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  Workflow and Workload in Legal Departments

Reducing the dependency on legal departments for operational support requires attention to the dynamics of workflow. Intake, allocation and turn-around must be managed. Our experience addresses

work intake and allocation protocols
effective workload management
service standards and service agreements
management of workflow to and from law firms

For further information on workflows and workloads in the legal department, contact Richard Stock at or (416) 367-4447.

Articles on Workflows and Workloads

The Hummingbird Lawyer

Lexpert, Vol. 20, No. 2, November-December 2018

A review of Gazzaley and Rosen's The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High-Tech World applies some of the findings to in-house counsel. After dealing with an email, it takes the average worker 68 seconds to return to their work and remember what they were doing. The authors discuss FOMO, or “Fear of Missing Out”. Managing interruptions wth more discipline can generate about one hour of availability each day.

Poor Leverage Means Poor Service

Lexpert, Vol. 20, No. 1, September-October 2018

Planning and teamwork are essential to appropriate task delegation in legal work. Both law firms and law departments under-delegate and fail to rigorously oversee the use of experienced legal counsel.
Law departments face particular challenges moving away from solo practice models when have no entry-level lawyers available on the team. Team-based lawyering and tougher intake protocols are essential.

Focus the Workflows

Lexpert, Vol. 19, No. 4, March-April 2018

Law departments should move away from open-door policies. Lawyer experience is, on average, more senior than it was 10 years ago, with less delegaion by inside counsel than ever. Up to 1/3 of in-house counsel are focused on low-value work. Leadership must identify enough special projects, strategic activity and complex work to replace at least 600 hours per year of practice per lawyer. Failure to act means that the law department is a poor return on investment.

"The Rest of the World"
Lexpert, Vol. 17, No. 7, May 2016

Retaining 100 local law firms in as many countries can be inefficient and expensive even if it is for routine litigation and employment issues. A study of invoices from 25 countries in 4 regions revealed that the scope of work was poorly defined, activity reports were sketchy, and pricing varied from fixed monthly retainers to hourly rates discounted by 70%. The company committed to harmonized practice patterns, centralization in retaining local counsel through regional coordinating firms, fixed fee pricing for 3 years, and matter management and reporting systems to support the new operating protocols.

"An Unsustainable Business Model"
Lexpert, Vol. 17, No. 1, October 2015

The CEB reports that, for two reasons, the relationship-based business model for corporate law departments is fundamentally unsustainable.. First, the number of individuals calling on inside counsel for routine matters has proliferated beyond the company executive team. Second, most internal clients want resolution not a relationship. Some General Counsel are conducting detailed studies of demand patterns affecting their resources. Others are introducing protocols and programs to make many regular clients self-sufficient.

"Allocate Time Strategically"
Lexpert, Vol. 16, No. 5 (March 2015)

Work-related stress is driven by workflows and workloads. Analyze the source and the frequency of use of the law department to find out how much time is spent on routine matters, on complex or strategic matters. GCs can take 3 steps to better manage the limited resources.

"Priorities and Backlogs"
Lexpert, Vol. 16, No. 3 (January 2015)

Law departments do not allocate work like law firms. There are rarely any juniors and paralegal tasks are done by lawyers. Accurate data on the number of matters, complexity levels, and hours by client is hard to come by without timekeeping, even if there are techniques for accurate estimates. General Counsel are challenged to change resource allocation patterns, defaulting instead to responding to daily demands for service.

"20 Per Cent More Capacity?"
Lexpert, Vol. 16, No. 1 (October 2014)

Three steps are described to generate up to 20% more capacity in the law department. They are a work distribution analysis by client and type of legal work, an assessment of the relative complexity of matters for each lawyer, and a controlled access of clients to the law department. Additional capacity then allows the allocation of more resources to strategic matters, saving on external legal spend by in-sourcing complex work referred to law firms, and a robust professional challenge for members of the department.

"Work Allocation Out of Sync?"
Lexpert, Vol. 15, No. 3 (January 2014)

The experience levels of in-house counsel increase faster than the complexity of the work they do each year. General Counsel must seek out matters and projects that are strategic or developmental in nature. The pre-requisite to make this work is freeing up capacity - sometimes as much as 30 % of the legal department's time by reducing the amount and type of operational support given to business units. Making clients more self-sufficient and using a paralegal in the department are common techniques to synchronize work with legal experience.

"Plan to Plan"
Lexpert, Vol. 14, No. 4 (February 2013)

Some 56% of legal departments have no written business plan, suggesting that many legal departments struggle to show their strategic impact. 64% of legal departments seek no formal input from business units regarding their requirements. Only 20% say they can prepare detailed demand forecasts. Finally, 79% of the departments surveyed said they should be more structured and less reactive in managing workflows and workloads.

"No Time to Think!"
CCCA Magazine, Winter 2012, Vol. 6, No 4

There is a correlation between workloads and workflows for in-house counsel. Poor operating practices easily waste 20 % of a legal department's operating capacity. One antidote includes managing expectations of business units by effectively integrating with business units. Service level agreements, membership in business unit teams, participation in product development, and contributions to annual business unit plans are forms of integration which can be effective.
Protocols for managing interruptions and handling e-mail - up to 30,000 per lawyer each year - can save 1 ˝ hours per day or over 300 hours per year. The legal department can make enough time to think.

