Best practices

5 Ways That In-House Legal Teams Can Be More Effective

August 24, 2023
Melody Chen

Table of Contents

In-house legal teams play a crucial role in shaping a company’s strategic direction, managing risk, and ensuring compliance with laws and regulations. Legal teams are often asked to do more with less — and faster. However, effectiveness isn’t solely about swift decisions or quick document reviews; it requires a holistic approach that involves leveraging technology, optimizing processes, and investing in people. We’re sharing five strategies that can significantly enhance the effectiveness of in-house legal teams, from tapping into the latest legal tech tools to fostering a culture of well-being. 

1. Leverage technology

In an increasingly digitized world, legal departments that do not adapt and invest in technology will be disadvantaged. In-house legal technology can increase efficiency and productivity by automating routine tasks and reducing manual processes, leading to significant cost savings. It ensures accuracy, consistency, and enhanced data-driven decision-making while facilitating better collaboration with business partners. As custodians of sensitive company and client information, in-house legal departments must also ensure that data is stored and transmitted securely. As businesses grow, their legal needs become more complex and grow in volume. Technological solutions can scale with these needs and be cost-effective, ensuring the legal department can securely handle increased demands without proportionally increasing staff or resources.

Some tools in the legal tech stack to consider include:

  • Document Management Systems: A document management system can help teams keep track of documents, revisions, and access history. This system stores documents, eliminating the chaos of managing physical paperwork and making locating crucial documents easier while capturing an audit trail.
  • Contract Lifecycle Management (CLM) software: CLM software enables legal teams to oversee the entire life cycle of a contract. From inception to expiration or renewal, these systems automate generation, reduce manual errors, and ensure contracts adhere to business standards, improving efficiency and compliance. Smaller departments might prioritize contract management over CLM. 
  • Legal Intake, Triage, and Workflow software: Streamline’s all-in-one no-code tool combines legal intake and automatic triage, questions and comments, approval tracking, and even matter management. By bringing intake for legal requests in one place for automatic workflow routing, Streamline AI ensures that the most critical issues are addressed promptly with the right point of contact, with minimal back-and-forth.
  • E-discovery tools: E-discovery software can automatically identify and collect electronic information. This can be especially valuable during litigation or investigations.

2. Streamline workflows and processes

A Gartner survey in 2019 found that approximately 63% of in-house legal work is routine or can be standardized. To optimize workflows and processes, legal departments should focus on three key areas:

  • Standardization: Develop templates for frequently used contracts, agreements, and other documents. Standardization can significantly speed up drafting and reviewing processes.
  • Prioritization: Not every issue requires immediate attention. Use a triage system to determine which matters are urgent and which can wait.
  • Delegation: Ensure tasks are assigned to the most appropriate person. Junior attorneys can handle more routine tasks, freeing senior lawyers for strategic and complex matters.

Software tools can automate standardization, prioritization, and delegation for even greater efficiency gains. According to Deloitte’s 15th Annual Law Department Operations survey, 36% of legal departments plan to evaluate and implement workflow or business process automation tools in the next 12 months. For example, Streamline AI offers workflow and business process automation for all legal requests. With conditional intake forms (and integrations with Slack, Salesforce, email, and more), legal teams can ensure that their business partners submit the correct and complete information in their request tickets, and the request is automatically routed to the right contact for quicker response. By bringing all intake and triage into one place with Streamline, legal teams can ensure complete visibility into who is handling what, reduce duplication of efforts, and ensure nothing falls through the cracks.

Companies like Branch sped up legal response times by 60% with Streamline. Get a demo of Streamline AI here.

3. Hire and build an in-house legal operations function

A legal operations team can be a game-changer for legal departments. Legal operations teams (also known as LegalOps) streamline processes, optimize resources, and enhance the department’s overall efficiency. Legal operations teams bring expertise in process improvement, technology adoption, and cost management, ensuring that the legal department functions more like a modern business unit. 

Such teams can result in considerable cost savings. According to a 2019 Gartner survey, in-house legal departments without legal operations capabilities spend 30% more than those with legal operations capabilities. Additionally, legal operations can facilitate better vendor management and leverage technology to automate routine tasks, freeing up attorneys to focus on strategic initiatives. As the legal landscape becomes more complex, a dedicated operations team can help in-house departments remain agile, cost-effective, and better aligned with the broader organizational objectives.

