Daniel Bonner is director of client services at Level Legal, a concierge forensics, eDiscovery, managed review and consulting company. Views are the author’s own.
Data experts note that the analytics market is growing at a compound rate of nearly 30%, in part due to an increase in the use of data analytics, unstructured data types and various new technologies. Worse, 81% of business leaders report that data is valuable to their organization, most IT professionals state that more than half of their data is actually “dark data,” or data that is unknown and untapped. While the amount of information an organization handles is unprecedented, many departments remain siloed.
That’s a problem. Silos in any organization prevent collaboration and the flow of information and resources. When one department doesn't collaborate effectively, it can lead to challenges.
The legal department is often Exhibit A of isolation. Too often, Legal is siloed from the rest of the organization and left in the dark about day-to-day strategy, decision-making, objectives and risk-management.
The result is not just poor communication between legal and other departments. Other notable risks:
- Operational blind spots. Since attorneys are trained to “problem spot,” they have a knack for seeing what others don’t.
- Elevated legal risk and the potential for compliance missteps.
- Increased costs. Departments might not know a particular tool or skill exists within their organization, leading to missed opportunities for leveraging talent and cutting costs.
- Internal friction. If attorneys are unaware that IT or HR doesn’t have the bandwidth to provide data on demand, all departments may end up frustrated.
Enter the Silos
Legal remains siloed in many organizations for a couple of reasons. First, the candidate pool for in-house lawyers generally includes younger professionals with law firm experience. These attorneys might be accustomed to addressing specific issues or cases directly. As they transition in-house, there is a possibility that this approach sometimes lead them to focus more on addressing immediate challenges rather than fully integrating into the daily activities of the business.
Second, many non-lawyers see Legal only as a cost center, responsible for solving issues as they arise. This reactionary view is problematic for Legal departments and the rest of the organization, considering every decision a business makes has legal ramifications.
What to Do?
Despite the data silo problem, four strategies promise a path to reconciliation.
Legal operations isn’t necessarily a department or team, but rather a multidisciplinary approach to support the legal function of your organization. A legal ops approach can help break down silos, avoid risk and help integrate Legal with IT, business development, finance and other departments. The result is an increase in efficiency, innovation and collaboration in an organization.
A well-oiled legal ops program includes several components, according to Gartner:
- Strategy. Align the Legal department with business objectives by developing and tracking key metrics, being flexible when new opportunities arise and developing strategic plans with specific steps to reach your target.
- Talent. Establish a strategy for engaging lawyers and retaining top talent.
- Process and workload. Increase workload transparency and deploy legal technology so your department has the bandwidth and tools necessary to complete projects and meet objectives.
- Contracts. Evaluate existing skills and know when to hire a vendor to keep costs down and maximize in-house resources.
Legal ops is not a luxury reserved for only big organizations: 60% of legal departments have a legal ops professional, according to a 2022 ACC survey.
Structuring Legal as a proactive department is essential to fostering collaboration.
One way to do this is to organize your department around legal governance, risk management and compliance (GRC). Focusing on legal GRC helps organizations function holistically, helping them complete business objectives while minimizing risk and ensuring compliance with ethical and statutory obligations. In fact, Gartner predicts that firms will increase their GRC tools by as much as 50% by 2026.
The knowledge gleaned from investigations and litigation matters is a treasure trove of information, and Legal is usually the group that routinely reviews reams of company documentation. Even when the information encountered in review is not relevant to a current investigation, it might reveal other issues that need addressing.
If your organization doesn’t have a workflow or process set up to facilitate the transfer of this information to organizational stakeholders, it’s missing the opportunity to address these issues proactively.
An agile legal department is essential to keeping up with rapidly evolving technology and digital data. In fact, a recent study found nearly 97% of business respondents said they wanted legal department success metrics to be aligned with business goals.
But companies won’t get there using archaic methods. The tools exist, but department stakeholders must be willing to embrace technology to create longstanding value within their organization.
Where to begin
Here are five quick tips to help you break down silos within your organization:
- Meet with all stakeholders to outline potential matter types, scope and data sources that may be implicated, and common time constraints.
- Connect with IT / infosec on collection policies, capabilities, resource bandwidth and expected throughput on data collection and transfer.
- Ensure pre-approved resources and tools – whether in-house or external – are staged for rapid engagement when a matter hits.
- Collaborate with other stakeholders on matter strategy to fully consider overlapping interests.
- Close out each matter with a deep dive into lessons learned with key stakeholders.
Data-focused collaboration across departments brings many benefits, including strengthening teams, discovering innovative solutions and increasing employee satisfaction. Why not let the change begin with Legal?