Legal Ops COVID-19 Blog Post Header
Legal Ops COVID-19 Blog Post Header

5 Ways COVID-19 has Changed the Future of Legal Operations

Steven O'Donnell |

It’s already happened: The profound impacts that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on nearly every walk of life have already affected Legal Operations and its role in the future of business.

Are these impacts on Legal Ops here to stay? On a case-by-case basis, that largely depends on how prepared individual departments were for sustaining operational continuity during a time when business-as-usual was being thrown into tumult on all sides.  Did they have the right people, processes, and tools in place to build lasting capabilities for managing the sudden changes being forced on them and their companies?

If there was ever a moment when agility, flexibility, and collaboration were vital, this is that moment. They’re even more important when one considers the fact that the world of business has changed, perhaps inalterably, for in-house legal departments and the companies they serve, thanks to how coronavirus has re-arranged the corporate landscape. The “new normal” was almost unimaginable just a few months ago, and it’s by no means a permanent condition: That landscape will keep changing, perhaps in ways we can’t guess at right now.

So innovation and agility are paramount. Those are what Legal Ops professionals have specialized in, and it’s why they’ll be so valuable to their enterprises in the months and years ahead.

Five ways the future has already changed

The mobile workforce is now in force

The genie is out of the bottle when it comes to remote workforce implementation for corporate legal departments, and now that an enormous effort has taken place to allow staff to work from home or other shelter-in-place locales, it’s going to be hard to go backward – or not make this a permanent option for many employees going forward.

This means that tools that drive collaboration – like web conferencing, collaboration platforms like Slack, or workflow automation and enterprise legal management solutions with baked-in collaboration features – have become key elements of any legal tech stack as in-house legal looks down the road.  They can’t count on being able to work together in the same place.

Paper is dead

We can argue whether or not it was dead prior to COVID-19.  But it certainly is outmoded and obsolete as of today. This means paper invoices from law firms are also defunct; e-Billing provides the most effective structure for a legal spend management program that properly manages outside counsel and other third-party billing.

Along those same lines, paper contract execution is also extinct: An integrated ELM/workflow automation solution can digitize the process of contract requests, approvals, and executions, topping it all off with seamless integration of e-signatures. Simple repetitive contracts like NDAs can be automated for self-service, relieving a huge amount of strain on the legal department.  This also means saying goodbye! to that intimidating and inefficient office institution, physical file storage, and all its related office space lease costs, document location headaches, and paper cuts.

Re-evaluation of in-house versus outside counsel work

As big as the impact of COVID-19 on corporate legal has been, its impact on law firms is even greater. This will probably be the biggest disruption to the flow of legal services that we’ve seen since the 2008 recession. What came out of that was firm consolidation, more firm specialization, and an influx of Alternative Legal Service Providers (ALSPs).

Corporate legal teams will have to review (1) the business continuity plans and execution of the outside firms they’re using today, (2) where they’re sending new matters and whether more of those can be handled either in house or with ALSPs, and (3) what new firms emerge through consolidation and specialization to ultimately optimize their mix of outside counsel. Our colleagues at IntApp have been publishing their own research on this topic, examining the law firm side of the equation.

Change management planning/legal tech roadmaps

Legal Ops will help enterprises transform their continuity planning and execution so they’re prepared for both immediate demands (like COVID-19) and for future disruptions or challenges, including the probable permanent changes to how companies do business after the current crisis has passed. Since the main mission of Legal Ops has been to up the efficiency and agility of a department that was previously bogged down in archaic processes, it’s a prime leadership and innovation resource for the rest of the enterprise in driving Business Continuity Transformation™.

Legal must track the business impact of current/future major events

Legal is already the group that’s tasked with managing employee incidents, claims, and litigation. You can easily see where they need to perform a triage function where they identify analyze that work that stems directly from a disruption like COVID-19, so that they’re able to help the organization better understand the true impact of these events on their business.

This is just a matter of customizing the data collection and analytics features already implemented in best-of-breed Legal Ops solutions, and can be a rich source of insight for enterprise leadership as they plan for the next disruption that may occur.  As the business world has learned the hard way, being caught on the back foot at a time like that can be a disaster for too many companies, employees, and customers alike.

Learn more about how Legals Ops can drive the evolution of business continuity functions in our Virtual Summit, Continuity During Coronavirus.

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