17 September 2021

Insights on Legal Department Enterprise Modernization


Jeff Cox discusses the highlights from Deloitte's white paper "Taking legal department modernization to the next level"

Transformation in the legal industry has and continues to be driven by client demand for more innovation, greater efficiency, increased diversity, and better use of technology to improve legal services delivery

At the forefront of legal innovation and transforming the business of law since its inception in 2016, the Corporate Legal Operations Consortium (CLOC) recently announced an expansion to its membership base beyond in-house legal professionals to any professionals serving in the legal industry, including law firms, legal services providers and vendors, and students.

“This expansion has been a long time coming,” said Mary O’Carroll, CLOC President and Director of Legal Operations at Google, who also said that CLOC is “ready to turn up the volume” and scale up its role in sharing information and solving problems within the legal ecosystem as a community. 

Soon after the announcement of expanded opportunities for providers and vendors to become members and play a role in building solutions to make progress in the legal industry, CLOC shared a new white paper published by Deloitte with a focus on the role data plays in legal department enterprise modernization. 

In this blog, we’ll cover the highlights from Deloitte’s white paper, including their legal operations maturity curve, the barriers to modernization of legal departments they’ve identified, and why data should be the foundation of substantive modernization initiatives.

Download Deloitte’s white paper: Taking legal department modernization to the next level | Legal operations holds the key

Enterprise Modernization for Legal Departments

To get an in-depth look at how legal department modernization is or is not taking place inside in-house teams, Deloitte interviewed legal executives involved in managing legal operations across a range of industries.

Out of those conversations, Deloitte distilled the insights it gained from executives to build a “legal operations maturity curve” with five overarching phases: (1) Ad Hoc, (2) Initial, (3) Defined, (4) Performing, (5) Transformative. Between one phase to the next, from Ad Hoc to Transformative, there are progressive improvements and significant changes in organizational structure and the role that legal operations plays.

At the beginning of the spectrum, Ad Hoc legal operations have:

  • Lack of appropriate attorney-to-staff ratio
  • Limited sourcing
  • Manual processes
  • Costs poorly tracked and often not understood

On the developed end of the spectrum, Transformative legal operations have:

  • Legal as business leader
  • Higher-level resources focusing on higher-level activities
  • Formal vendor management of outside legal service providers
  • Utilizing a transformative sourcing approach
  • Integrated automation technologies and advanced analytics to proactively address business strategies
  • Pursuing cost synergies and pooled resources with other business area(s)

As quoted in Deloitte’s white paper, Mary O’Carroll notes that “by focusing on people, processes, and technology to measure maturity, legal executives can gain needed to make important decisions about legal department modernization.” 

Transformative legal ops that have reached a full level of maturity are distinguishable in Deloitte’s curve by their sustained and intentional progression toward having the right in-house teams in place, optimized workflows and robust outside legal services management, and technology that fits their business needs and can position them for the future. But to reach the end of the legal ops maturity curve, legal departments need to first overcome a series of barriers.

Barriers to Legal Department Modernization

Throughout their one-on-one conversations with legal ops executives, Deloitte identified five significant barriers to legal modernization that legal departments must overcome. 

Barrier 1: Consistent, sustained investments in modernization are hard to come by

Barrier 2: Functional silos are pervasive and disruptive

Barrier 3: Metrics are often missing or inadequate

Barrier 4: Confusion reigns around knowledge management

Barrier 5: Change management is often overlooked

To help understand the importance of these barriers and how legal ops can navigate them and leverage these challenges as opportunities for growth and innovation, Deloitte included another apt quote from Mary O’Carroll: “By understanding not only the activities being performed by legal professionals, but also key performance indicators associated with those activities, leadership can more effectively prioritize the functional areas needing modernization.” 

Of the barriers that Deloitte outlined, one of the most critical to tackle head on is the functional silos common in most legal departments. When silos remain pervasive and efforts to integrate technologies and processes from one area to the next are not made, it becomes exceedingly difficult to gain the data intelligence needed for modernization

Without having an integrative approach in place, how can legal ops develop meaningful KPIs to prioritize areas for improvement, how can they share tangible and actionable insights from one siloed department to another, and how can they more forcefully advocate for the funding and support needed to introduce change?