4. Invest in regular training and development

According to Gartner, cost-effective legal departments allocate almost twice as much of their in-house budget to training than higher-cost peers. Regular training and development for in-house legal teams are essential to ensure they remain up-to-date of evolving legal landscapes, regulatory changes, and best practices (and get their required CLE credits, of course).

Furthermore, training and development help improve collaboration and boost morale within the team. Effective in-house lawyers need a diverse skill set that extends beyond what’s traditionally taught in law school. While many may learn on the job, it could be more efficient and beneficial to provide training on the following topics:

  • Business Acumen: Understanding the intricacies of business operations, financial statements, and the broader industry landscape is crucial for lawyers aiming to provide strategic advice to companies.
  • Cross-functional Collaboration: Training on effectively working with other business departments can help lawyers better align their advice with organizational objectives. Building strong relations and trust increases cross-functional communication and in turn, reduces risk. For example, for a product counsel to be effective in providing counsel to product managers and product marketing managers, product counsel needs to learn the language of product and marketing and a basic understanding of the technology behind the product and the product’s go-to-market strategy. This will help bridge the gap between legal requirements and technical possibilities and ensure that the legal advice aligns with business objectives.
  • Project Management: Legal projects, just like any other, benefit from structured planning, execution, and monitoring. This can improve collaboration with other departments, ensuring projects align with broader organizational goals. Additionally, it helps optimize resources, ensure timely completion of tasks, and improve the overall delivery of legal services. 
  • Technology Proficiency: In-house lawyers, traditionally trained to prioritize legal analysis, may not always be the most tech-savvy members of the company. As a result, they might find themselves on a steeper learning curve when adapting to new digital tools and platforms compared to colleagues in more tech-oriented departments. Understanding and using legal tech tools, from e-discovery platforms to contract management software, can enhance a lawyer’s efficiency and effectiveness. 
  • Soft Skills: Skills like negotiation, communication, and conflict resolution are vital to fostering better relationships and navigating disagreements. While lawyers are trained to be detail-oriented and focus on risk management, many business stakeholders, especially in tech companies, operate based on the 80/20 principle. This difference in approach can sometimes cause tension, so training in effective communication, teamwork, and empathy is important to foster mutual understanding.
  • Data Analysis: With the increasing importance of data in decision-making, lawyers would benefit from training in data analytics, helping them extract insights and make more informed recommendations.
  • Change Management: Change management is the process of guiding organizational change from start to finish, including planning, deployment, and execution. These may include changes to company culture, internal processes, technology or infrastructure, corporate hierarchy, or more. Effective change management ensures that legal teams remain adaptable, efficient, and valuable to their business stakeholders and the organization throughout the change. 

Providing these trainings can equip lawyers with a holistic skill set, enabling them to be more versatile and strategic in their roles. It can ensure that the in-house legal team remains effective, updated, and aligned with the broader organizational goals.

5. Invest in mental health and well-being

Many lawyers go in-house in search of a more balanced lifestyle and to alleviate the high-stress environment often associated with law firms. So, it’s important that the culture of an in-house legal department doesn’t mirror the billable hour life. A stressed and overworked team is unlikely to function at peak efficiency. According to Deloitte’s 2023 Legal Talent Survey, increasing employee well-being was a top 3 challenge for legal department employees at all seniorities. 

Some mental health and well-being investments to consider include:

  • Offering flexible work schedules or remote work opportunities.
  • Implementing regular breaks and discouraging constant overtime.
  • Providing resources for mental health, like stress management workshops, counseling services, or wellness programs.
  • Leading by example with parental leave. When senior leaders visibly prioritize family and make use of parental leave, it sets a positive precedent for the entire team and greater organization. This not only normalizes the practice but also encourages others to prioritize their family needs without fear of professional repercussions. Such actions reinforce a company culture that values work-life balance and employee well-being.

The efficiency of in-house legal teams isn’t just about quick turnarounds; it’s about optimizing processes, leveraging technology, and fostering a collaborative and supportive environment. By implementing these recommendations, in-house legal departments can ensure they can continue driving sustainable, outsized impact for their organization. 

Read more

Work smarter

Scale your legal team's efficiency and effectiveness with modern workflow automation tools designed for in-house legal.

Request a demo