GLS Legal Ops Opinion: In-house legal teams must transform

4 minutes • 30 Jun 22


GLS Legal Ops Opinion: In-house legal teams must transform

Why in-house legal teams must transform

Globally, many in-house legal departments struggle to meet the rapidly growing legal and compliance requirements of the businesses they serve, whilst they are simultaneously being asked to reduce costs and demonstrate more value.

Do you know any in-house lawyer that would disagree with the statement above? We don’t and communicate with more than 10,000 in-house lawyers multiple times each month.

One thing is for certain, the way in which in-house legal teams operate needs to adapt – or to be more precise, in-house legal team need to rise to the challenge of demonstrably achieving “far more with far less”.

The Case For Legal Ops: In-house legal teams face constant pressure


What does legal team transformation look like?

The future for all in-house legal teams is about evolving into teams that can achieve manifestly more with the resources that they have at their disposal – this process is what we call - legal team transformation.

If you had to offer a definition of legal team transformation it would probably be something like this.

"Legal team transformation is the management, deconstruction and re-imagining of how in-house legal teams work so that the “business as usual” is executed far more efficiently and thereby leaving far greater capacity for strategic and “business enabling” contributions."

Another way of describing it would be simply that legal teams must deploy a "legal operations" agenda to help their legal teams deliver greater strategic focus and productivity.

An even better way of understanding it would be to conceptualize it visually. In the below diagram we show you what moving from “Old Law” to “New Law” via legal team transformation would look like.

Legal Ops: The Legal Team Transformation Process


The journey to get from Old Law to New Law is your own unique legal team transformation and is achieved through the application of legal ops based thinking and principles. The journey is from your “current state" to your “optimal state” - which of course is not a “static” end point - it too moves/improves over time. 

For in-house legal team leaders, typically experts in the law and department management (i.e. the “Old Law” structures), imagining how legal tech, data analytics, business process engineering and Millennials might aid in-house legal transformation (i.e. “New Law” considerations), is not always easy.

Fortunately, for those in-house legal team leaders eager to undertake the transformation of their legal teams, the challenge is not nearly as great as it might appear at first glance given that now is a great time for legal transformation. 

Now is a great time for legal team transformation

Apart from constant legal transformation being essential for every legal team, there actually has been no better time for legal teams to start planning their legal team transformation journey. Consider the following:

Systemic inefficiencies in the legal industry

Much legal industry activity has historically been conducted in such an inefficient fashion that achieving massive productivity gains from existing resources is actually not that difficult. Quick wins are available to every in-house legal team.

Corporate counsel can access legal innovation

We all now operate in an environment that offers a steady stream of new technologies and innovations that increasingly make substantially elevated legal team performance imminently feasible. Cost of such solutions is now much less of an issue than awareness of what solutions are available. 

Corporate counsel must plan their own transformations

Self-authored change is always more effective – few will know your business and all of its foibles as well as you – and your proactive efforts will be recognized as “initiative”, not corrective action imposed from above.

A word on obstacles to legal transformation

Whilst the case for profound change in the legal industry has been overwhelming for well over a decade, our industry, the legal industry, has always proved stubbornly change averse.

This generally holds true whether you are an in-house lawyer or in private practice - but of course most especially in the case of "Big Law" and its provision of legal services. The billable hour has not proved good bedfellows for innovation and efficiency.  

The obstacles to change within the in-house legal community, whilst nowhere near as acute as they are in private practice, are largely centered around the same issues – outdated practices and mindsets, and leadership with vested interests. 

Unlike any other industry, the legal industry has generally been rewarded for saying “no” to new efficiency-based initiatives. The vested few best served by “old ways” might say “don’t fix what isn’t broken”. Newsflash – it is broken! Check out our blogs “Traditional Law is Broken - Part 1” and “Traditional Law is Broken - Part 2” to hear our views on this topic!

To make our point though - consider this: what would you make of the farmer that uses hundreds of men with shovels to dig a field instead of hiring in an earth mover for a couple of hours? Would you celebrate their wisdom or question their sanity?

As an example, the reluctance to professionalize external legal procurement is one of many examples of the millstones of old-guard IHL leadership. Why has law firm and legal spend management proven immune to the global best practices applied by all other procurement functions? We have a little bit of rant on this topic in our blog Performance Managing External Counsel

Legal ops is more than just law firm costs

The global business community desperately needs its in-house legal team to do far more now than ever before, but sadly the discussion prioritizes containment of law firm costs and not enhanced legal team productivity.

Increasingly, in-house legal teams are being viewed just like “any other department” and are no longer immune from organization- wide rationalization and /or efficiency programs/audits. As The American Lawyer notes “today’s general counsel are being asked to think like business leaders, not just lawyers.” In this context – “self-authored” change is clearly preferable.

Fortunately, unlike the private practice community, there is no economic incentive binding in-house legal teams to past inefficiencies – the in-house legal community is far more amenable to change, and is far more aligned with its client (i.e. the business) that demands it.

And as such, more in-house legal teams are willing to consider how a legal ops agenda can help deliver greater strategic focus and productivity outcomes - (i.e) rapidly catch-up with the rest of the business community.

With the helps of legal ops principles. legal teams can adopt improved vendor management, strategic planning, legal analytics tools, knowledge management and contracts management tools, amongst other things, to achieve greater strategic focus and productivity.

Legal ops or legal obsolescence

We believe that imminent danger lurks for legal team leaders claiming to be "too busy with the day-to-day to find time to plan" . Such leaders will find themselves becoming rapidly outdated and will be outperformed by other legal teams that have deliberate plans to focus resources and effort to achieve a more legal ops focused legal team.

So, that it the GLS conclusion - change it is – wide spread legal team transformation will occur across the in-house industry either voluntarily, because you know that it is the only way forward – or mandatorily, because it is forced upon you by a business that demands that every business unit demonstrate value and cost savings.

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