CLOs See Less Revenue, More Work As Virus Persists

By Clarice Silber
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Law360 (November 17, 2020, 5:09 PM EST) -- A majority of top attorneys in corporate law departments say their organization's revenue has dropped this year amid the economic downturn caused by the coronavirus pandemic, but workloads remain higher, according to a survey released Tuesday.

A new survey released by Altman Weil Inc. found that 66% of companies' chief legal officers reported their organization's revenue was down, while nearly 77% of those top attorneys said workload is up.

According to the report, 11% of legal departments were forced to lay off employees in response to the pandemic, with top attorneys citing decreased budgets, efficiency efforts and greater use of technology tools as the primary reason for workforce reductions.

Those layoffs included 3% of departments cutting managing lawyers and 4% eliminating staff attorneys, while 8% shed paralegal positions.

Altman Weil principal and survey conductor James Wilber told Law360 the reported drop in revenue is consistent with what he's seen across all industries dealing with the pandemic. Wilber noted none of the companies that participated in the survey laid off those who work in legal operations positions tasked with looking for ways to save money.

"So, to me, that shows wisdom on behalf of the chief legal officers who realized that these people are more than paying for themselves, and they can help us find ways to remove waste, maybe get better value or more cost reduction out of outside counsel, better leverage of technology," Wilber said.

Another recent workforce trends survey conducted by The Adecco Group showed that roughly seven in 10 leaders at law firms and in-house groups said backfilling positions eliminated during the pandemic would definitely or probably happen.

The Altman Weil findings, which were based on 119 responses received in September and October 2020, said despite the increased workload among legal departments, plans to hire contract lawyers in the next year dropped from 19% of departments with targets to hire last year to 11% aiming to do so in the months ahead.

Wilber said law departments have always been asked to do more with less, and that push is really playing out to be the case during the pandemic.

Meanwhile, 77% of chief legal officers who responded to the survey expect remote or more flexible working arrangements will become commonplace for law department attorneys and staff.

An Association of Corporate Counsel poll in July found that a vast majority of in-house lawyers said their organization's work-from-home policy has changed during the pandemic, but the respondents were almost evenly divided on whether they think the adjustments will continue or be reversed once the crisis wanes.

Other highlights from the survey said that 90% of all law firms offered their clients general information on pandemic issues, and 46% advised on available COVID-19 benefits.

"From the chief legal officer on down, everyone in the law department has added a whole new category of work this year, which is issues that have come up because of the pandemic … they are being forced to really focus on what's mission critical," Wilber said.

--Editing by Alyssa Miller.

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