These issues are even more pronounced for legal departments managing large volumes of litigation, and especially for sizable companies in the financial services and insurance industry. If legal ops don’t have accurate, real-time reporting capabilities to give on the spot litigation snapshots of the matters they’re facing and the litigation impacting their peers and specific markets, how can they provide their General Counsel and senior business leadership with the information necessary to avoid and adequately respond to legal risk?

Underlying many of the perennial problems legal departments face when it comes to moving past siloed operations are the manual, menial tasks inherent in legal work that could be, but are not being automated. As Deloitte points out, “[i]f lawyers don’t accept that certain repetitive, manual activities—often performed anew with each subsequent case—can potentially be automated so they can focus on higher-value activities, how can real progress toward legal modernization ever be accomplished?”

If legal professionals don’t welcome automation as necessity for repetitive basics and move away from low-level tasks like manual litigation tracking and data entry for case updates, they will continue to be buried in busy work and miss out on the opportunity to handle higher-value items that can bring forward progress on modernizing their legal department operations

In terms of automating basic tasks involved with litigation, the use of Legal Data APIs to connect data to dashboards, data lakes, and matter management systems is one of the most basic steps forward legal operations teams can take to move toward the modernization of their legal departments. Why choose a legal professional, or even a team of legal professionals, gathering and inputting data over using APIs to do the same tasks, when the efficacy, accuracy, and timeliness of APIs are unparalleled?

The future of managing litigation and legal risk is about getting back to the basics with the right people, processes, and technology, and balancing them together to overcome barriers hindering modernization. 

Data as the Foundation

In wrapping up its whitepaper, Deloitte ends with the conclusion that, “data is the foundation for everything legal modernization hopes to address, including process improvement, technology enablement, automation, service delivery, vendor management, and operating model refinement.”

As we’ve argued before, legal data is the oil driving forward change and innovation for legal professionals. It’s a foundational component of any real attempt at modernization for legal ops, and “by gathering, centralizing, and analyzing clean, accurate, and timely data about legal operations, decisionmakers can build a clear picture about where modernization efforts will be most impactful.” 

With UniCourt’s Legal Data as a Service, we provide legal ops teams with real-time API access to the legal data they need for tracking new litigation, gathering litigation intelligence, benchmarking against competitors, creating legal analytics, and streamlining matter management. 

Featured APIs for Legal Ops:

  • Court Data API
  • Attorney Data API
  • Law Firm Data API
  • Party Data API
  • Judge Data API

Looking back at Deloitte’s maturity curve, we can see that leveraging APIs for data aggregation and management checks off many of the boxes needed to reach the level of Transformative legal ops.

Using APIs removes the need for legal professionals to focus on low-level case research for regular updates, it allows for better oversight into outside counsel’s case management, it automates data collection and can significantly reduce headcount for manual data entry tasks, it provides the structured data needed for building advanced analytics, and, most importantly, it positions legal as a proactive and forward-thinking business leader.

To fully take advantage of the transformative benefits APIs can bring to legal department modernization efforts, we must also look back to the barriers Deloitte identified and be clear-eyed about the challenges presenting hurdles for legal ops.

Starting with the last barrier Deloitte outlined, change management cannot be overlooked in the context of integrating APIs and should be addressed at the outset. By accounting for the need for successful change management, legal ops can greatly reduce all of the other barriers that they will face, from needing to educate lawyers on what APIs are, to designing effective new process flows, mapping out new reporting metrics, targeting knowledge management pain points, and ensuring sustained investment all the way from integration to implementation.

Contact Unicourt to learn more about how you can get started with our Legal Data APIs to modernize your legal department and position your team for the future.

Copyright © The Impact Lawyers. All rights reserved. This information or any part of it may not be copied or disseminated in any way or by any means or downloaded or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of The Impact Lawyers. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of The Impact Lawyers.

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