The Evolving Role of In-House Counsel

Expectations in the legal services market have shifted – and are continuing to evolve – in ways that are forcing changes in how these services are delivered. Top priorities in this new landscape include more efficient management of legal workloads, closer scrutiny of outside counsel relationships, and integration of new technologies.

Changing the In-House Landscape
In-many organizations, the in-house legal department was traditionally unlikely to be considered a driver of innovation. In fact, where innovation was concerned, the corporate legal team was often viewed as a hurdle – covering administrative functions, processing paperwork and worrying about risk.

Corporate outlooks and expectations are shifting, however, putting new emphasis on integrating the operations of the legal department and aligning them with overall business goals and strategy. To that end, many companies are running their legal department like a growing business, rather than a budget-draining necessity. Innovation and disruption have emerged as driving forces in the legal sector and are causing organizations to reevaluate how they operate their in-house legal department and purchase legal services.

Manage Workloads
Just like any other business, legal departments need to determine how to allocate resources, evaluate performance and define success. While this seems intuitive, many in-house teams can lose track of all of the legal work being done within the department. To alleviate this, many are hiring a business or project manager to oversee operations or specific projects within the department enabling in-house teams to operate more efficiently and allocate resources more effectively. Additionally, the use of regular status reports and budget updates allows in-house counsel to stay up to date on changes in scope and cost overruns.

Reevaluate Relationship with Outside Counsel
Dissatisfaction with outside counsel pricing structures – including rates and the lack of certainty – is another factor driving changes in legal operations. Many companies have begun to alter how they interact with outside counsel, by either negotiating better pricing terms with outside firms, reducing how many outside firms they retain and implementing more procurement processes in order to create competition. Some organizations have also decided to move work to alternative legal services providers. ALSPs offer some of the same legal services as larger firms but usually at a much lower cost. In addition, many legal departments have opted to move some tasks back in-house.

Embrace Technological Innovation
The legal sector as a whole tends to lag in its implementation of new technology, often waiting until long after it’s been adopted in other industries. This is in contrast to other types of businesses, that will prioritize technology that improves customer experience or boost productivity. The rise of AI and blockchain technology, however, have opened a number of doors in the legal tech space including solutions for compliance, eDiscovery, contract review, legal research and legal operations. It’s even possible for in-house teams to develop their own technological innovations, which can in turn be outsourced to other firms, potentially increase the organization’s revenue in the process.

This legal market briefing was created by the analysts at ShiftCentral and is presented through an exclusive news and analysis partnership with Big Law Business. ShiftCentral’s team helps law firms, practice groups, and legal departments keep up with fast-changing developments in the business of law. Learn more here.