While the pandemic era has created plenty of challenges for legal departments, it’s also given corporate counsel a chance to rethink how they operate.
In a recent webinar sponsored by Paragon Legal and Above the Law, legal industry experts explored new strategies for how legal departments can boost efficiency, streamline workflows, and increase staff well-being.
Moderated by Jared Correia, the panel included Deanna Brock, Senior Manager and Senior Corporate Counsel at Autodesk; Venora Hung, Associate General Counsel at Truepill; and Stephanie Corey, CEO & Co-Founder at UpLevel Ops and a CLOC co-founder.
Read on to learn more about how corporate counsel can achieve success in this era of “new normal.”
The pandemic has led to an increase in attorney burnout, which probably shouldn’t come as a surprise, given that the legal industry is full of overachievers who burn the candle at both ends. But emphasizing well-being can lead to happier, more productive attorneys, and the experts offered ideas for how to do just that.
For instance, in order to combat Zoom fatigue, it’s helpful to suggest doing calls via audio, noted Venora Hung, associate General Counsel at Truepill. Exercise and movement can also be a huge help, allowing attorneys and legal staff to return to work with a positive mindset. Deanna Brock, Senior Manager and Senior Corporate Counsel for Autodesk, noted the importance of taking an exercise break or going for a walk.
“Then you can return to your work because you’re so much more focused and you have a better mindset,” Brock said.
Use Intake Tools
Legal departments may lack clarity on who is actually working on what, leading to a lack of transparency and general inefficiency. Hung noted that one of the best things her legal team did was start using an intake tool. Before doing so, her legal department was contending with various business partners emailing different attorneys about what kind of contracts they needed, and it was unclear what everyone was working on.
“Having that intake tool really helped our team in terms of seeing what was coming in — the number of customer contracts versus vendor contracts versus business associate agreements that we might be negotiating,” Hung said.
Rethink Legal Staffing
Stephanie Corey, co-founder of UpLevel Ops, noted that one of the things she used to see is law departments using outside counsel as a “pressure release valve.” Essentially, they would manage the work that hit their desks, and “once they hit the tipping point,” they’d kick other work to outside counsel.
Of course, this isn’t a very strategic or cost-effective way to manage overflow legal work.
That’s why many businesses are utilizing ALSPs to help their legal team handle their workload strategically, with the help of high-level interim attorneys.
“What we’ve seen in recent years is: as the other types of law companies, like a Paragon, have really gotten more sophisticated in how they partner with law departments, what we see is an outsourcing program,” Corey said. “You can bring in these partners who manage ABC — this is what they manage, there are playbooks, there are templates, there’s a program in place.”
Leverage Legal Ops
Legal departments shouldn’t underestimate how useful legal operations teams can be. Whether it’s keeping the department organized or helping attorneys feel less overwhelmed by fielding initial questions, a legal operations team can be key when it comes to helping a corporate law department run smoothly and efficiently.
“It’s just people doing initial triage, people fielding those initial questions — how do I get an NDA, or who’s the product attorney for this?” Brock said. “Just having those questions be filtered in through that team has just really helped from a morale perspective, too, I would say, for the attorneys.”
Ensure Clean Processes
Although making sure your law department is operating with clean, efficient processes might not make anyone’s heart race with excitement, focusing on these basic components is essential. Not only will this create better outcomes, but it will likely boost attorney happiness, Corey noted.
“It’s really about having clean processes, clean templates. You gotta do that work,” Corey said. “It’s not sexy, it’s not fun, but if you get through it, you’re going to end up with a much better outcome and happier lawyers at the end of the day.”
The panel of legal experts also offered a slew of other efficiency tips, such as setting aside specific hours for focus time, thereby allowing attorneys to tackle tasks without meetings or distractions.
For more ideas on how corporate counsel can boost efficiency, check out the full webinar, which offers fun conversation, expert advice, and a treasure trove of useful ideas and tips.