Covid-19 remote working has increased the internal standing of in-house legal teams, survey finds

Output also becoming the basis for evaluation rather than hours worked

Hartley: "The in-house team now has more options to work differently" Image courtesy of Lawyers on Demand

Changes in working practices brought about by the pandemic are leading to greater mutual trust between organisations and their legal teams, according to a new report by flexible lawyering business Lawyers on Demand (LOD).

The report was based on the views of more than 180 in-house leaders, lawyers and compliance professionals, with just over a third of the in-house leaders (36%) saying that they feel more trusted by their organisations than before the pandemic.

The vast majority of all those surveyed (96%) also said that remote work had continued this year, while 35% reported that ‘getting business to self-serve some legal work’ had carried over into 2021. According to the report this indicates greater trust between in-house leaders and their legal teams and between legal teams and their organisation than before.

"Lawyers, contract managers and paralegals have shown how as individuals and teams they can thrive in a distributed model," said Tom Hartley, CEO of LOD. "The in-house team now has more options to work differently, and this multi-layered increase in trust is enabling progressive in-house teams to boost their productivity and add more value to their organisation."

The report indicates that individuals in many legal teams have greater freedom than before in terms of how they manage their day-to-day responsibilities and that output is becoming the basis for evaluation rather than hours worked.

"In-house team performance is increasingly being measured by the volume of business-critical projects completed, such as complex commercial contracts signed favourably for the organisation," commented Hartley.

A UK group general counsel said in the report that it’s more important than ever to demonstrate value as “there is always somewhere cheaper than where you are to which legal work can be outsourced. So value can't be about cost but must be about quality and making a difference.”

Legal teams are looking to tech to support these new working practices, with 30% of those surveyed saying that greater reliance on legal tech tools has continued this year. And that looks set to remain the case, with the report saying that the disruptive force of COVID has propelled many legal teams past internal change resistance: ‘We’re still yet to see whether the more complete recovery from the pandemic will result in some form of a “snap-back”, but it seems increasingly clear that many of the changes are here to stay in the long term.’

It looks as though legal teams will need all the support they can get, with one head of legal saying their priority for the year was to manage their team’s responsibilities as the “rising tide of work shows no sign of slowing.” A head of legal ops for an IT business in Europe cited staff engagement and retention, while an in-house counsel for a travel company said: “Getting things done. It’s as simple and as hard as that.”

The report, Trust: an antidote to uncertainty, surveyed the sustainability of pandemic-induced changes to working practices and was based on the views of 89 in-house legal leaders and 94 LOD lawyers and compliance professionals. Respondents came from a range of sectors, including financial services, IT, energy and construction and were mostly from the UK, Asia and Australia.

While the pandemic has brought positive changes for some legal teams, it has also brought serious challenges. A July report found that a majority of senior in-house counsel and antitrust law firm attorneys say competition investigations have become increasingly challenging since the onset of the pandemic and the shift to remote working. And a report by the Association of Corporate Counsel Foundation a month earlier found that lawyers from underrepresented communities have seen their career progression harder hit by the coronavirus pandemic than their peers from other groups.

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