Small Legal Department Operations: Relief for Two Major Stressors

Answer these questions to learn how you can get a better handle on your workload for better resourcing, higher ROI and a lot less emotional labor.

The legal operations conversation may be dominated by the largest and flashiest Legal Departments, but that ignores a majority of in-house legal teams: According to the Association of Corporate Counsel, two-thirds of corporate Legal Departments have fewer than 10 lawyers. A full quarter of legal teams – 25 percent – have just one lawyer.

Working in-house is a challenging job, no matter the setting. Across the profession, in-house corporate lawyers struggle with lack of visibility, budget tracking, reporting, an absence of data, the constant command to “do more with less,” and so on.

Yet, when large Legal Departments move to address the pain points, they have resources they can apply to the solution – from dedicated legal operations staff to more robust technology budgets. Indeed, Xakia’s Legal Operations Health Check surveyed hundreds of Legal Departments of various sizes on their adoption of best practices for in-house efficiency and effectiveness. On a 100-point scale, teams of two to five lawyers averaged 34.5, significantly lower than the 53.2 average of teams of more than 100.

What’s the solution?

With limited resources (and bandwidth), a hard job gets harder: It’s time to work smarter, not harder.

By taking some straightforward steps to collect real actionable data on your legal workload, you can better prioritize and allocate resources to the work you have – and possibly find ways to automate, delegate or eliminate certain projects. In other words, do more work, without working more hours.

Let’s take a look at two key areas where a little bit of data can provide a lot of relief for your small in-house Legal Department.

legal analytics software

Right-resourcing the work

For a small in-house Legal Department, it’s far too common for the workload to be tracked through a potpourri of disconnected tools – paper to-do lists, spreadsheets, email traffic and, disturbingly, fallible human memories. This puts service delivery at risk – and puts a lot of emotional labor on the lawyers and professional staff to remember who is doing what, for whom, by when.

It also makes it more likely that the work is not being “right-resourced,” to the right solution, internal or external, taking into account the project’s complexity and strategic value. Right-resourcing may not immediately lessen your workload – but by better aligning your resources to the actual work, it may free up scarce time or budget for other tasks.

Legal data analytics for small legal teams need not be a Big Data behemoth of a project. Instead, it can simply be an exercise to answer basic questions, such as “Who is doing the work?” and “Who is the work for?” This can be done automatically through modern matter management – but the exercise is just as valuable done manually.

Who is doing the work?

First, quickly sort matters by internal or external: Are you handling them yourselves, or sending them out to a law firm or ALSP?

For internal matters, consider:

  • Individual workload: How equitably are assignments distributed?
  • Complexity: Does this work require institutional knowledge or a high-touch approach, or does it require a kind of subject-matter expertise (i.e., tax law) that may be better addressed outside?
  • Type of work: What kind of work are you handling internally? Is there a protocol for what is done in-house and what goes elsewhere – or should there be?

For external matters, look to understand:

  • Type of work: Similarly, what work is being assigned outside, and what are the “ground rules” for doing so? A written rationale can save time and prevent double-work by multiple firms doing the same thing.
  • Type of firm: Sort matters by law firms and ALSPs, if applicable. Then, for law firms, drill down further: Classify by size (solo/small, midsize, Big Law) and specialty (full-service or boutique). Doing so will allow you to see where there might be mismatches – for instance, your most expensive law firms handling basic projects.

Who is the work for?

After evaluating who’s doing the work, turn to who the work is for – your business clients.

While there are many ways to slice and dice this data, to start, legal teams with limited budget should identify their frequent flyers (or problem children): What business units generate the most work? Are some departments more prone to legal trouble – and if so, what could be the opportunities for new policies, training or action to curb it moving forward?

legal department

Reprioritizing the work

It is easy to get so caught up fighting fires that you lose track of – or time for – the strategic work that will truly make a difference in the organization (and that will show the value of the Legal Department at review time).

How can you ensure that you stay focused on what matters?

Again, let’s look to data.

Categorize each matter for three important themes:

  • Risk: What is the exposure to the organization?
  • Complexity: How challenging is this work?
  • Strategic Value: How important is this matter to advancing the organization’s strategic plan?

For simplicity and consistency, you can answer each question on a scale of 1 to 10.

From there, you can start to look for efficiencies at the lowest range – those matters that rate below a 4.

  • Risk: If your team is drowning in small-risk matters, there may be opportunities to engage a lower-priced firm, a non-law firm vendor or a legal tech solution, such as automated contract software.

  • Complexity: For your simplest matters, look to see what could be automated, eliminated or outsourced; the more you move off your plate, the more time you will have for work that truly merits your expertise. The “who” data will show which business units are generating this work; you can train them or provide self-help tools to resolve these matters.

  • Strategic Value: For matters that won’t move the proverbial needle, look for opportunities for efficiency: this could mean automation or self-help tools, lower-priced firms or vendors.

By answering both of these sets of questions, you can be well on your way to a Legal Department where the right work is done by the right resource – and the wrong work isn’t done at all.

Again, while this data can be charted manually, a cloud based legal management software can collect and collate this information automatically - this is why it is among the primary tools for a tiny legal team.

legal operations for small legal teams white paperReady to learn how legal operations can lighten the load for a small legal team?

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