Forecasting Legal Operations in 2021

It's that time of year for budgets, planning and predictions for the year ahead. When it comes to legal operations, we can share a forecast based on data.

It’s the fourth quarter – time for budgets, planning, and predictions for the year ahead. When it comes to legal operations, we can share a forecast based on data.

Nearly 350 in-house Legal Departments around the world participated in Xakia’s Legal Operations Health Check, an intensive survey designed to help in-house lawyers evaluate the health of their departments and plan operational improvements. They rated their team’s adoption of 100 tactics, ranging from financial management to technology tools to strategic planning.

By tracking the projects they marked as “in development,” we can see what’s in the pipeline for legal operations. Here’s what to expect in 2021.

A major focus on strategic planning

Of the top 20 projects in development, seven involved strategic planning, including the highest-rated initiative, the incorporation of well-defined and measurable metrics into a Legal Operations plan, with 18.3% of respondents working toward this goal.

Other strategic initiatives:

  • Alignment of Legal Operations strategy with company strategy – 17.2%;
  • Performance of regular (at least quarterly) tracking against metrics and key initiatives – 16.8%;
  • Commitment of all team members to continuous improvement in Legal Operations – 16.8%;
  • Performance of regular (at least annual) review of progress against Legal Operations initiatives – 16%;
  • Alignment of Legal Operations strategy with other corporate and support functions – 15.7%; and 
  • Appropriate resourcing for Legal Operations, in both time and money – 15.3%.

This is affirming; data from the Legal Operations Health Check showed that many legal teams were winging it; forming a plan, and committing to track progress against it, will empower more purposeful action in the year ahead.


Fifteen percent of in-house Legal Departments said they are actively working to develop processes to ensure knowledge capture is part of work completion – a smart move that will save time initially and pay dividends over the long term.

More exciting, though, is the intel that respondents plan not only to share knowledge within the Legal Department, but to deploy it outside through:

  • Self-help tools and guides for customers for regular and low-risk work that doesn’t necessarily warrant Legal Department involvement – 17.8%;
  • Updated precedent documents available to the internal team, external legal service providers and business customers – 16.1%.


Given the vast amounts of contracts handled by the average in-house legal team, it is a natural target for initial legal operations efforts. Several projects to better control the contract process are in development, among them:

  • A centralized and searchable precedent bank for common contracts – 18.1%;
  • Playbooks for contract position rationale, fallback positions and focus areas for lawyer review – 16.2%; and
  • A centralized and searchable contract repository – 15.5%.

It’s not surprising that Legal Departments working toward maturity in legal operations would focus on these three areas: strategic planning, knowledge management and contracts. Recall that simply put, legal operations is the quest for efficient delivery of quality legal services; to get there, you need a smart legal plan, a well-developed strategy. Efficiency hinges on the smart capture of lawyers’ intellectual property and its availability throughout the organization. And there’s no better target for efficiency than the beast of contract management.

Do these match your plans for 2021? 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 now.

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