Workload and internal company integrationas two major challenges for legal departments

Author: Stephanie Simon-Sommer, Attorney at law

Anyone who manages a legal department faces numerous challenges. But where there are challenges, there are also opportunities for innovative solutions. Young legal departments in particular have enormous potential to implement processes and solutions to make work in the legal department more efficient, reduce the workload for the team and at the same time not overburden the budget.

This article is the first in a series of articles that deal with the topic of ‘Management of the legal department’ and can provide valuable tips and food for thought for your own legal department. Our author, Stephanie Simon-Sommer, worked as an in-house lawyer and senior legal manager and shares her experiences as a department head here. In this first part, she looks at solutions to two of the typical challenges faced by legal departments:

  • Integration into projects and processes
  • Workload

Legal departments are under considerable pressure. Unfortunately, it still happens that the legal department is only perceived as a comparatively expensive cost centre within the company and also as a ‘show stopper’. This can make the path to the value-adding part of the operational business as an internal ‘enabler’ difficult. There is no question that the journey is worthwhile, but there is not much talk about how to walk this sometimes rocky path. We would like to shed some light on the darkness.

Challenge 1:Integration into projects and processes
(or: Not just extinguishing fires, but preventing them)

Firstly, the question arises as to the status quo: is the legal department actively involved in decision-making and innovation processes or must legal risks be managed reactively? Proactive involvement of the legal department in internal company projects and processes is essential if the legal department is to operate successfully in the long term. This is the only way to prevent smaller and larger ‘fires’ before they start. Otherwise a fine or an injunction will quickly and suddenly flutter into the house, against which the legal department can then only do damage limitation. It is therefore crucial to convince the management accordingly and to obtain a ‘tone from the top’, according to which the legal department should be involved as early as possible.

Challenge 2:Workload

The workload in the legal departments is increasing, not only if the management (has) positioned itself accordingly, but also due to the growing regulatory requirements. Clever management is required to cope with the never-ending workload (or woman – after all, the majority of in-house lawyers are female, as the German Federal Bar Association recently announced in a press release).

The following points of contact can make things easier for the legal department:

Analysing the internal processes of the legal department provides a starting point for reducing the workload.

Optimise the legal intake process

For example, the introduction of an organised legal intake process avoids time-consuming queries to the specialist departments and forgetting enquiries that are made between door and door. (Who hasn’t heard the famous ‘Oh, where we’re meeting’ while getting coffee when your thoughts were actually on another case?)

It doesn’t have to be a sophisticated ticketing system, which takes time to implement and is certainly a more sensible solution in the long term. Initially, a form is also used, which is filled out and sent to a centrally managed collective mailbox and from which the enquiries can be documented and assigned to a person in charge. Processes can be tracked using an Excel spreadsheet, which not only shows the status quo with a few filters, conditional formatting and formulae, but can also be a valuable reporting tool. In the long term, however, it is worth introducing a legal-intake ticketing system, as this requires even less manual work.

Simplify the creation of legally compliant documents

It can be helpful to check your own sample contracts for their practicability for the company. A surprisingly large number of the sample contracts are suitable for being created by the respective specialist department itself with the help of IT-supported solutions. For example, document generators can be used that contain legally compliant templates created by the legal department and reduce the need to involve the legal department with the help of a coordinated catalogue of questions and the resulting automated selection of precisely fitting alternative clauses.

Make knowledge widely available with training courses etc.

The same questions on the same topics are often asked over and over again. Internal training courses for the specialist departments on these recurring topics or the creation of an FAQ and download area with corresponding samples and how-to guides on the company intranet can be a starting point here. E-learning programmes in particular allow this to be implemented in line with requirements and with little effort.

Support through legal outsourcing

Finally, legal outsourcing can provide a remedy if the workload is permanently too high or the order situation is particularly labour-intensive. When legal departments focus on their strategic work, day-to-day operations – in particular contract and NDA reviews, warranty cases and the preparation of legal opinions on individual issues, e.g. in competition or labour law – tie up capacities that cannot be used for strategic work. “Outsource the work that keeps you from working” is the motto here.

Read more about the opportunities of legal outsourcing and other solutions to the challenges faced by legal departments in part 2 of the series. It will focus on how external service providers can support legal departments cost-effectively and how companies can optimally benefit from this. Our author Stephanie Simon-Sommer is looking forward to sharing more of her practical experiences with you.


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