In an uncertain political, social, and economic environment, in-house legal teams have become an integral to decision-making at the highest levels. Now is a key time to solidify your team’s position as a value-driver for your internal clients.

According to the latest Altman Weil “Law Firms in Transition” survey, 70% of law firms are seeing their corporate clients pull more work in-house. Asked whether they think more in-house reliance is permanent, 66% say yes. At the same time, GCs are increasingly becoming trusted advisors on the board, often combining their position with a company secretary role.

To support their new roles and meet growing demand, in-house teams are seeking out better tools, techniques, and matter management software to improve their service and demonstrate their worth to the company.

Here are six ways you can transform your team from cost-driver to value-driver, and become an integral part of corporate leadership:

1. Learn the broader business objectives — and champion them

DLA Piper’s recent WIN Insights Report found that a majority of in-house legal professionals see their role as being more strategic and advisory and less compliance-focused than before the pandemic. (In 2019, 41% saw their function as a business advisor, and 57% saw it as risk mitigation and compliance. Now, 66% see themselves as business advisors, and only 31% view their work as largely compliance-focused).

Speaking of this finding within the report, Suzie Keady, the Associate General Counsel for Global Banking at HSBC, asserted, “longer term, in-house lawyers will want to be closer to the business, closer to the deals and closer to the market.”

The first step to escaping a narrow risk and compliance focus is to learn the bigger goals of the corporation. Then see how you can utilize your team’s expertise in the service of those goals. Teams are finding success in moving beyond a cautionary role, thinking proactively about creative ways to surmount obstacles, and recognizing possibilities in addition to risks. 

2. Automate to speed up operations

In-house lawyers were often working from home during pandemic shut-downs, frequently juggling childcare tasks and their growing workload. In this crucible, many started a search for tools and techniques that offer greater efficiency. 

Efficiency will continue to be crucial moving forward, as companies demand greater productivity from their in-house lawyers even as they’re cutting costs. Fortunately, there are a number of technologies that provide unprecedented workflow improvements — often through automation.

Automation speeds up cycles, delivers greater value, and can improve the work-life balance of legal professionals by taking tedious work off their plate. After some initial reluctance, in-house counsel is relying on these new technologies at an ever-increasing rate. The DLA Piper research found that 80% of in-house lawyers surveyed expected the speed of technology adoption to increase in the months and years ahead.

One area ripe for automation is contracts. Contract lifecycle management tools dramatically reduce sales contract cycle times, improve efficiency, and make the contract process more transparent and less intimidating for all parties. Here are ways it can help:

  • Automatically generate new contract language using templating and drafting tools.
  • Negotiate using an easy, cloud-based collaboration interface, allowing you to clearly redline different sections, comment and respond in real-time, and ensure no one can ‘sneak in’ a provision. 
  • Sign securely with eSignatures.
  • Use AI to optimize the search and analysis of your contracts.

3. Create a single source of truth

When information is dispersed across multiple platforms, apps, and physical locations, legal teams lose track of important documents, forget to complete key tasks, and waste time hunting down information. 

Funnel all information into a single source of truth to empower your team for peak performance. With corporate legal software collecting all matters, cases, documents, and tasks, you can ensure nothing falls through the cracks and increase the accuracy of data collection.

4. Become the approachable department

Superior service requires more than just high performance. It also needs an open and collaborative culture, which encourages your business partners to come to you early and often. 

Watch what language you use with your internal clients. Speak in business terms rather than legal terms where possible, recast legalese into plain language, and speak about positive possibilities in addition to cautioning against risk. 

To create structural support for collaboration, use matter management software to give your internal clients a quick and easy way to reach you. Shared cloud-based software can allow business members to check in on the progress of specific matters, ask questions, and assign tasks. It also supports secure and accessible collaboration with external legal teams, to help you manage legal spend and ensure better outcomes. 

These technologies help break down rigid silos and create more fluid structures that are better at addressing the complex problems facing companies today.

Top-performing legal teams also maintain strong positive relationships internally. Team well-being emerged as a major focus during the pandemic, with 89% of respondents to the DLA Piper survey pointing to these relationships as a crucial factor in their continuing success. Enhancing work-life balance, a sense of autonomy, and a commitment to the greater good will improve staff retention and internal motivation—especially among younger workers.

5. Do more with your data

When you centralize your data, you can then analyze it for crucial information. This enables data-driven decisions about legal and regulatory issues. Your data holds valuable insights that can predict costs, flag exposure risks, and track compliance issues.

Your data can also enhance workflow management. By tracking how much time and resources go into different activities, you can optimize your placement of legal staff, understand when to hire new employees, and diagnose bottlenecks that slow down your cycle time.

Finally, your data is your best ally in demonstrating your worth to your internal clients. It enables you to create a record of the full extent of the work you have accomplished, along with estimates of the costs saved through your labor.

6. Upgrade your skills

As you continue to prove your value, it’s more likely that your internal clients will offer more opportunities for career progression for members of your team. This way you can become better equipped to face increasingly complicated legal issues, reduce reliance on more expensive outside counsel, and provide an even greater value to the company.