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Who does the work

Two Simple Steps to Legal Department Optimization

June 2019
By Axiom Law

The budget pressure, uncertainty, and changing market conditions brought on by the coronavirus pandemic have completely disrupted "business as usual" for in-house legal departments. Even before the pandemic, legal leaders were already grappling with the unprecedented pace of business, technology development, and regulatory change and working at full-throttle capacity, with little room to breathe, and no room for error. 

“It’s rare that I speak to in-house counsel who would say that any day-to-day looks the same. There are some components that are consistent, but working through what the issues are, what expertise they require, what the business needs and when, what’s happening on a team level, what’s happening outside in terms of regulation. The term ‘business as usual’ almost doesn’t apply anymore,” says Erin Payne, vice president of global strategic accounts at Axiom.

When the day-to-day feels so unpredictable and harried, it can become all too easy to rely on suboptimal workflow habits or, as Erin puts it, the “inertia” of getting things done. With ever-growing workloads and ever-faster turnaround requests, GCs and their teams have essentially been forced into a reactionary role.

This reactionary role is not serving legal leaders and their teams – or budgets. Most of the time, legal departments use an “either or” mindset, allocating work to in-house talent or sending it to a law firm to handle. There are plenty of scenarios where choosing a law firm is worth the cost, but this option is an expensive way to tackle overflow business-as-usual work, especially if this selection becomes inertia. On the other hand, in-house talent may be less expensive than utilizing a law firm, but it is very challenging to match a fixed full-time team to an unpredictable workload.

Take a Pause

“What we are seeing more and more is in-house counsel making a move to pause and reflect on whether a particular work stream belongs in the place where they typically put it,” says Erin. “People are starting to look at the work and ask, ‘Is this the best match?’”

That’s the crux of how to start optimizing legal work allocation: pausing to ask a few critical questions.

When legal leaders break out of habit-informed decision making, pause, and assess the work at a matter level they can make better decisions about how to allocate legal work. These decisions enable them to prioritize investment in their own teams and strategic business partnerships while providing avenues to shift work internally or to talent partners that complement their teams.

“The companies that prioritize taking steps toward legal work optimization tend to do so to enable faster time to revenue, drive a competitive advantage for their business and invest in and retain talent,” says Erin. “But they need to proactively consider tools and talent models to take action on this.”

Get to the Root of the Matter

That tool can look like an assessment with two sets of key questions.

The first set of questions in a legal work assessment should help to quickly classify the work into a certain type, such as:

  • Digital, or prime for automation
  • Industrial, or somewhat repeatable
  • Artisanal, or dependent on human input

By defining the work, legal leaders can better determine how to approach completing it.

The second set of questions in a legal work assessment would apply specifically to work that is classified artisanal, as requiring human input. These questions serve to arrive at a decision about which resource or type of resource is the right match for the work at hand. Questions to ask in this step may include:

  • Is this bet-the-company work?
  • Is this strategic or career-enhancing work?
  • Does the work require extensive knowledge of the business or engagement from employees?
  • Is the work variable or short term?

Within a few minutes, in-house counsel can assess the work requirement against a range of resource options, including sending to a law firm, hiring a new full-time employee, giving to an existing in-house team member, or allocating to a pre-vetted flexible talent resource.

“When in-house counsel use a decision tool to classify their work and assess resource options, it reveals a potential path forward that matches the right resource for the task at hand,” says Allison Rosburg, senior product manager at Axiom.

Building a better legal department does not have to feel like an all-or-nothing commitment.  It starts with ensuring your team is pausing and considering work allocation that aligns with pre-determined departmental priorities around internal investment, business partnership and cost.  With a bit of proactive self-reflection and the use of a decision tool, it’s easy to start the journey to a more optimized and agile talent model.

To learn more about how you can build a more resilient, cost-efficient legal ecosystem, download our Rethinking Legal Talent guide.

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Posted by Axiom Law