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More for less, more for less, read all about it!.

We spend a lot of our time talking to GCs in our network, and over recent weeks have also participated in and reviewed numerous GC surveys; collating the experiences of those working within in-house legal teams.

What we are hearing across the board is that the imperative to ‘do more with less’ is louder than ever. Many GCs are seeing work volumes and urgency spike with increasing demands being put on them by business teams, whilst simultaneously having to freeze or cut budgets.

We wanted to summarise a handful of the actions that we see some GCs taking in response – some new, some old (but worth repeating), which you can emulate or develop in your own way, in order to turn these challenges into opportunities. We also want to give you some concrete steps to start and ideas around the tools you can use; just getting started is often half the battle.

  1. Prioritise the right work….

We see quite a lot of focus on improving ‘efficiency’ or ‘productivity’…. but sometimes less on increasing ‘effectiveness’. There is of course a distinction and it can help to start thinking about these as independent but linked objectives; ‘effectiveness’ being a qualitative measure of the right work, with ‘efficiency’ more a quantitative metric of output.

How? Start by doing a deep dive into your team’s activities and processes which will help you develop a system for tracking work streams and optimising work allocation. Here are three steps to begin with:

  1. Review the work streams your team typically handles and map out the cycle from start to finish. Starting with how the work comes in, how it is allocated, how it is done and how it is delivered. Build a picture of both the processes and the individuals involved.
  2. Evaluate work streams, both its value and the scale of the risks it relates to. This must be aligned with the business team’s perspective of value so the exercise should be collaborative.
  3. Develop a system to allocate and manage incoming work based on your value & risk categorisation.

What tools can you use? You can keep things simple to begin with, using Google sheets or Excel to record and track activity. Slack can also be used as a good triage system. If you want something more bespoke there are now many great workflow management tools out there – here are a few.

Done consistently, this can facilitate greater focus on the work that ‘matters’, meeting the business team’s commercial demands as well as ensuring that the legal team delivers on its own areas of responsibility.

  1. Improve handling of high-volume work…

If your legal department routinely handles high-volume, repetitive processes (e.g. commercial contracts, NDAs), there are a number of opportunities to reduce time spent by your team, freeing them up for higher value work.

How? Try developing document templates, standardising the approach where possible. Supplement this with playbooks that provide commentary around common negotiation points, acceptable positions and alternative drafting formulations. This also harnesses and builds on past experience; increasing both consistency of approach and reducing time spent. If you don’t have a start-point, there are some great tools that can help you with your templates, such as Zegal or Practical Law.

Explore external resource options such as managed legal service providers and/or technology solutions. The former can offer project managed solutions incorporating their own tech and process expertise, delivering a highly efficient and cost-effective service. Technology tools include solutions such as document production and automation through to contract life cycle management solutions and up to AI powered document review tools.

  1. Reduce inbound work…

Examine whether there are opportunities to influence the ‘demand’ side as well by reducing work coming from within the organisation. Directing everything with a legal flavour to the legal department can frustrate both sides which may impact the business team’s objectives and timelines as well as weighing down the in-house lawyers.

How? The objective here is to try and empower and educate business teams to get more done themselves before involving legal. Areas to focus on here might include developing (non-lawyer suitable) contract playbooks explaining key legal considerations, offering alternative solutions and of course setting out the red lines for escalation to legal. It could also take the form of a bank of frequently encountered issues or questions and some legal teams even use chatbots as a ‘filter’. The same technology mentioned above in point 2 can also assist here, providing automated contracts and contract workflows for the business to use, and limiting the touch points from legal. As an example, Avvoka and Zegal are some players in this market.

Setting this up requires communication and preparation including training sessions but will deliver benefits over the medium and longer term.

  1. Optimise work allocation…

Re-think how you match a task to a task-doer. The goal should be to allocate work to the person that can deliver in the most time/cost efficient manner. Internal team members including paralegals, external counsel, secondees, legal technology and alternative legal service providers should all figure in this, each being brought in to do the work it excels at.

Start by building up your bench of ‘players’ and understand where their respective capabilities and limitations lie. By combining them you can benefit from their strengths and won’t have to live with any of the weaknesses.

You may need to disaggregate or ‘unbundle’ tasks so that this allocation can happen but your deep dive work stream analysis should give you the means to make this decision.

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Try some of these out and please let us know how you get on!

Any questions? Please reach out to us for a chat.

Rob Shakespeare