This article was originally published by Legal Dive.
Like most industries, the corporate law field has been upended by the COVID-19 pandemic and its many effects. The Great Depression has led many lawyers to seek new opportunities, leaving corporate law firms (CLDs) short-staffed. Remote and hybrid work models have challenged communication and information retrieval, and rising inflation has driven demands for greater efficiency and forced more businesses.
The need for efficiency is the reason why 96% of respondents to the CLOC 2021 State of the Industry survey indicated a high or medium priority on the automation of legal services—including to manage projects. In the face of new macroeconomic conditions, inflation is likely to increase.
Let’s take a closer look at three of those trends—and how corporate law departments can best digitize and automate their case management processes.
1. The rise
The assignment is to work around; slip and flow. But recently, there has been an increased tendency to use legal personnel from the corporate environment. In fact, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s 2022 Judiciary Management Scoreboard Report, recruitment is the largest source of legal spending.
Some of this is thanks to past inflation levels. Higher fees have forced many CLDs to not only hire outside counsel, but to use long-time staff who have been approached for legal matters.
It creates a different dynamic for project management. Now, it is even more important for CLDs to be able to manage the work they do, not just think about the work of external consultants. They should be very visible in the life cycles of the substance, they can follow the documents, the information, and the time spent on the issues. And it needs to be able to archive and retrieve old stuff—something that’s not used to being done quickly and easily.
Even though CLDs are doing more in-house, they are still dealing with the aftermath of the Great Depression, which brought about major changes in the law. This makes assigning issues to avoid burnout and ensure high quality work more important than ever.
2. Work remotely
The COVID-19 pandemic has fueled the rise of remote and hybrid jobs. A Gallup poll showed that nearly half of all American workers work part-time.
The results follow the remote work, but the difficulties also follow. For example, remote or hybrid work environments can be particularly challenging for corporate lawyers to track issues. Just finding out if there’s no case because it’s closed, or because a trial date is set months in advance, legal staff can’t visit a colleague’s desk to check on the power of something. People aren’t very close, and people can’t engage in face-to-face communication, so it’s hard to get a true picture of how an issue is going.
As issues are increasingly managed through systems or email, CLDs need a way to see all relevant information in one place: what’s coming in and who it is assigned to the cause, what is the status—no need for in-person meetings or discussions . As remote work becomes the new norm, law enforcement professionals must be prepared to collect, track, and report all internal and external information about the case at hand.
3. Synchronous devices and portals
Remote work has fueled the housing industry of tools that companies have implemented to support distributed environments. As a result, context switching between one application and another has become the norm for corporate lawyers, who are quickly becoming overwhelmed with tools and portals.
A problematic workflow involves the entry of legal service requests (LSR) from “internal” customers. LSRs must be edited and entered into the case entry system. But the proliferation of devices has led to an onslaught of data sources that can force lawyers to target specific sites and track the many requests that come in through multiple requests. This is a common practice but it will take them a long time to get away from the legal work they are doing now because of the first and second degrees.
Digitizing the issues will reduce the costs
Although these processes are designed for CLDs, they make now the best time for corporate lawyers to invest in digitizing and automating their project management processes. Doing so can improve the entire project management life cycle. Teams can track issues as they progress through four key areas—engaging, opening new projects, assigning tasks, and solving issues.
Teams should not be tracked for issue status across a remote or hybrid environment. It’s easy for people to see and respond to issues at any time, which improves collaboration and helps attorneys find power with just a few clicks. And teams have a better understanding of who’s doing what, helping to allocate staff resources.
CLDs also have the option to collect data from different applications and serve as input, storage, and management functions. Attorneys don’t have to worry about manually maintaining LSRs from different sources, and can focus on additional tasks.
So, for CLDs who may have been on the fence about digitizing and automating project management—now is the time to get moving. In a world that is constantly changing, it helps them to ensure that they manage the legal issues.