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Historically, legal departments have often been treated as internal law firms within organizations. But in modern times, in-house legal teams are expected to be productive, cost-efficient, and collaborative. This coincides with several emerging trends in the legal industry at large, including the increasing role of technology, shifts in mindset, and the new focus on legal operations.
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So what are the specifics of these transformative trends in the legal industry? And how can legal ops ride these trends to greater success?
The change in the traditional role of in-house legal teams has been underway for some time. Along with this has come the rising field of legal operations, which work alongside and supplement traditional legal services. Several factors are driving these broad changes.
Legal departments today both act as a profit center and manage legal risk, rather than just the latter. Legal teams are expected to be strategic business partners to the rest of the company, rather than a siloed department acting alone. These factors are exacerbated by increased regulations, higher liability risk, rising legal costs, and the increased speed and volume of commerce in the digital age.
There are several areas where implementation of technology is key for legal departments and legal operations to keep up with new expectations.
Automating all stages of the contract process is one large advantage of technology, especially for routine low-risk transactions such as marketplace, B2C, or D2C purchases. For more complex contracts, technology can enable real-time collaboration on redlining, review and approval, without significantly increasing the time to sign.
Contract lifecycle management tools are popular for these purposes. Many legal teams may opt for more flexible SaaS tools that allow them to present digitally native contracts and track and manage acceptances - like clickwrap transaction platforms.
The increased use of eBilling is a game changer for legal departments. Now legal teams have a way of capturing and analyzing data from each and every invoice submitted by outside firms. In terms of budget management, this is an ideal situation. When a company has potentially millions of dollars of spend on various outside firms, the legal team can isolate those items that fall outside their spending guidelines.
The technology of today also allows legal teams to automate their intake and workflows. In addition to the efficient routing of work, this also reduces needless emails and enables the tracking and reporting of work requests. Automation of these processes can also allow clients to obtain some standardized information (FAQs, templates, policies) without a phone call or email.
In addition to the technological shifts in the legal industry at large, the manner of legal service provision to companies is changing. And the increased emphasis on legal operations is also leading to a revamp of the in-house counsel model.
With the general shift in perception of in-house legal teams from cost centers to profit drivers, there has been a move from legal departments acting as compartmentalized silos to instead collaborating with other functions and departments companywide. Many legal teams are also working to centralize their delivery models, where some legal services can be delivered effectively across the globe. In addition, there is increased emphasis on insourcing more legal work and outsourcing work to lower-cost providers.
Legal operations are the processes that apply business and technical practices to the delivery of legal services. These practices include strategic planning, financial management, project management, and technological innovation. Legal ops is an evolving field that can allow in-house lawyers to focus on what they learned in law school - providing legal advice and focusing on high-impact legal issues.
While all these sudden changes might cause heartburn for some in-house counsel, they actually provide opportunities for innovation. The transformation of legal departments from internal law firms to strategic business units is a change that will provide long-term benefit to in-house lawyers. The “sacrifices” this will require include the need to be at least tech-competent, if not tech-savvy, and the willingness to allow legal operations to lighten your load. In the fast-moving world of modern commerce, these sacrifices will be well worth it.
Over the years, clickwrap has become even more important to the efficient running of the legal and legal ops departments. To stay on top of trends in clickwrap, check out our annual report, Clickwrap Litigation Trends: 2021 Report!