We’ve all heard the tips and read the trends about how in-house lawyers should be managing their legal work: more and more are bringing work in-house; law firms are forced to offer value or hybrid billing; legal ops professionals are critical for making in-house departments more efficient; standard processes should be systematized; routine contracts should be automated; and, so on.
So, what does that mean in real life? Nearly every chief legal officer I know is interested in finding ways to make their department more efficient, and all these wonderful ideas sound great, but how to get them implemented?
Here are some simple steps to help improve in-house legal work flow that even the busiest and most overworked corporate counsel can follow.
1: Do it the same way every time.
Whether it’s a routine customer complaint, an HR investigation, or a complex litigation matter, every task has a first time. Be intentional about defining a process for each task the first time you do it, and then do it the same way every time. Record a standard operating procedure (SOP) to define the process, store it in a knowledge base, and make compliance with it a metric against which responsible employees’ performance is measured. This simple discipline gives structure and confidence to employees in the legal department, and those with whom they work in other departments. Review the SOPs on a predefined time schedule (once a year, for example) to update and improve them based on experience. Following SOPs, even for the most complex matters, brings efficiency and stress relief, and eventually, saves the corporation and its in-house legal team time and money.
2: Stop using spreadsheets and email to track your work.
I was speaking at a conference recently and I took an informal survey of who had the most emails in their inbox at that time. Several people had more than 1,000, a few had more than 10,000, and one guy raised his hand and said he had more than 249,000 emails in his inbox. I made him show me his phone because I didn’t believe him at first. Sure enough, there it was, the little red bubble above the email icon: 249,754. Who can manage that many emails? Candidly, I didn’t know the little red bubble was big enough to hold a six-digit number! The truth is, no one can manage that much email. So, in-house lawyers need a better system. Software designed specifically to help corporate counsel manage their communications and task tracking can be a life saver. It can also be critical in automating some of your department’s tasks, especially the routine ones like NDAs, standard sales contracts, IP tracking, and the like. Think about what types of matters you mange most often and then search for software that caters to your needs. For example, do you need contract management, CRM integration, litigation tracking, IP tracking, or all of the above?
3: Don’t reinvent the wheel.
When I was at Go Daddy, I founded a conference that I hosted each year for the top lawyers and compliance/privacy professionals at all the companies in our space. We discussed industry best practices and shared ideas about how to react and respond to various issues that arose in our context. This annual event became a favorite among lawyers in our industry. Not only was it a great way to connect with colleagues with shared experiences, but it also served to cut down on the need for each company to find solutions to issues that had already been solved by someone in a common practice area. To be clear, no competitive market data or sales information was shared. This was all about helping each other be efficient and not reinventing the wheel when someone else had already been there and done that. So, try to find ways to learn from other professionals in your space, and give back by teaching them a thing or two, as well. It is a huge time saver, and frankly, makes the entire industry better and causes the law to be applied in a more consistent way.
These three simple ideas were a huge help to me in my implementation of legal operations efficiencies, and hopefully, you can find a path that will make them helpful to you, too.