- Nearly three out of four enterprise employees (73%) across several major countries, including the U.S., do not see legal departments as good business partners, according to a report from enterprise workflow solution provider Onit.
- Instead, in-house legal departments are more commonly viewed as authority figures and protectors of the business, with 22% of respondents considering legal the “No Police.”
- Meanwhile, corporate legal teams tend to view their engagement with other business units far more favorably than their colleagues, with 91% reporting exemplary interactions with internal clients, according to the Onit report based on research conducted by Provoke Insights.
Many in-house legal departments have made efforts in recent years to become more business friendly, but the results from Onit’s Enterprise Legal Reputation Report indicate they still have a long way to go.
U.S. respondents were the most likely to report they consider legal a good business partner, though just 39% expressed that view. Only 16% in France voiced a similar sentiment, according to a survey conducted in early 2022 with 4,000 white-collar enterprise employees across the U.S., France, Germany and the U.K.
The two primary reasons cited for legal’s poor reputation are its inefficiency and its inflexibility. Nearly six in 10 pointed to inefficiency as a problem (59%), and nearly half mentioned inflexibility (49%).
The report identifies slow response times as another negative. For example, 10% of enterprise employees surveyed in the U.S. and Germany reported “a lag time of weeks or longer before their inquiries were acknowledged, let alone addressed.” In France, two in 10 reported a similar problem.
“Understaffed teams and volume of work is an omnipresent fact of legal life, but [legal teams’] ability to respond, engage and support is exacerbated by the work-from-home (WFH) trend caused by the COVID-19 pandemic,” the report said.
A key area where legal’s lack of speed comes into play is deal cycles. One in five respondents in the U.S. and U.K. voiced concerns that legal departments lengthen the time to close and win deals. Overall, roughly four of five (78%) enterprise employees regard legal as protectors of the business.
As a result of the issues they have with legal departments, 65% of enterprise employees say they sometimes intentionally bypass their legal departments and processes. They do so “even though they know they are breaking company policy,” according to the report.
“The ELR Report reveals a glaring reality check on the full spectrum of how Legal is perceived by their enterprise organizations,” Onit CEO Eric Elfman said in a statement. “The findings [raise] obvious questions — how aware are corporate legal departments of their brand image, what is the material effect and how strong is their impetus to change?”
According to the report, 73% of the 500 corporate legal professionals interviewed said they viewed their internal client relationships positively.
In-house legal professionals report having the best relationships with finance (84%) and HR (79%). Professionals in these departments tended to view their overall relationships with legal better than other business units as well.
The departments that view their interactions with legal less favorably include sales, procurement and marketing.
“HR, Compliance and Finance are all by the book,” the report said. “By contrast, sales and marketing departments are far more likely to color beyond the proverbial lines. After all, it is their responsibility to grow the business, hit numbers and play aggressively in the marketplace. This behavior can result in creative techniques that may be obstructed by what is perceived as the barricade of Legal.”