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In-house legal functions aspire to be ‘future-fit’

Our research reveals a step change is underway in how in-house legal functions view their role and purpose. They are preparing for a future that looks very different from their focus and activity today.

To become ‘future-fit’ they are embracing technology and new service delivery models in growing numbers, and are championing an innovation agenda to manage legal workflows more effectively. 

Some in-house legal functions have already made giant leaps forward. They are undertaking a complete reimagining of what it means to manage in-house legal resources so as to foster radical change within their organisations. However, our research finds that most in-house functions are at the beginning of the innovation curve, focusing their attention on strategic planning and capability building. Few have yet implemented transformative innovation across the entire legal function. 

One of our interviewees, a managing director and regional co-general counsel at a global financial services firm, typifies the pragmatic approach being taken by many in-house leaders. They say their guiding principle is incremental improvement: “At the moment our focus is on incremental change. We are chipping away at the areas where we know we can achieve some quick or easy wins.”

In response to shifting expectations from customers, regulators and business colleagues, leaders of in house legal functions across the globe are aligning themselves and their functional teams more closely with corporate goals. 

Eric O’Donnell, Head of Legal Operations at Total, believes now is the right moment for reinvention. “Our aspiration is to reduce pressure on our lawyers by helping them to work smarter and to become better at responding to business need,” he says. “From a legal, technical perspective our lawyers are very good, so we are looking at ways to harness that quality to serve the company’s strategic objectives more effectively.” 

Many different lessons can be drawn from across these 35 interviews with senior leaders of in-house legal functions. The diversity of viewpoints and experiences suggests there is no single roadmap for change that will work for all organisations. We encountered different stages of maturity, diverse priorities, and varying levels of resources available to invest in innovation. 

What unifies these disparate in-house leaders, however, is their desire to put innovation – whether incremental or radical – front and centre in their thinking about the ‘future-fit’ legal function. When taken collectively the experience of these 35 interviewees highlights five important areas where in-house legal functions focus their innovation effort.

Infographic showing five themes:  vision, strategy, and purpose,structures, teams and capabilities, technology and data,  adviser and supplier relationships and piloting new approaches

Themes to future-proof your in-house legal

Building more diverse teams, structures and capabilities

Shifting the purpose and priorities of the in-house legal function also requires a change in the skills and capabilities within the team or in how the team is structured.

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Enabling efficiency through more sophisticated technology and data

As they enhance and diversify the capabilities within their function, in-house leaders look to simplify and rationalise legal processes to drive greater efficiency.

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Working with advisers and suppliers in new ways

The proliferation of legal technologies and of alternative legal service providers – both owned by and operating independently of law firms - offers more choice to in-house leaders than ever before about how they address their legal needs.

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Piloting new approach to achieve high-impact innovation

The in-house leaders we interviewed describe taking bold decisions about the future of their legal function. They are determined to work smarter and achieve significant increases in efficiency and impact, with demonstrable return on investment.

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Tackling the innovation challenge

The 10 essential lessons outlined in this Playbook suggest that the way forward for the in-house legal function is exciting, but also daunting. There are clear opportunities ahead for all legal functions to seize, regardless of their current level of maturity.