You are in a corporate legal department dealing with a lot of red tape, inefficient processes and face productivity issues!
What can you do to help streamline your legal department’s operations?
In this article, we will look at seven ways for you to eliminate inefficiencies inefficiencies in your legal department’s operations. Think about getting a better understanding of your internal clients, helping your internal clients to help you, looking at ways to manage and centralize your data, having your teams accountable to keep your central repository up-to-date, automate administrative tasks and more.
We will cover the following topics:
- Get to know your internal clients
- Enable your internal clients
- Standardize new matter opening process
- Have a good triage system
- Implement a central repository as a single source of truth
- Implement processes to keep central repository up-to-date
- Automate low value administrative tasks
- Optimizing your legal department’s administrative tasks takeaways
Let’s get started!!
1- Get to know your internal clients
You want to eliminate inefficiencies in your legal department operations, then go to know your internal clients first.
Solving your legal department’s efficiency riddle is a function of knowing your internal clients and knowing yourself.
The famous Chinese military strategist and general, Sun Tzu stated:
“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”
Ok, some of you will laugh as you can immediately think of a few internal clients as your enemies…let’s not get into that for now…
Let’s assume that everything is rosy and great with your internal clients, wink, wink.
Alright, back to business.
Not knowing your internal clients, you will not have full visibility of their daily challenges, their expected timelines and what service turnaround times they expect from you leading to constant demands on their part to your legal teams leading to administrative strain.
The point here is that if you know what your internal clients are expecting from you, their priorities, their challenges, their level of sophistication and expertise, their character, and so on, you’ll be able to implement processes that will cater to their needs in a more targeted way.
This is not to say that you must create a custom process per client or internal department.
What we are saying is that you should be mindful of the sensitivities of your internal client and their priorities so you can prioritize your legal department operations accordingly.
Should you handle matters coming from your marketing department, finance department, sales department or human resources with the same timelines and priorities?
As lawyers love to say: it depends!
If you have a major deal that is about to close, naturally, you will put more resources towards the closing of that deal as opposed to a minor human resource request.
On the other hand, if you are about to sign a highly-sought executive to join your company’s leadership team, you’ll need to ensure that you deal with the HR related questions concerning the executive contract as soon as possible.
A legal department’s job is a constant balancing act.
There will always be more demands made than you will ever have resources to handle.
As a result, it would be a good practice to get to know your clients so you can truly assess your priorities based on real business data.
Better prioritising your time and allocating your resources more efficiently to the task needing your legal department’s attention will increase your productivity and output.
2- Enable your internal clients
Enabling your internal clients is a great way to start optimizing your legal department’s operations and reducing administrative burden on your teams.
Essentially, the problem you are trying to solve is how to reduce administrative, clerical and non-productive time and energy wasted by your legal department professionals in dealing with endless demands and requests from internal clients.
By enabling your internal clients to “self-serve” and figure things out by themselves, you will immediately alleviate the load on your legal department directly as a result of less demands formulated by internal business stakeholders.
For example, maintaining a knowledge base or publishing a frequently asked question document so internal clients can find the information by themselves or find the answer to the most recurring questions you get will surely shave a few percentage points in your legal department’s volume of work to handle.
3- Standardize new matter opening process
To help you eliminate unnecessary back and forth with your internal stakeholders, you should standardize the process for your internal stakeholders and clients to request services from your legal department.
Think of it as a ticketing system similar to how your IT department operates.
One person sends an email to your legal team asking for help on a matter. Then another person sends an email to another team member for the same thing. The information given is incomplete and will require several email exchanges to clarify.
Next thing you know, you have two members of your legal team handling the same matter with different people and losing their time trying to clarify the request.
This is an unacceptable duplication of work, loss of time and productivity.
You need to get rid of that.
You must standardize the process for your internal clients to seek legal support and services from your legal department.
If you have a standard process where your internal stakeholders complete a simple form, or answer a series of questions, share some supporting documents, categorize the priority of their request and provide a detailed explanation of what they need, you will eliminate duplication of work, ensure that you have all the information you need upfront and assign that work to the best person having the knowledge and skills to handle that taks.
You will also be in a position to track the volume of matters coming to your legal department on a daily, weekly and monthly basis. This will help you with your forecasting and budgeting plans going forward.
No more going back and forth to clarify the demand or request further information, no more wasting time, no more duplication of work. Check, check, check.
4- Have a good triage system
Implement a good triage system so your lawyers spend time on what really matters and don’t get bogged down with heavy administration of incoming requests thus eliminating further your legal department inefficiencies.
Triage is a best practice process that will help your legal department achieve a higher level of efficiency and provide greater level of support to the business.
You do not have a triage system in place and therefore your internal business stakeholders send multiple emails to multiple people, you do not have all the information to handle a matter when the task is assigned, internal clients are not encouraged to share sufficient level of information to help you succeed in your job and you are constantly blamed for taking too long to handle a legal request.
When you are sick and go to the emergency, the hospital will first have you pass by triage. During the triage process, you will need to answer questions and provide additional information on your medical emergency.
Triage is therefore an initial gate before you reach the doctor who has a limited time and lots of patients to see.
The hospital has an interest in ensuring that only those who really have a medical emergency see a doctor quickly and you have an interest in getting checked by the right person at the right time.
Your legal department and lawyers have a limited time and many requests to deal with. Your internal clients have a right to engage your services and you have a right to get all the information that you need to be able to allocate the mandate to the right legal professional.
