The Cost of Not Managing Your Legal Department’s Workflow

Corporations have traditionally scrutinised how well their business units, including their law departments, are managing their workflow and costs. With the global economy currently under strain, however, that scrutiny has become even more urgent.

In some cases, corporations may be reluctant to invest in the tools and processes needed to help their law departments better manage their workflow and control their costs, and instead mandate them to ‘do more with less’. That is a mistake, because there is an even greater cost to not giving law departments the resources needed to better manage and optimise their workflow, reduce their costs, and greatly contribute to the corporation’s bottom line.

To make the case for investment, law department leaders need to convince corporate management that budgeting for such tools is needed, and in fact, in addition to direct money savings, would pay even greater dividends in terms of improved efficiency and greater effectiveness.

Making the case for investment

For law department leaders looking to make their case for increased investment in workflow tools, outlining the consequences for not doing anything to improve workflow might be an effective strategy.

While department leaders often have to battle the dreaded legacy argument (“But that’s the way we’ve always done it!”) when seeking more resources, there are other direct outcomes — and their related costs — of poor workflow management that department leaders should cite in their quest for more resources and workflow tools.

For example, poor workflow management often is marked by a lack of prioritisation in which work at the top of the stack is done first; or worse yet, easier or more routine matters are addressed first to ‘get them off our plate’. This practice, while understandable in the high-stress environment of a law department, can lead to numerous problems, most obviously that higher stakes matter tends to languish at the bottom of the pile simply because they are complex or time-consuming.

Poor workflow management also leads to inconsistencies in matter assignments, in which one in-house lawyer may not have the same amount of work as another, resulting in one being overburdened, while another is wasting time on low-value work. Even the simplest workflow management tool can alleviate this too-common problem, providing an automated method for both intake of new legal matters and their allocation to members of the in-house team. Without a tool to manage workflows, intake and allocation is left to an ad hoc process that allows for no auditability or metrics to measure the success of the department’s workflow process.

Unfortunately, with no way to track matters or see an aggregate view of how matters were allocated and executed, team members, almost by default, fall back into a pattern of wasting time on the routine matters they know have to be addressed, such as churning out contracts, day-in and day-out.

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Why automate?

Today, corporate law departments handle an ever-increasing number of matters, and too often they respond to that pressure by simply adding bodies or compounding their risk, rather than taking the time to understand their processes and how they can better optimise them.

In-house lawyers work with documents and contracts to a great degree, and this mandate is crucially important for most corporations’ success. And while standard document and contract management software is essential, it only carries a department so far. Often, specialty software is required to fully connect your department’s document and contract management software with matter management and e–billing capabilities to fully enhance your workflow process.

So, what are the initial benefits that this enhanced optimisation can bring?

First, a fully robust workflow management system that connects the dispersed duties of your department, like allocation, billing, and matter tracking, can have multiple advantages, such as:

  • Enforcing consistency — workflow processes are standardized throughout matters, team members, and clients
  • Providing trackable management — departments can follow a matter through the process, from intake to final billing
  • Offering clean, easy reporting — leaders can demonstrate to management and other business units the value the department is providing
  • Saving time by streamlining the process — the department will quickly gain a reputation for efficiency and timeliness once its processes are streamlined and well-managed.

Among all those benefits, consistency may be the most crucial to the ongoing reputation of the law department. By using its new automated process to standardise legal intake and reduce wasteful email trails, departments will soon see that this consistency across its now-streamlined and automated processes is paying huge dividends, especially in how the department is perceived by management and by other business units within the company.

Forging a new perception of the department

Where once it was viewed as a cost-center burden to be endured by the rest of the business units, a well-managed corporate law department with streamlined and automated processes is now seen as a hub for transparent, social collaboration across business units, and a source of real-time information available in a central location.

Its sophisticated workflow management system features live reporting dashboards that offer full visibility of the corporation’s legal operation. And the department’s interactions with the rest of the business units throughout the corporation are marked now by effectiveness, which allows for faster drafting, negotiation, execution, and renewal of contracts; collaboration on drafting notes, comments, and approvals; and transparency as matter status is more visible, self-service is automated, and operational risks and hidden value within contract portfolios are more easily determined and revealed.

This enhanced perception of the law department will result in it being viewed as a gateway, instead of a gatekeeper, and a true, value-adding partner to the business side.

Click here to find more information on HighQ, Thomson Reuters’ intelligent legal operations hub, and how it can help corporate law departments manage documents and contracts, collaborate internally and with outside counsel, and automate their legal workflows.

Legal Insight has republished this article from the global Thomson Reuters blog with full permission from the publisher.

Thomson Reuters, a worldwide trusted provider of answers, helps professionals make confident decisions, run better businesses and gain competitive advantage in complex arenas – law, tax, compliance, government and media.

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