Corporate legal departments are bringing more work in-house, adopting more technology, and trying to improve their processes to cut costs and increase efficiency.
Many in-house law departments are actually spending more money and hiring more staff, according to Altman Weil’s 2018 Chief Legal Officer Survey. In the survey, 53 percent of law departments reported increased total spending over the past year, compared with 29 percent that decreased spending.
And for the first time in the 19-year history of Altman Weil’s survey, internal spending made up the biggest part of total budget, with an average allocation of 48 percent being spent in-house, 45 percent on outside counsel, and 6 percent on non-law-firm vendors. In addition, 42 percent of chief legal officers said they planned to increase their lawyer workforce in the next 12 months, while only 7.5 percent planned a decrease.
In another recent survey, nearly 70 percent of respondents said they were conducting at least half of their litigation services in-house this year, compared with 50 percent last year. About 29 percent said they conducted at least three-fourths of their litigation and eDiscovery work in-house, compared with 17 percent in 2017.
In-house departments are working to improve their processes, adopting project management principles such as scheduling and budgeting in evaluating policies and procedures. In Altman Weil’s survey, 42 percent reported redesigning workflows, 39 percent restructuring internal resources, 27 percent using knowledge management programs, and 25 percent adopting project management methods.
They are also adopting more tech tools. Some 67 percent of Altman Weil respondents reported increased use of technology this year. Common investments were in e-billing, contract management, matter management, and litigation-hold software. The most frequently used and highest-rated tech tool was board of directors portal software.
Norton Rose Fulbright’s 2018 Litigation Trends Survey provided more detail on technology spending in corporate law departments. Asked what technologies they use, respondents noted data repositories (76 percent), document preservation tools (72 percent), technology-assisted review (54 percent), legal project management (40 percent), client dashboards (33 percent), automation (30 percent), and visual analytics/business intelligence software (24 percent).
Yet, only half the departments in the Altman Weil survey said adopting technology markedly improved their efficiency. Altman Weil speculated about possible reasons: departments may be applying new technology to old, flawed processes; in-house lawyers may resist using the tech tools; or training may be inadequate.
What’s clear is that in-house legal departments are feeling the pressure to get more bang for their buck. Altman Weil noted in its survey that chief legal officers sense a growing expectation from their chief executives that the law department be run just like any other business unit.