The State of Law Department Operations, According to the Professionals Who Run Them

Running the legal department like a business is the norm now. One of the most interesting surveys exploring this concept is the Blickstein Group’s Annual Law Department Operations Survey. Its 14th annual edition showcases the evolution of law department operations and shares insights from the operations professionals themselves as they rank their challenges, effectiveness and technologies.

Not surprisingly, one of the most significant themes is doing more with less. Lean legal continues to be a top priority in many corporate legal departments, as they work to drive efficiencies and control costs.

Let’s explore some of the most intriguing takeaways.

Top Law Department Operations Challenges

Law department operations professionals identified their three top challenges, which include business process improvements (59.7%), cost containment and savings/managing the budget (49.3%) and staying abreast of law department technology/managing and handling IT issues (35.8%).

Considering how LDOs spend their time, business process improvements – powered by automation – can play a crucial role in improving what they can accomplish. According to the report, the average survey participant devotes more than a quarter of their time to three areas:

  1. Cost savings, cost efficiency, cost management
  2. Outside counsel management
  3. Vendor management

(FYI: You can read about how ADM conquered vendor management challenges with their App. It  addressed three problems hindering efficiency: standardizing vendor approval,  automating engagement letter creation and execution, and streamlining the RFP process.)

For outside counsel management, most of the participants said they directly handle tracking legal spend, managing billing/audits and negotiating discounts and alternative billing arrangements. These directly link to what respondents said was their top key performance indicator: Actual spend vs. the law department’s total budget.

What Law Departments Are Most Effective At, According to LDOs

While there are always challenges, LDOs indicated that law departments are doing well on the operations front. When asked to rate their law department’s effectiveness, several areas took the lead. Eighty percent said their overall law department operations were “very effective” or “somewhat effective.” Sixty-five percent said the same for financial management and business client engagement and strategic partnering, and more than 60% responded likewise for legal technology.

On the flip side, 60.8% said they were either very ineffective or somewhat ineffective at document management, 48% said the same for alternative fee arrangements and 41.5% agreed that they lacked effectiveness around contract management.

Legal Technology Purchases for 2022

What impact did the pandemic have on digital transformation? According to the LDOs who answered the survey, it accelerated it. Twenty-six percent said it sped up digital transformation substantially, and another 46% agreed that it sped it up marginally.

With that in mind, what legal technologies are LDOs interested in evaluating or implementing this year?


34.5% Pre-execution contract management
34.5% Post-execution contract management
32.8% Document/contract assembly
29.8% Workflow/business process automation tools
29.8% Legal service intake/work intake
29.3% Matter management
28.1% Legal spend management

Legal operations are all about optimizing the law department’s ability to help grow the company. This requires a higher level of operational excellence, as evidenced by the embracing and reliance on innovation, increasing demand for automation of repetitive tasks and a workflow-centric approach. For legal departments still in their early stage of tech implementation, Onit’s Senior VP of Strategy and Growth, Brad Rogers, wrote a great article (in the survey) that offers valuable tips on creating digital transformation. Included are his “top five ideas” for companies pursuing such change.

You can read all the LDO survey results here.

Other resources that might interest you include:


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