An In-House Counsel's Guide To Better Work Management

By Aaron Pierce
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Law360 (February 19, 2021, 2:58 PM EST) --
Aaron Pierce
Aaron Pierce
Corporate law departments have been facing two related, but sometimes conflicting, trends: the need for them to become a strategic partner to the overall business and an increased pressure to do more with less.

With the continued economic uncertainty resulting from the effects of COVID-19, the ability to improve internal workload management and develop more strategic insights remains as important as ever in 2021.

Matter or work management is an aspect of enterprise legal management that helps corporate legal departments track and manage internal workloads. But legal departments have the capacity to go far beyond overseeing individual matters via matter management processes.

It's easy to get bogged down and focus strictly on the matters that are assigned to the department — not the team's overall work and contributions. Instead of merely cataloging the nuts and bolts of transactions, contracts, litigation, intellectual property and other legal matters, legal teams can track everything that is done by in-house attorneys and paralegals in the department.

You and your colleagues should be asking yourselves whether you are looking beyond matter management to encompass other aspects of in-house work. Are the resources in your legal department working effectively and efficiently? Are the right people doing the right types of work?

By developing and using analytics to track work management, you can better manage your internal workload and drive better outcomes for the entire organization. Here are the steps that will help guide that approach.

Analyzing Who Submits the Work and How Strategic That Work Is

Through strong work management techniques, legal departments can gain deeper insights than simple matter management, with a holistic look at everything your department is assigned and who accomplishes that work.

To accomplish this, you need to analyze who is assigning the work and what type of work it is. This encompasses a two-step process.

1. Identify who in your organization sends the most work to the legal department.

You should first determine where every work request comes from, and whether that work is handled by in-house or outside counsel. As requests come in, they can be tagged by business unit, type of work, or both. This will allow the legal team to easily identify work by source and type.

As a rule, the work of tagging requests should be done by the people requesting the work when they submit a matter to the legal department. This does require some training of, and buy-in and time from, nonlegal staff, so it's useful to create a rule of thumb for tracking tasks.

For example, every single item doesn't necessarily need to be tagged, if the time involved in tracking the task and responding to it is less than the time it takes to submit the request.

2. Clarify the ratio of strategic to nonstrategic issues.

As in-house counsel, you bring the most value to your clients when you focus on the matters that are strategically important. And not every matter is a high-value one.

You must therefore strive to accurately track tasks to determine the routine and repeatable aspects of any type of matter — and separate out the tasks that are more strategic.

By breaking down projects into smaller, individual components, you can see which tasks are common across matters. With these insights, you can then identify which aspects are potentially ripe for creative or alternative staffing methods and which ones are more complex and require a higher level of legal work and insight.

Some legal departments take one more step to code matters on a scale that ranks their impact and value. While these scales are subjective, they should have a quantifiable basis. By adding in this extra layer of analytics, you generate even more insights, which leads to better decision making.

Determining How to Reallocate Work Appropriately

Once you have completed this tracking and analysis, it's time to reevaluate how certain types of matters can be handled and how to reallocate the work to achieve the greatest cost savings or increase in value. This is also a two-step process.

1. Consider how to handle certain types of work.

Since the legal department has identified which matters are high-value matters and which are not strategically important, it's possible to create more self-service options for requesters for items that reoccur frequently or are more standardized.

Depending on the types of matters and culture of your organization, your legal department could create a collection of documents and frequently asked questions that nonlegal staff can consult, rather than having in-house attorneys address each issue. For other organizations, a portal that includes legal guidance may be the answer, while some departments may want to develop formal playbooks that walk nonlegal staff through common questions and matters.

Automation is another way to efficiently handle nonstrategic matters. It may make sense to develop an automated system that reviews frequently used documents and contracts. For businesses that execute a high volume of contract matters, standardization and AI can be used to review and edit commonly executed types of contracts.

Once you have identified which matters can be handled with self-service options, you can categorize the rest of the incoming matters based on standardization, urgency and strategic value.

By empowering nonlegal staff to handle more of the routine legal matters and automating others, you don't just save time and money. You also free up your fellow attorneys to focus on the more challenging, interesting work that has a greater impact on the organization and its clients.

2. Reassess how you assign work to in-house attorneys, outside counsel and other providers.

With the steps you have taken so far, you now have insights into whether you are assigning work to the people who can complete it most efficiently. For example, you may find that you are routinely sending work to outside counsel that could be better managed in-house. With this data, you may be able to build a business case for hiring more legal department attorneys.

You may also discover that some aspects of different matters can be handled by paralegals within the legal department, rather than assigning those to your own attorneys or outside counsel.

Or you may identify two firms that are handling similar types of work, but at vastly different rates or turnaround times. Once you have this information, you can reassign more work to the firm that is providing better value.

Analytics can also help you disaggregate work and use different types of providers, such as alternative legal service providers, to handle some aspects of matters.

Reviewing matter allocation should be an ongoing process. You should regularly review and refine who is being assigned work and make changes accordingly.

Conclusion

In today's legal departments, workloads have increased, and the work has become more complex — all during an ongoing pandemic and shifting economy.

With robust work management processes, you can gain critical insights into all the tasks your department and people are completing. Armed with that information, you can optimize how the work is done and allow for better decisions on who is handling the most critical matters, maximize productivity and ensure the best outcomes.



Aaron Pierce is general manager at LexisNexis CounselLink.

Law360 is owned by LexisNexis Legal & Professional, a RELX company.

The opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the organizations, or Portfolio Media Inc., or any of its or their respective affiliates. This article is for general information purposes and is not intended to be and should not be taken as legal advice.

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