Alex Kelly is COO and co-founder of Brightflag, an AI-powered legal operations platform. Views are the author’s own.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, cost control and efficiency became a significant focus, in addition to dealing with the challenges of remote work. One survey revealed that 66% of chief legal officers reported a fall in revenue during the first year of the pandemic, and 77% saw an increase in workload.
The need to do more with less compelled increased innovations within legal departments. Nearly three-quarters of legal operations professionals report that their organization accelerated adoption of automation in 2021 in response to the pandemic. Many plan to further broaden use in 2022 to maximize internal efficiency and identify cost-saving opportunities across the entire business.
What started as compulsory technology adoption has turned into long-term investments. Legal departments experienced the value of legal ops during the pandemic, and even as the pandemic pressures fade, the use of legal ops will continue well into the future.
Focus on strategic work
With the increased need for law departments to demonstrate value following the pandemic, artificial intelligence (AI) allows departments to automate repetitive tasks like contract management and electronic discovery, freeing lawyers to focus on providing strategic work. In the 2022 Bloomberg Law Legal Operations and Technology Survey, nine out of 10 attorneys said legal ops improved their service to clients and enabled them to meet client demands better.
More than a third of lawyers report using legal ops to gather data for matter and department budgets; 29% use data to select outside counsel. The benefits of analyzing this information include identifying which work can be accomplished by alternative service providers or in-house resources, saving money over using premium law firms for every outside counsel need. The knowledge creates a data-driven relationship and strategy to designate who is most appropriate for which piece of work.
This first wave of legal ops adoption has been impactful. Experiencing the benefits of automation has inspired legal departments to invest more in technology. More legal ops roles are being advertised and filled: According to CLOC's most recent State of the Industry Survey, 40% of respondents increased the number of legal ops employees compared to the previous year. These professionals are catalysts for change because they are responsible for selecting, implementing and driving the adoption of technology solutions.
Providing company-wide value
Over the course of the pandemic, legal departments sharpened their focus on being a strategic partner to the entire business. For the first time, value added to the corporation ranked as high as the number two key performance indicator in the 14th Annual Law Department Operations Survey.
Legal ops technology brings more holistic visibility into work done for clients, as well as the workflow and efficiency of the process. The knowledge enables legal departments to make better decisions about resource allocation from a budget and personnel perspective. Through legal technology, lawyers also gather data to track trends, allowing law departments to provide proactive advice to the business on how to reduce spending.
In the case of Cresco Labs, legal ops technology established clear and comprehensive financial visibility for the legal department and allowed it to deliver a new depth of insight to other departments. The knowledge granted them the ability to make meaningful contributions to budget discussions.
The added visibility makes it easier for general counsel to create a specific solution to fulfill client and business demands in the most strategic and cost-effective way. This enables the legal department to deliver efficient services to the business, making it a proactive partner rather than a productivity bottleneck.
The COVID-19 pandemic fundamentally changed how legal departments operate, leading to increased technology adoption. Based on the impact it's already had and its potential, adoption is likely to increase, leading to better efficiency, cost-effectiveness and value for the entire business.