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The Friday Five

Under Pressure: Five Insights on the Evolving In-House Counsel Role

By Mary Juetten

It’s difficult to attend any legal conference these days without hearing about technology and change, but it’s refreshing to discuss these topics with people who actually do the work. Recently, I moderated a panel for an ARK (Applied Research & Knowledge) conference, “The New Spectrum of Legal Services,” in Chicago. Our focus was the evolving role and pressures on legal operations and in-house counsel. Panelists covered technology adoption, partnerships with law firms and information technology departments, plus their future strategic priorities.

Biggest Pressures on Legal Departments

So, what are the biggest pressures faced by in-house legal departments? Here are five key issues the panelists identified.

1. More with less. Three of every four dollars spent on legal services is corporate money per industry data cited by presenters. And the global business mantra of cutting budgets while demanding more has hit in-house departments across all industries. Technology is often viewed as the solution. However, a culture that embraces change, including in its processes, is required to make headway with efficiency.

2. Cybersecurity risks. These days it’s not if your company will be breached, but when. Of course, a breach can be defined differently by each company but the need for a plan and mitigation strategy is critical — and growing with the “‘internet of things” explosion.

3. The overwhelming amount of data. This refers to more than just data for e-discovery or legal holds. Overall data and knowledge management has become a pain point for most companies due to sheer volume. If official systems are not implemented, there can be rogue systems or shadow IT that contribute to inefficiency and, in some cases, chaos.

4. Technology implementation. These massive undertakings require cross-department coordination plus project and change management skills. In response, more companies are creating legal operations functions and hiring non-lawyers who are skilled in procurement and systems implementation. 

5. Role as business advisor. The general counsel is part of the management team, responsible for strategic initiatives as well as key metrics. The complexity of the role has expanded with technology advances and cybersecurity threats, but increased measuring, monitoring and reporting has put new pressure on GCs — even in private companies.

For law firms, these challenges present tremendous opportunities to partner with clients to solve problems together using technology and other new approaches — even when that may mean less revenue. For example, one panelist described how their employment law firm created a self-help portal for the company’s employees, which ultimately reduced the spend with that firm but locked them in as the company’s only employment firm.

How Law Firms Can Step Up

A follow-up panel focused on client-driven change, and how law firms can rise to the challenge. Panelists shared tips for developing stronger relationships with clients. Some key pointers:

  • Create a robust cybersecurity program at your firm — it can be a competitive advantage.
  • Conduct regular client surveys or business reviews and act on the results.
  • Ensure that your team has strong project management skills, not just enabling technology. (See No. 4.)
  • Consider developing a program or separate business venture that helps clients with technology solutions, like Bryan Cave’s BCXponent, Dentons’ Nextlaw Labs or Davis Wright Tremaine’s DeNovo.
  • For inspiration, look outside the law and consider technology products implemented in other professions.

Today, it’s about building relationships and creating partnerships rather than tossing an RFP response over a wall and hoping for the best. Challenge your law firm to bring more creative solutions to the table.


Illustration ©

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Categories: Business Development, Friday Five, Innovation, Law Firm Strategy
Originally published June 16, 2017
Last updated August 23, 2022
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Mary Juetten Mary Juetten

Mary Juetten is founder and CEO of Traklight and has dedicated her more-than-30-year career to helping businesses achieve and protect their success. Mary is also a practicing attorney, licensed in Washington state, and Of Counsel with Nimbus Legal.  In 2015, Mary co-founded Evolve Law, which she sold to Above the Law in 2018.  She was named to the ABA’s Legal Technology Resource Center 2016 Women in Legal Tech list and the Fastcase 50 Class of 2016. She is a LegalShield advocate and served on the Group Legal Services Association Board. Follow her @maryjuetten and find her books, “The Business of Legal: The Data-Driven Law Practice” and ”Small Law KPIs: How to Measure Your Way to Greater Profits,” on Amazon.

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