelle Willis, Senior Vice President and Deputy General Counsel of the Corporate Legal Team at SunTrust Banks — will examine the decision-making process within a corporate legal department, especially around issues of efficiency and seeking strategic alignment with the corporate parent.
This session also will lead participants through an exercise in identifying a work process or product that could achieve significant strategic alignment through modifications in process efficiency and how the decision-making around this innovation should progress.
Another panel will address the challenge of technological adoption head on. Moderated by Jon S. Hoak, Co-Founder & General Partner at UpLevel Ops; and featuring panelists Loretta Cecil, Senior Vice President & General Counsel at Change Healthcare; Robert Grey, President of the Leadership Council on Legal Diversity; and Sherronda Roach, Managing Director of Legal Operations at the American Cancer Society, this panel will feature a high-level analysis of the pace of technological adoption in corporate legal departments today, especially in the area of training and promoting the proper corporate culture throughout the organization.