There’s no doubt that the past year-plus has been challenging for many legal departments due to the ongoing impact of the pandemic. Forward-thinking legal departments embraced the challenges—many of which were present before but were exacerbated by the pandemic—as opportunities to deliver deeper value to their organizations.
We connected with Pat Johnson, Content Strategy Manager for Thomson Reuters, to discuss Thomson Reuters’ 2021 State of Corporate Law Department report and get his take on strategies that forward-thinking legal department leaders have adopted to optimize value and effectiveness.
Natasha Tieman, OpenText Legal Tech: Pat, one of the overarching themes in the report is that thriving through the adversity of increased workloads and tighter budgets required some interesting adaptive strategies. What were your key takeaways around this?
Pat Johnson: Indeed, the reoccurring theme among law department leaders was the willingness to embrace change to “do more with less.” The study found that eight times as many legal departments experienced an increase in workload (58 percent increase vs. 7 percent decrease) while five times as many saw budget cuts [instead of] budget increases (29 percent decrease vs. 6 percent increase).
The strategies that they adopted included a broad set of forward-thinking activities to better manage potential areas of litigation risk and disputes, while investing in technology with quick ROI [return on investment] to drive internal efficiency.
Natasha: Why do you think that minimizing disputes was a focus, and what activities were undertaken to achieve this?
Pat: The predictive strategy to reduce risk came from the notion that recessions often lead to more litigious environments, as aggrieved parties often become more desperate to assign blame. In fact, 40 percent of leaders predicted an increase on spend related to disputes.
The most common preventative measures to minimize disputes included reviewing or renegotiating contracts, proactively getting out in front of new regulations related to the pandemic and implementing new policies. Many departments also stepped up communications with employees, customers and suppliers.
Natasha: How did investments in technology align to the need to do more with less?
Pat: A vast majority—that is, nearly three quarters of respondents—stated that driving internal efficiency in the delivery of legal services was key. Law department leaders streamlined business operations through an enhanced focus on automation, workflows and anywhere-access to tools and resources via cloud-based technology and services.
Despite budget constraints, 30 percent reported increased spending on technology to achieve efficiencies for a net improvement in service delivery vs. cost.
Natasha: Are there any specific technologies that stand out?
Pat: Sixty-one percent of law department leaders highlighted a desire to leverage technology to simplify workflows and manual processes. Legal hold, legal document management, eBilling and matter management tools were among the most important technologies cited by respondents.
In addition to reducing manual effort, these tools and others with quick ROI are also available via a cloud deployment model, so they naturally align with the increased need to support a remote workforce.
Natasha: Were there other benefits of adapting to the pressures of the pandemic?
Pat: Yes, and this is key when thinking of best practices for law departments over the long term. Law departments that were successful in adapting also embraced a broader set of risk management responsibilities to help their companies stay afloat and worked even closer with human resources departments to mitigate the rise in disputes with employees.
More-modern law departments with better processes, workflows and technology tended to become even more strategic to their organizations, while less-modern law departments spent much of the pandemic scrambling and are still recovering.
Natasha: Thanks for sharing your insights from the 2021 State of Corporate Law Department report.
I hope the strategies that law department leaders are taking will help inspire the continued adoption of automation and optimized processes to overcome budget and resource pressures, and allow them to deliver strategic value to their organizations.
Learn more about how cloud-based legal technology can propel your legal department through enhanced automation and workflows.
Natasha Tieman is a veteran of Product Marketing in OpenText’s Legal Tech department with core responsibilities across OpenText’s suite of legal and eDiscovery solutions, including OpenText Legal Hold.
Pat Johnson is a 12-year veteran of Thomson Reuters. As Product Marketing Manager, Pat has core responsibilities that include managing the content strategy and content creation for legal eBilling, matter management and legal workflow SaaS software products.