Critical Condition: Managing Turnaround Times and Workloads in Healthcare Legal Teams

Healthcare lawyers face a tough task: balancing tight turnaround times with professional obligations, all under incredibly high stakes.


Does this sound familiar? 

  • “We are frequently interrupted and distracted by unnecessary drop-ins and emails that soak up 15 percent of our time.” 
  • “We are often working more than 50 hours power week, and…the Legal Department’s satisfaction rate for work/life balance averaged 50 percent, well below the company average.” 
  • “Almost everything is referred to as a ‘rush,’ making it necessary for lawyers to take the extra time to prioritize matters and expectations for turnaround times that are unrealistic.” 

These sentiments are shared in an Association of Corporate Counsel case study (ACC) on Revera, Inc., a Canadian healthcare organization that serves the senior population through services and long-term care facilities. While these pain points may be universal, they seem particularly more acute in the healthcare industry, where “business as usual” is often rushed – and where decisions can truly be life-or-death. 

A Prescription for Change 

Revera was profiled by the ACC as a part of its quest to become a “best-in-class” in-house Legal Department: To demonstrate the value of the legal team, to be sure, but also to elevate both the lawyers’ reputations and quality of life. (One notable remark: “...there is no denying that we often function as gatekeepers and firefighters, not as colleagues and leaders who must be involved early and regularly in tackling our organization’s most strategic objectives.”)  

To get out of that firefighting mode - and into the role of strategic advisors - Revera set about to execute a number of process improvements.  

One important tactic: The development of service delivery expectations with these business units to establish protocols and procedures for how legal matters are handled. For example, establish guidelines that a business unit could only send a contract for review when all necessary information was collected; meanwhile, the Legal Department would commit to providing revisions or approval within 72 hours of receipt.  

Within the Legal Department itself, after realizing that the team spent more than half of their time on non-complex operational support, Revera’s in-house lawyers set a goal to spend at least 70 percent of their time on strategic and project work.  

Both are laudable objectives for any in-house Legal Department. But as the adage goes, what gets measured gets done: How can in-house lawyers team monitor and quantify their progress toward their goals? And how can they do it in a way that doesn’t add even more work?  

Monitoring the Legal Department Vital Signs 

Consider how the medical staff monitors patients for signs of improvement: After prescribing a course of action, they monitor key metrics – weight, blood pressure, bloodwork and so forth. Depending on the trend lines of these metrics, they can decide to stay the course; adjust dosage or strategy; or investigate further. 

So should the lawyers.  

A modern matter management system can capture critical inputs about every Legal Department project, then deliver an actionable set of metrics that can help diagnose areas for improvement and monitor progress in these areas.  

Consider, first, the Revera goal to dedicate 70 percent of the Legal Department’s time to strategic matters. That would be such a boon to morale and work quality – yet a challenge to track manually. Tactics like spreadsheets seem doable until the team is buried in projects (again) – and then they often fall prey to neglect or poor memory.  

By using a modern matter management system, the Legal Department could classify every matter at its inception according to its strategic value; we like a scale of 1 to 10. This could easily feed a dashboard so all members of the legal team could see their progress toward this goal – and dig into the non-strategic matters to spot work that could be automated, delegated back to the business units, or possibly eliminated.  

Next, let’s consider Revera’s goal to establish SLAs with each line of business and corporate support functions. For healthcare lawyers, a common tenet is turnaround time – for instance, contract review within 72 hours. Once t expectations have been set, it will be critical for the team to meet them. How can the Legal Department manage those expectations – with reliability and visibility? And, later, how can the team demonstrate to the organization that it has followed through on its promises?  

With a modern matter management system, a Legal Department can set and track deadlines, make them viewable to all, prevent matters from falling through the proverbial cracks, and objectively show how well the team met its promised delivery times. (With no painful forensic dive into emails or Excel spreadsheets.)  

To further satisfy turnaround expectations, modern matter management can offer an additional salve. With a cloud-based legal intake and triage system, business clients can submit and track their matters through the Legal Department’s process, from receipt to assignment to completion. With visibility across how a matter is being handled, and by whom, tensions often deescalate – and in-house healthcare lawyers get a little breathing room to balance their promised turnaround times with their professional responsibilities as legal counsel. 

Positive Prognosis  

While a follow-up from the ACC case study is not available, from the outside looking in, the Legal Department at Revera succeeded in its aim to help propel the company’s strategy: Since the case study was published, the company has grown its workforce by 72 percent, and its number of facilities has more than doubled – all under the leadership of the same general counsel who first championed change in 2013.  

The health industry lawyer role is, as we have noted, a uniquely challenging one – and one where metrics, visibility, and reporting can make all the difference. Xakia’s e-book, In-House Legal Data Analytics for Beginners, can help you learn what to measure, how to collect it, how to apply it, and how to share it.  

References: Association of Corporate Counsel case study 

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