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Why Must General Counsel Prioritize Legal Department and Corporate Mission Statements?

November 2021
By Axiom Law

Axiom’s recent 2021 survey of 220 GCs finds legal departments with mission statements adhered better to values than those without, as well as not having to sacrifice costs for the sake of values.

COVID-19 challenged every corporation at every level, including, critically, the legal department. General counsel (GCs) felt particular strain from the complexities of managing corporate ethics while in the middle of a global health crisis, with 85% reporting the pandemic made their role more difficult, according to Axiom’s survey report on In-House Legal Department Mission Statements, Goals & Objectives, which included responses from 220 GCs at companies with $250m+ in annual revenue.

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Multiple studies and reports have covered the pandemic’s significant impact on specific legal department functions, practice areas, and expertise needs. GCs have had to struggle with managing unprecedented risks, privacy issues, layoffs, and, of course, COVID-related enterprise legal concerns. Axiom’s survey aimed to dive even deeper – examining how COVID impacted legal leaders trying to reconcile changing business objectives and demands with the values of their departments and broader organizations. 

Conducted in cooperation with Wakefield Research, the survey suggests there has been a profound pandemic-related consequence on legal department values. Addressing COVID-related risks has come at a steep price: a lack of adherence to the departmental values that GCs have spent recent years building and cultivating. Seventy-nine percent of GCs believe they must function as the conscience of the company. The same number, however, believe COVID 19–related issues forced them to prioritize company risk mitigation over departmental core values. 

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These findings come at a time when prioritization of corporate values may be more important than ever, as companies try to minimize the impact of “The Great Resignation.” Employees in every industry are reassessing their careers and personal lives. Legal teams, in particular, saw their workloads balloon as COVID increased and unearthed additional legal risks. Lawyer burnout is a key pain point GCs must address in order to continue to attract and retain the best talent. 

Axiom’s survey suggests the creation and utilization of a legal department mission statement may help GCs in that effort. In fact, the prioritization of cost reduction over core department values was significantly lower among those legal departments with a mission statement (58%) than those without (75%). Similarly, while 82% of GCs without mission statements said pandemic-associated risk forced their departments to deprioritize values-oriented initiatives, fewer of those GCs with a mission statement said the same. 

While most GCs (90%) believe they give lawyers within their legal departments a clear sense of their department’s mission, many are not codifying those values into a clear mission statement. A full 40% of GCs admit they lack a legal department mission statement reinforcing their commitment to their values and roles. 

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The necessity of that mission statement became clearer during the pandemic, when departments were most in need of support, direction, and an articulated purpose. Seventy-five percent agree new associated legal risks from the pandemic forced their departments to deprioritize initiatives that support core department values — including 82% of GCs without a mission statement. This is significantly more than the 70% of their peers with mission statements who say the same. 

Instead, GCs with mission statements were more likely to move forward with programs consistent with their functional values: 30% of GCs said the pandemic did not force them to deprioritize initiatives that support their core values. That’s a 12-point difference over their peers without mission statements (18%). Now more than ever, the importance of a mission statement has major implications for how legal departments operate during times of uncertainty.

The Axiom survey findings validated what has long been believed by the best legal leaders: Mission statements are crucial to the success of the legal team, and should be considered a critical “must-have” for all in-house departments. 


What's in a legal department mission statement? View our 5-point checklist.  

To read the complete findings of the survey, including details about legal department mental well-being, aligning with outside firms, and what values other legal departments find most important, please download our report today. 

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Posted by Axiom Law