"Re-Defining Service Levels"
Lexpert, April 2012, Vol. 13, No 6

Explicit guidelines for consulting the legal department help reduce legal-business risk; they also contribute to cost-effectiveness of professional services, and raise satisfaction levels in the business unit. A more disciplined approach to consuming and delivering legal services translates into greater value for the organization.

"The Business Unit's Eye-View of Working with Legal"
CCCA Magazine, Spring 2012, Vol. 6, No 1

"The Business Unit's View of Working with the Legal Department"
Australian Corporate Lawyer, Fall 2012, Vol. 22, No 1

Business units can help the legal department to forecast and quantify their demand for legal services. Written guidance on when and how to work best with legal services is an essential linkage between demand and managing workloads. Team-based lawyering, even in small departments, keeps more matters on the go and helps avoid queuing. Even business units want to manage expectations.

"Workflows Decide Workloads"
Lexpert, March 2012, Vol. 13, No 5

The effectiveness of a legal department can be improved by focusing on its workflow protocols and practices. There are collateral benefits for workload management, user satisfaction levels, resource requirements and key performance indicators. But there is a prerequisite step to this sequence, and that is preparing and maintaining a reliable and detailed forecast of the company’s demand for legal services.

"Shedding Low-Level Work"
Lexpert, October 2011, Vol. 13, No 1

A large amount of law department work needs to be managed in a different way so that workloads stay manageable and the effectiveness of the legal department improves. That means shedding low level work. Techniques include guidelines on when to call legal, templates and checklists, process-mapping, legal project management, and training business units to do more themselves. Some legal departments set recurrent targets of 15% reduction in volumes from historical levels, until they achieve a balance of strategic legal work and operational support work.

"LPM is Basic Business"
Lexpert, February 2011, Vol. 12, No 4

Corporate and institutional clients now require more than a broad range for a fee estimate on a matter. The relationship between a client and a senior partner may stand in the way of preparing a detailed matter plan and resource estimate. Legal Project Management (LPM) methodologies, software and training of partners is more in evidence in the last 18 months. General Counsel are encouraging their primary firms to introduce such advanced business practices.

"Pressure and Predictability"
Lexpert, October 2010, Vol. 11, No 10

The article reports on the findings of the 2010 ACLA - CLANZ Legal Department Benchmarking Report.
The most pressing issue for legal departments, by a factor of 2, is workloads/time pressures. There is little evidence of demand forecasting, of usage protocols for the legal department, and of the practice management skills needed to generate capacity in the department
On a different note, the article shares research findings regarding low success rates in achieving reductions in external legal spend and in the use of non-hourly fee arrangements.

"Timekeeping Revisited"
ACLA Journal, Vol. 19, no 4 Winter 2009

Approximately 20% of legal departments record time. The figure is a bit higher in the public sector and lower in the private sector. The article puts forward the elements making up the value proposition in legal services : quality (service and results) plus price. Timekeeping for legal departments is available as one of several project management tools to help General Counsel develop a reliable estimate of the cost of legal services, even though the question rarely comes up when the service and results are great, measured and reported.

"Workloads and Workflows in Large Canadian Departments "
CCCA Magazine, Vol. 3, No 3, Fall 2009

The article summarizes the findings of a survey of 11 large law departments. All control the work referred to external counsel. Only half reported written protocols in place for work intake to their departments. Only two departments have formal service standards in place. The survey found some law departments use a variety of measures to reduce the demand on their services from internal users. Nine of the 11 have dedicated litigation management resources in place. Almost all believe that the time they invest in managing relationships with external counsel is appropriate. Seven of 9 said they use 1 - 4 firms to do 80% of their external legal work. General Counsel emphasized that healthy communications are the best way to balance workflows and workloads in the department.

"Workloads and Workflows in the Legal Department "
(with Joel Barolsky)
CCCA Magazine Vol. 2, No 3, Fall 2008
ACLA Journal, Vol. 18, No 3 Sept 2008

Several structural and operational facts of life can add (or reduce) 20 % to the workload of a legal department. These include service level agreements, time management practices, the number of law firms retained, a capable legal assistant, the proportion of non-legal work done in the department, the use of contract lawyers, the effectiveness of meetings with users, and a seat at the executive table. Managing workflow addresses workload issues.

"Managing Workloads and Workflows in the Legal Department"

Lexpert, Vol. 9, No 10, September 2008

A great deal of time spent by corporate legal departments is not "legal work" as such. Some of it is business advisory, operational support, training, special projects, and strategic work. The article discusses backlogs, time management, the optimal number of law firms, and ways to better anticipate demand for services from business units.

"Complex Work in Legal departments"
Lexpert, June 2005

A multi-year forecast of the demand for legal services does much more than support the corporate budget process. The real benefit is the dialogue and integration of the legal department with the business unit. This helps manage and exceed expectations. It then becomes possible to categorize work by complexity and decide how best to deploy legal service teams from the department and from outside counsel.

"Best Practices for Partnering Between Corporate Counsel and Law Firms"
Report to Legal Management, September 2002

Law firms seldom take the initiative to migrate beyond pricing initiatives and service programs. However, some have formalized long-term partnering programs with key clients. This requires a willing client, a lot of unbillable time, and steadily improving data.

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