What’s coming next for in-house counsel?

As many countries around the world start to share details of their “exit strategy” from the Covid-19 lockdown, Obelisk asked legal leaders in our network how they have found working during the past weeks and how they will tackle the challenges ahead.

Working remotely, at capacity

The vast majority of the teams represented in our survey were remote-ready (95%) and made the switch to working away from the office with little operational difficulty.  Unsurprisingly, most also felt they were at full capacity or over-capacity right now. Whether it’s handling contractual issues to resolve supply-chain issues, providing employment advice or supporting business colleagues as they attempt to pivot and attack new opportunities, legal teams have a lot on their plate.  Put this together with widespread hiring freezes and budget cuts, and it’s no wonder that teams are beginning to look ahead to new strategies to help them succeed in the “new normal”. Three main themes emerge:

  • A new focus on agility and team resilience,
  • Extra effort to get more benefit from technology and automation, and
  • The perennial need to demonstrate how the legal team deliver value back to the business.

Using flexible legal services to build agility

One ingredient of agility is having the freedom to flex resources up and down, depending on the volume of work the team is having to manage. Delivered outside a traditional law firm, usually by lawyers who no longer want to work full-time or traditional hours, flexible legal services can cover routine and repeatable legal work, such as contract review, contract negotiations, advice on compliance or privacy issues and support with transactions. Work is scoped and agreed based on the outcomes delivered and delivered by workers operating remotely.

Specialist one-off projects, such as document review, remediation and re-papering exercises – all work that is still going to need to be delivered even after lockdown lifts, also can be best resourced by flexible legal services.

Delivering demonstrable benefits to the business

Compared to using a law firm to do the same work, our clients typically save between 40% and 70% – making the use of flexible services an important tool to optimise legal budgets right now.

Benefits extend beyond pure cost-reduction. Using flexible legal services means that costs can be fixed and predictable, and reduce the need for headcount budget. This means spending is more agile and can easily be adjusted to suit fluctuations in workload. Ocado, the online grocer, has been working in this way with Obelisk since 2018.

“The point is for us to anticipate and deliver on what the wider business needs, in the most efficient way possible”, Jonathan Wiseman, Deputy General Counsel at Ocado told us, “This means we look carefully at the skills and expertise we need to deliver the work required and plan ahead to make sure we have the optimal resources in place.”

Flexible legal services are typically delivered by remote-based workers, meaning that overheads are reduced as there is no need to provide office accommodation or equipment.

Using legal talent flexibly also gives better visibility of exactly what work is being carried out, which areas of the company are benefiting and transparency over costs, putting legal leaders in a better position to manage their team’s overall efficiency and to explain to the business how the legal team are adding value.

“Why would you pay for more than you need right now?” asks Dana Denis-Smith, CEO of Obelisk Support. “A new normal requires a new way of thinking. If the Covid-19 crisis has shown us one thing, it is that in-house legal teams are resilient and adaptable. Now is the time to continue to be brave and embrace new ways of getting work done.”

Building a stronger in-house team for the future

Using flexible legal services to extend a team’s capacity as and when needed means that retained full-time employees can focus on work that is more strategic and more complex, and needs their in-depth knowledge of the business. This allows them to be challenged and to build their expertise, without getting burnt-out by too many demands on their time from routine but time-sensitive transactional work. It also creates space to innovate, to anticipate new threats and to identify opportunities, all essential activities for a legal team navigating the challenges that business will face as lockdown loosens and companies operate in the “new normal”.

A number of those responding to our survey told us that they feel stronger and closer as a team after going through the lockdown experience together.  This new-found strength, combined with a clear appetite for doing things differently, could yet help the in-house legal community succeed in the months ahead.

For more inspiration on future-proofing your team, read our latest report here.

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