“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” Powerful in their time, Viktor Frankl’s words take on a renewed significance in the COVID-19 era. Rather than wallowing in the challenges of a trying year, business leaders embraced the opportunities the pandemic provided and evolved with new trends.
In all honesty, we’ve seen plenty of adaptations that will result in a stronger and more resilient legal industry. Here are some bright spots of 2020 and goals for 2021 that corporate law departments need to adopt to carry the torch of hope forward.
Better Workforce Utilization
During 2020, law departments truly learned how to do more with less. According to Altman Weil’s 2020 Chief Legal Officer Survey, 76.7% of law departments saw an increase in their workload. In spite of the heightened responsibility and stress, 94% of legal teams did not drop in productivity, according to responses from the 13th Annual Law Department Operations Survey.
As the average corporate law department budget shrunk, many organizations worked to acclimate and thrive under financial restrictions. General Counsel and CLOs worked to manage their outside counsel spend, whether that involved negotiating with their law firm partners to control costs or choosing to work with legal staffing agencies to find temporary attorneys for substantive work in multiple practice areas.
Even though momentum and performance are strong for the moment, it’s important that law departments take action to maintain their newfound equilibrium and engagement. The legal field was already rife with burnout. Surveys suggest that as many as 45% of attorneys experience depression during their legal career, and 2020 acted as pressure cooker that only worsened those numbers.
Going forward, law firms and law departments are going to need to be proactive about staying connected with their in-house and temporary attorneys, helping them stay leveled and feel supported. Taking charge of your team’s well-being now can prevent burnout – and even work product disruption – down the road.
Adoption of Critical Technology
By its nature, the legal industry is filled with reluctant innovators. Few corporate law departments are lining up to become guinea pigs for new technologies with a nebulous ROI. Though this thinking can diminish the risk of budgetary waste, it can also cause some organizations to postpone adopting critical technology, even past the point where hesitation causes its own problems.
In many cases, the pandemic accelerated changes that might have been very slow to come. Collaboration tools, cloud-based applications, and video conferencing platforms were quickly adopted by law departments all over the world to keep pace with changing touchstones and abiding work-from-home operations. Even the courts appear to have embraced virtual hearings (some litigants, attorneys, and judges appreciate the smoother and more efficient experience), so it’s important that law departments accommodate remote operations too.
The opportunity in this next year is to optimize performance. Law departments will need to prioritize information governance to maintain compliance while empowering virtual teams to function at full performance. More than just settling on adequate tools, corporations have a chance to explore the full scope of available technology to uncover the solution that best fits their business.
Greater Work Flexibility
Work-from-home arrangements have helped attorneys regain significant flexibility in their schedule, possibly helping them to achieve a healthier work/life balance. The ability for in-house counsel and temporary attorneys to work around their personal schedules, troubleshooting issues with their kids’ virtual classes or caring for sick loved ones, has been a silver lining during the pandemic era.
As a result, Altman Weil reports that 77.4% of law departments will maintain remote or flexible arrangements post-pandemic. What might need to change along the way is for leadership to adapt their expectations, encouraging staff to work their own schedule as long as they complete projects and objectives on time.
What to Expect in the Near Future
Though most law departments have gained their sea legs by now, there still are plenty of unpredictable waves that can cause turbulence in the near future. Decentralization of workplaces will continue, prompting many organizations to consider ending commercial leasing early or to at least renegotiate their leased space. Outside resources will continue to provide valuable services that can supplement your in-house expertise. Yet no matter what innovations or challenges sweep the industry, how you adapt in response to new situations will dictate your overall success.
Looking for top temporary attorneys to help achieve your legal department goals for 2021? Reach out to Assigned Counsel® to start off your year right.