Low-Fuss, No-Budget Ideas for Improving Your Legal Operations in 2021

There are steps you can take to implement legal operations that take little time and cost no extra money, but will pay dividends.

A majority of Legal Departments predict flat or decreased spending in 2021, according to an Exterro report covered by Law.com last month. Meanwhile, 57 percent cite economic pressures as their No. 1 stressor.

It’s clear: In the year ahead, in-house Legal Departments will need to do more with less.

That means it’s great timing to look at implementing some of the best practices in legal operations – software and tactics designed to improve your efficiency and service delivery. Don't be daunted by the notion that legal operations is best suited for giant teams with giant budgets. There are many straightforward steps you can take to implement legal operations that will take little time and cost no extra money, but pay ample dividends in terms of expedience and sanity.

In our latest e-book, the Legal Operations Health Check, we examined how Legal Departments around the world have adopted 100 activities, ranging from financial management to legal work streams. While some of these tactics do require significant investment, many are achievable straightaway.

Let’s take a look at five examples below.

1. Workflow Management: Offer “self-help” tools and guides for customers for regular and low-risk work that doesn’t necessarily warrant Legal Department involvement

According to our Legal Operations Health Check survey, 45% of Legal Departments do not currently offer any kind of self-help tool to their business clients. This is a prime opportunity to save in-house lawyer time – and a prime opportunity to build some goodwill with your business clients by empowering them to complete work more expeditiously. (No more “waiting on Legal” for the most basic requests.)

Only 22% of respondents said they do this at least “moderately well.” In a year like 2021, when in-house lawyers may be even more stressed and pressed, proactive training for business clients could be a major time-saver.

2. External Resource Management: Maintain templates for Requests for Proposal (RFPs) that provide uniformity, minimize assumptions and enable proposal comparisons

For most in-house legal teams, external spend is the No. 1 budget item, often comprising more than half of the overall budget. In a year like 2021, when budgets will be either flat or lower, it’s important to use clear and consistent criteria for law firms and legal service providers.

Only 28% of respondents currently use RFP templates at least moderately well, according to our survey. Given the size of the Legal Department’s investment at stake, taking the time to create an intelligent RFP template may provide the most proverbial bang for the buck of any tactic on this list.

This could be automated in a matter management software. But it can also be a simple, manual process to put in place practices to control your legal spend. Technology-driven legal matter management software options can come later.

3. Financial Management: Document and enforce billing guidelines

Once your firms are hired, do they know your protocols for billing? Do they follow them? What happens if they don’t?

About one-third of Legal Departments do this well. The remaining two-thirds would be well-served to draft, distribute and discuss their billing expectations now – before law firms unveil rate increases in January.

4. Knowledge Management: Maintain updated precedent documents with consistent style and content, and make them easily available to the internal team, external legal service providers and business customers.

It’s foolish to spend time repeating or communicating a frequently used precedent – or worse, correcting any mistakes from the use of the wrong one. These can be easily compiled and shared on a company intranet, external resource portals, internal client portal, or even a low-tech Microsoft Word document. Legal operations software enable in-house legal teams to service internal clients more efficiently by letting them self-serve.

About one-third of in-house legal teams do this at least moderately well, and interestingly, more firms have this in development (34%) than say they do not do it at all (32%).

have an internal client portal

5. Legal Work Streams: Maintain playbooks with contract position rationale, fallback positions and focus areas for lawyer review.

With legal operations, this is another area where a little action can have a sizeable benefit. According to the Association of Corporate Counsel, the average in-house Legal Department reviews 2,198 contracts every year, or 173 per lawyer. Because this is such a high volume of work, any process improvement now is worth the future time savings.

More than half (53%) of in-house teams do not currently use contract playbooks. It’s unfortunate: Playbooks with contract positions not only save lawyers time, they lower risk by ensuring consistent adherence to the latest negotiated position. Moreover, they allow business units to complete deals more efficiently – and in a year like 2021, decreasing sales cycle time can be a major advantage.

Saving lawyer time, lowering risk and improving the company’s bottom line – all for no additional spend? That’s a victory in any year.

Download our Legal Operations Health Check ebook for more insights

Curious to learn more ways to maximize your legal operations with minimal spend and hassle? Do you need ideas for your organization – or an idea of how you measure against teams of similar size, teams in your industry or teams in your region? Explore the results of the Legal Operations Health Check today.

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