Essential Legal Operations Changes GCs Need to Make by 2025

24 June 2024

Plexus gartner legal operations 2025 header

Back in 2021 Gartner outlined “The Future of Legal”, detailing six important shifts general counsel needed to make by 2025 to adapt to constantly changing conditions. A year after Gartner’s report, Plexus published the General Counsel Thought Leaders Report, extrapolating sentiments that echoed Gartner’s recommendations.

With the year 2024 entering its closing half, it’s time to check into the key actions Gartner says need to be executed to prevent legal functions from falling behind.

Legal Function: A Sleeping Giant, Awakened

It is important to note that both Gartner and Plexus reports were created during the immediate aftermath of the height of the Covid-19 pandemic. The unprecedented disruption this caused within the legal industry resulted in the mobilisation of resources and procedural upheaval. There was also a major moment of epiphany, with the industry at large realising their fixed way of operating needed to be overhauled in anticipation of further potential future changes.

In 2024 the sleeping giant is now awake but as time goes on, the need for continuous revision and adaptation grows exponentially.

Numbers Are Low, But Not Out for the Count

According to Gartner, “legal leaders lack confidence in critical capabilities”. Only 9% of leaders surveyed felt confident in developing a long-term plan to continue adding digital tools within their legal department. This figure was backed up in the Plexus report, which found that 85% of legal tasks were unsupported within the enterprise.

However, not all hope is lost. While the shift may seem glacial, investment in technology for legal work is there, with Gartner predicting a 300% increase in spending in 2025 compared to 2020 figures. This situation is playing out right now as major advancements have been made globally from vendors and enterprises to deliver better products and services respectively.

Doing Legal Differently

Gartner outlines three characteristics that Legal need to be exhibit by 2025 in order to be ready for the future, which fall in line with Legal Transformation principles championed by Plexus:

  • Responsive Risk Management: Risks are always changing and emerging, so Legal has to prepare their strategies for fluid conditions as they shift.
  • Dynamic Culture: Transparent consideration and decision making between Legal and the enterprise encourages faster and better risk-managed actions.
  • Flexible Structure: Legal is not simply a fixed monolith separate to other functions; teams can efficiently implement resourcing and technology as demand fluctuates.

The Six Operational Changes GCs Must Make

The above three characteristics are then exhibited by GCs making six crucial changes as identified by Gartner.

1. Reduce Operational Drag

Plexus found that 78% of legal leaders surveyed in 2022 had experienced their team’s performance speed, i.e. efficiency, either stagnating or even slowing down. Despite Plexus’s 2022 survey reinforcing the need for legal functions to reduce operational drag within their organisation, the challenge still persists in 2024.

Gartner’s first action item again emphasises the need for speed to ensure efficient practices and the minimisation of risk as legal guidance is quickly offered. While tangible in concept, achieving it in actionable terms through changing the legal operating structure and mentality to enable agility is a bit more challenging.

2. Let Legal Do Legal

According to Gartner, legal departments waste a lot of time on unplanned, high urgency work as a result of misalignment between Legal and the wider business. This is rectified by codifying legal’s specific contribution to business goals and enabling their interaction sooner in the process, rather than pass the buck to them at a later stage, which creates drag.

A 2020 Gartner survey found that legal departments improved their efficiency by 49% if they implemented strategies to deal with unplanned work when it emerged. As much as Legal will help other teams, it is their counterparts who also need to step up and embrace teamwork for fluid operations.

3. Automate Repeatable Processes

While catering legal support to unique challenges makes sense, the regular “grind” work likely needs less supervision. Some legal tasks statistically are performed more frequently than others, so Gartner recommends documenting these workflows to ensure consistency and minimisation of risk by sticking to a plan. By having a rigid process in place, it also reduces legal contact time by not having them “hand hold” business actions to completion. In essence, using lawyers when they’re actually needed is a mutually beneficial decision for all parties.

This is where technology can play a big part, with legal automation software taking care of the heavy lifting and minimising mistake-prone human contact to low-risk inputs.