Make sure you have a triage system where incoming requests are first analyzed by a support staff.
Your support staff must ensure that the incoming request is clear, the priorities well defined and all the required information and supporting documents are provided.
With that, you can assess if the request should go to a lawyer, a legal technician or stay within the support staff team.
When the incoming request is validated to be assigned to a lawyer, the matter can then be assigned based on specialization and skills.
If the incoming request is deficient or lacks in clarity, the request will not be assigned until all the boxes are checked.
5- Implement a central repository as a single source of truth
There is so much data that a legal department must deal on a day-to-day basis.
Word documents, PDF’s, video’s, images, emails, attachments, legal filings, invoices, internal reports, you name it.
You capture data through different people, different channels, different systems and repositories. Your data is duplicated and unstructured. It is very difficult for you to go to one place and find all the relevant information that you need.
The average end user of technology can lose between 30 and 60 minutes per week switching between disparate applications, navigating screens, and re-inputting information.
You need to implement the right controls and governance to ensure that you properly control your data, minimize data duplication and ensure you have one single source of truth.
Looking for files, emails and scattered information is one major source of time loss for anyone in a corporate setting, especially legal department professionals.
Having a central repository and a single source of truth will help you dramatically cut down time loss and alleviate the administrative burden on your legal department.
Solving the problem of data duplication will require a two-step approach.
First, you should centralize your data in a single repository. Second, you should understand your data so you can structure it. What you are storing, why and for how long.
Your central repository will serve as your information hub. All matter information should be stored in this repository and kept up-to-date.
With a central system, you will reduce data duplication and better structure your data to allow for easier storage, search and retrieval. All these activities take time. The more you optimize them, the more time your people will save.
Then you must understand the data you are storing.
What is the data being stored? How relevant is this data? For how long must it be stored?
With a single repository and one source of truth, you can ensure you handle your legal and compliance obligations in managing your data.
You will not delete data that you have an obligation to keep and you will not store data for longer than you have to.
6- Implement processes to keep central repository up-to-date
Every day, millions, if not billions of emails are sent between people across the world to conduct daily business.
Having a central repository is a necessity to centralize your data. However, it’s one thing to have a repository but it’s another to have people file the relevant data in the repository.
Having the ability to access all the information related to a matter or a client in real-time is critical for the business.
If you need to go through an audit, you want to be able to retrieve all the information concerning a case. You may need the information for compliance reasons or even due to a regulatory investigation.
If you have a process to ensure that all the communications relevant to your case are tracked to your central repository, then you will continue having information in silos, scattered and difficult to find.
Your support staff, legal professionals and business units do not store relevant matter information or client information in your central repository and continue to use scattered channels to store data such as spreadsheets, personal hard drives, digital devices and other.
This makes it challenging to have confidence that your central repository is in fact up-to-date and could be relied upon to make strategic business decisions.
IDC found that professionals using paper-based workflows spend up to 35-50% of their time searching for information because of the lack of a centralized index or asset repository.
Adopting processes to have your business stakeholders leverage your central repository to consistently track their information will lead to you having a consistently up-to-date central repository and one true single source of truth.
The most reliable way to ensure you succeed in this process is by adopting a legal technology to stay on top of the emails, files, documents, attachments, spreadsheets and the like.
The better you can integrate your email and communication systems with your legal management solution and capture the associated metadata, the more you will succeed in keeping your central repository up-to-date and searchable.
7- Automate low value administrative tasks
Look at your legal department operations and analyse your processes.
By automating low value administrative tasks, you can achieve efficiencies and reduce time loss in potentially significant ways.
Interestingly, with less administrative hurdles, bottlenecks and processes, you will also help raise your team’s overall level of satisfaction on the job.
You have too many processes for managing invoicing, contracts, getting approvals, handling legal process documents, filing documents and data, and so on.
Most of your processes are manual, do not follow a standardized process and may not produce the intended benefit.
If you think of automating your tasks and taking advantage of the low hanging fruit, you’ll be on your way to solving one problem after another. Within a year or two, you could potentially achieve a full revamping of your legal department operations and get your teams to slowly adjust and ease into the new ways of doing business.
There are plenty of software tools out there such as legal practice management software, contract lifecycle management software, legal accounting software, client intake systems and more helping you automate various tasks.
Look at your current legal operations and assess what are the tasks that you are doing well and where you have challenges or potential for improvement.
Strengthen the processes that are successful and automate those processes that are leading you to inefficiencies, bottlenecks, time loss or causing your teams grief.
The International Association for Contract & Commercial Management (IACCM) indicates that companies lose more than 9% of their annual revenues in inefficient contract management processes.
If you look at your contract management process alone, you can tap into massive cost savings.
8- Optimizing your legal department’s administrative tasks takeaways
Legal department process challenges and bottlenecks plagues many legal operations.
In fact, 63% percent of in-house lawyers feel that they have a greater level of pressure to deal with than just a year according to a Konexo report.
According to the same report, 38% of legal counsels made reference to feeling cost pressures and 41% indicated not having enough resources to do what’s required from them.
These numbers are significant!
If you work in a legal department, you have to deal with more and more work with less and less resources.
You need to find ways to eliminate inefficiencies in your processes and administrative tasks.
We hope that our 7 strategies to reduce the administrative burden on your legal operation will help you in your journey.
What do you think of the strategies we are proposing? Are there strategies that you feel strongly about? We would love to hear from you. Drop us a comment!