In-house lawyers “more trusting of automation” after pandemic

Hartley: The in-house team now has more options to work differently

The pandemic has made in-house lawyers more trusting of self-service approaches to work and legal tech, a report has found.

The report by flexible lawyering business LOD, formerly known as Lawyers on Demand, also found that over a third (36%) of general counsel said they felt more of a “trusted adviser” as a result of the crisis, with only 2% feeling less trusted.

LOD said Covid-19 was both a “major disruptor” and “a catalyst for many positive changes” in the way in-house legal teams operated.

Asked which working practices arising last year as a result of the pandemic had been sustained in 2021, 96% of lawyers said remote working, 35% getting their businesses to “self-serve some legal work” and 30% “greater reliance on legal technology tools”.

The top two challenges for GCs this year remained unchanged from 2020 – ‘finding the time to think, alongside the actual work’ and ‘prioritising large volumes of work’.

These were followed this year by ‘ensuring that risk is appropriately managed’, ahead of last year’s ‘dealing with unprecedented or novel issues’, and by ‘dealing with budget restrictions’.

Researchers said: “While remote working is the most pronounced example, the boost in usage of self-service legal solutions and the greater reliance on legal technology tools by roughly a third of In-house leaders could signal a more meaningful transformation.

“Digital change has been over-egged in the past and change management has proved a powerful roadblock, but the disruptive force of Covid has propelled many legal teams past internal change resistance.

“We’re still yet to see whether the more complete recovery from the pandemic will result in some form of a ‘snap-back’, but it seems increasingly clear that many of the changes are here to stay in the long term.”

The report “Trust: an antidote to uncertainty” was based on the views of 89 ‘in-house legal leaders’ and 94 LOD lawyers and compliance professionals in the UK, Europe, Asia and Australia.

It said: “As legal teams learn to trust the business to manage specific and routine legal matters, they will be able to allocate their time to more strategic or high-risk work.

“Empowering the business where possible and trusting them to follow well-designed guidance will be a key feature in successful legal teams. The trick here will be in the ‘well-designed’ part.

“As soon as the self-service contains ambiguous elements or a poorly structured intake mechanism, the net benefit will drop away as the legal team will be forced to spend time cleaning up the various errors and faulty inputs”.

Only 9% of in-house lawyers in 2021 described the impact of the pandemic on their organisations as severe, compared to almost 15% last year.

Tom Hartley, chief executive at LOD, commented: “The in-house team now has more options to work differently and this multi-layered increase in trust is enabling progressive in-house teams to boost their productivity and add more value to their organisation.

“As a result, in-house team performance is increasingly being measured by the volume of business-critical projects completed, such as complex commercial contracts signed favourably for the organisation.”

LOD was the first provider of freelance lawyers to companies and law firms back in 2007, a model that has been widely copied.

Last year, it launched an unregulated law firm, staffed entirely by former in-house solicitors, to help companies with ‘everyday’ in-house work.

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