Since the recession, businesses across the country have been pushing their employees to do more with less. Members of corporate legal departments have encountered the same challenge. Facing heightened performance expectations and heavier workloads, in-house lawyers and their staffs have had to alter their workplaces to conform to leaner budgets—all while maintaining productivity and excellence.
In many of today’s large legal departments, law department operations (LDO) managers play a significant role in cutting costs and streamlining operations.
“Somebody in this role is looking for opportunities to make the department’s service better and find efficiencies in the way the services are being provided,” says Mike Haysley, director of legal operations at Waste Management Inc.
“The new work environment” requires LDO managers and GCs to take a hard look at their departments’ inner workings in order to identify current workflows and how they can be tweaked for supreme efficiency while maintaining quality.
“Law departments must be doing work that is in line with corporate strategy and manages the legal risks of the business,” Bashir says. “The question is, who should do it? Should it be done by a lawyer? If so, how senior or junior should that lawyer be? If it’s not a lawyer, then what kind of person do we need?”
According to consulting firm Altman Weil Inc.’s 2012 Chief Legal Officer Survey, more than one-third of legal department leaders say greater use of technology tools during the past year has yielded the greatest improvement to efficiency within their departments. Although the finding is promising, experts say law departments should prioritize ensuring that they’re embracing the correct technology and maximizing the potential of the tools they use in their daily operations.
“Legal departments must get a greater return from the technology investments they’ve made,” says Sampriti Ganguli, managing director at CEB. “Technology often is seen as a binary outcome—we didn’t have it, and now we have it. But not a lot of departments spend a ton of time asking themselves how they can get more out of their systems. Better reporting capability, better investment in end-user awareness, forcing people to actually use the technology and taking away the manual process they have in place—those are all levers to make sure that you don’t walk away from technology investments.”
Some legal departments are not only focusing on cutting costs—they’re beefing up the other side of the equation by generating profits.
“Something that is trending recently is recoveries—law departments bringing revenue into their companies,” says Brad Blickstein, principal at the Blickstein Group. “During the past 30 years, it’s been done largely by defending and licensing IP. But we’re starting to see some innovative legal departments get involved in those types of initiatives in areas other than IP.”