4. Grow a Network of Legal Support

Many in-house legal teams are still reliant on singular law firms to singularly resolve a suite of matters. While this may seem like a convenient option, it is not always the most cost- and time-effective method. One benefit of having a free market is legal service providers will be naturally competitive and offer better services and/or prices. The continually emergent omnipresence of remote work has also enabled flexible, round-the-clock support. This ultimately spreads workloads across multiple entities to make handling matters more manageable for all parties involved.

To achieve this, GCs should grow a network of legal support providers to engage with. This approach works similarly to project management: assembling a team of the best people for specific tasks to get the job done efficiently. In time, a roster of dependable service providers will be available to tackle specialised matters. According to Gartner, businesses could save up to 30% in law firm costs if they utilise their network of legal support to determine the most efficient service for a particular task.

5. Modernise Operations Using Technology

It’s already well established that technology is essential in taking legal work to the next level. However, uptake in the sector remains remarkably low, with only 32% of GCs implementing tech solutions per the Plexus 2022 survey.

This is noticeably pertinent in Gartner’s report, with a snapshot of the time revealing productivity platforms such as Google Workspaces and Microsoft 365 still emerging implementations within Legal. This now foundational aspect was without a doubt catalysed by the widespread “disruption” of hybrid and remote work culture that enabled legal functions to operate beyond their desk.

Another carryover effect of this shift means enterprises are now exploring specialised software solutions as part of the next phase of their transformation using technology. Specialised offerings such as Plexus the next frontier for many entities playing catch up.

It’s also vital to introduce new processes alongside new technology, otherwise these tools become digital paperweights. These are not one-and-done actions, as a dynamic operating mentality also applies to continued investment in emerging technologies and managing the challenges that come with them. As Legal is not a silo, it is important to work with the relevant stakeholders to identify opportunities and risks, scope out future investments and devise business strategies.

6. Upskill and Collaborate with the Entire Workforce

Just as Legal’s role in the workplace and industry has evolved and will continue to do so, so does the need for its people to follow suit. This manifests in the form of finding lawyers and nonlawyers to work symbiotically and possessing cross-functional skills. Knowledge of the law will only get you so far; soft skills like resilience and change management are far better indicators of adaptive working practices.

Of course, supplementary practical intelligence is operationally essential. Digital literacy to analytics ability all contribute to informed processes and risk minimisation – not to mention native familiarity with software solutions. This is where adoption best practices are non-negotiable requirements for organisations to fully implement and maximise their technology investments.

It’s Not Too Late – Here’s How to Make It Happen

As the new financial year approaches, some of these recommendations should already be in place, with scope to action more. Of course, Gartner’s 2025 mandate should not necessarily be treated as a hard due date, but more like a key period to make major shifts within organisations how they conduct legal work.

“The most effective legal functions are proactive rather than reactive. As time goes on, the importance of being proactive in an unpredictable and constantly changing environment becomes increasingly prevalent. While a technology solution is only one piece of the puzzle, effective implementation is a massive leap forward for legal operations.”
Jun Hu, Business Operations Manager at Plexus

That doesn’t mean that slower moving entities are excused. While those resistant to flicking the switch will take longer to execute essential actions, the industry and society at large do not stay static. The rate of change is only growing faster, and further delay on transforming legal ways of working will only make the task more difficult as time goes on, amplifying the risk of being left behind.

To continue (or perhaps get started), it’s worthwhile self-reflecting on current processes and challenges of enacting operational change within the legal department. Observe neighbouring teams, their ways of working and technical support to build a business case towards amending the function. Lastly, do scope out vendors who can target and alleviate the challenges preventing change.

The goal is to be like water: an adaptable, agile legal function that’s powered by technology and flows and feeds into the wider company network. That is the Legal function of the future.

The world's top GCs work with Plexus

As the global economy moves faster and becomes increasingly volatile, organisations must radically evolve their operating models to more dynamically identify and respond to opportunities and threats. Plexus helps leading GCs shift their organisational design, evolve their talent competencies and digitise their functions to deliver faster, most cost-effective and more agile legal support.

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