How Legal leaders are using COVID-19 to build better Legal departments

28 July 2020

Sam Burrett

Share article
Why most G Cs fail digitise legal 480w

You’re familiar with this story by now:

  • Lawyers are juggling new remote working conditions;
  • Legal teams have bigger to-do lists than ever;
  • Budgets are tight and external spend is under scrutiny; and
  • The future is uncertain.

Most lawyers identify the risks (aka the negative). Plenty of lawyers have imported the same inefficient practices to their home offices.

But top-performers find opportunities in every environment.

Some Legal leaders are capitalising on the COVID crisis to improve communication, enhance working conditions and work smarter - not harder. In doing so, Legal leaders are laying the foundation for success when the dust settles.

This article sets out how top Lawyers are finding opportunities in the crisis to make happier Legal teams, happier clients and better processes.

1. Better communication

Zoom fatigue is real. We’re sick of video meetings and we’re all overloaded with notifications. But these tools also present an opportunity for Lawyers to improve the standing of the legal function within the business by opening communication lines.

The one-to-one model of Legal advice cannot survive in the 2020s. Forward-thinking Lawyers are looking for ways to harness a one-to-many approach. The technology we now rely on, from ticketing tools to video conferencing, can bridge the gaps between Lawyers and ‘non-Lawyers'.

Tech is your friend

Here are some examples of how in-house Lawyers are using technology to enhance communication with the business:

  • Getting to know other departments via short video calls;
  • Providing policy/procedure updates on major channels visible to all team members (whether that’s Slack, Confluence, or email chains);
  • Sending out pre-recorded videos and how-to’s for business-users wanting to engage Legal;
  • Setting up regular video meetings with key stakeholders;
  • Holding ‘Virtual Open Office Hours’.

These strategies allow Lawyers to build better relationships with business users. As a result, Lawyers are less likely to be seen as ‘blockers to execution’ and more likely to be perceived as trusted advisors who make meaningful contributions to business strategy.

Ultimately, the quality and consistency of communication is a huge factor determining client satisfaction. Top performing Lawyers are using technology to improve communication and amplify the legal department’s agenda to the broader business.

2. Work smarter, not harder

Lawyers work hard — there's no doubt about that. But hard work isn’t a long term solution to increasing workloads and smaller budgets.

I recently spoke with an experienced General Counsel of a large insurance company. Her team was struggling to make a dent on their never-ending inbox and stressing about impending headcount reductions. When I asked this Legal leader how she planned to deal with the squeeze, she replied:

“Well, our team is no longer having to commute to the office. So there’s an extra hour or so we’ve gained each day. We’re using that time to do more work.”

But what happens when the extra hour isn’t enough? And what is the long term impact of working 14–16-hour days in the middle of an unprecedented pandemic? There must be another way. The way forward is by working smarter, not harder.

Innovation without technology

Lawyers like to talk about technology as if it’s the silver bullet to the 'more for less' challenge. But there are actually a number of quick wins Legal teams can explore before embarking on their Legal transformation journey.

Here are some suggestions:

  • Building standard briefing forms for Legal support requests.
  • Narrowing the scope of who can request Legal support.
  • Standardising templates and making them easily accessible/usable.
  • Creating self-help guides and FAQs.
  • Building standard contract approval processes based on clear delegations of authority.
  • Defining fall-back positions during the negotiation and making these accessible to the whole business.

Re-thinking resourcing

Very few Legal teams have an extra Lawyer or Legal Operations person with the capacity to implement initiatives like those above. Top-performing Legal leaders realise that they must invest in operationalising their Legal function to meet the increasing demands of the business and ensure their team avoids burnout.

So, short-term strategic secondments are becoming increasingly popular. Specialist Legal Secondees can augment a Legal team’s capacity and help take over the day-to-day work while senior Legal team members focus on creating efficiencies. On the flip side, GC’s are also parachuting in Legal Operations specialists, Legal project managers, or senior in-house Lawyers with key stakeholder management expertise to lead transformation projects themselves.

3. Building stronger Legal teams

“I define connection as the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.” ― Brené Brown.

Amongst the chaos of 2020, there have been opportunities to build unusually strong connections within Legal teams. High performing Legal leaders know that these connections are essential to help Lawyers thrive and survive during lockdown.

Even before COVID hit, top lawyers knew that strong, connected Legal teams were essential to running a productive Legal function. Burnout is high in the legal profession. Mental health problems affect many lawyers, with one survey finding 85% of lawyers experience anxiety in the workplace. Even at the top of the food chain, turnover is high; Gartner research suggests that GC turnover has increased 65% over the last 3 years. COVID-19 has exacerbated each of these issues.

Get the team together

The best Legal leaders know they must have strong teams in order to continue performing at a high standard. As a result, they are using the shutdown as a way to bring their team together. For example:

  • Having Friday Night Zoom drinks;
  • Sharing work from home tips and challenges;
  • Acknowledging their messy workspaces;
  • Not passing judgement on clothing and relaxing dress codes;
  • Holding daily team meetings to check in;
  • Implementing mental health support services.

Shared experiences are sometimes the best way to build stronger teams. This is a unique time for Legal leaders to improve the cohesion of their team.

Over to you

Pressure drives innovation. Forward-thinking General Counsels recognise the opportunity in this crisis to build stronger Legal teams, improve business relationships and create better systems and processes.

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.

More resources


Get weekly legal transformation best practices, benchmarks and trend analysis in your inbox:

Thanks for subscribing

We use cookies on this site to enhance your user experience and improve our services. By using our website, we assume you're ok with this. View our privacy policy for details.

Get your free eBook!

Modernise your legal function with the Digital Transformation Guide for General Counsels.

Digital Transformation Guide