The Top 5 Opportunities for Legal to Work Better with Internal Clients

We live in a dynamic age. With the business landscape constantly transforming, legal operations is at a crossroad of material challenges and growth opportunities — from revenue generation and operational efficiency to innovation and corporate culture.

The good news? According to the Enterprise Legal Relationship (ELR) Report, nearly four in five (78%) enterprise respondents view Legal first and foremost as stellar business protectors. But what may come as a shock is that only 19% of employees believe that Legal prioritizes its internal clients. What’s more, only 39% of US employees see Legal as a good business partner — and, spanning the globe, that number plummets to just 24% in Germany and 16% in France.

The Top 5 Opportunities for Legal to Work Better with Internal Clients

There are five ways Legal can initiate, develop, and maintain trusting business partnerships within the enterprise:

  1. Shed the image of the “No” Police

It’s no surprise that Legal is not known to go rogue. Legal must play by the rules; the specific purpose of Legal is to establish and execute clear boundaries. However, the ELR report revealed that three in five respondents believe Legal can complicate matters with red tape, citing Legal as overwhelmingly bureaucratic.

This image of Legal as bottlenecks contributes to fracture: 10% of UK employees deem Legal as uninvolved, one in five claim that Legal is an unwilling business partner, and 19% of enterprise employees worldwide do not even believe that Legal even understands their needs.

But there is always time and room for change. Rather than saying no outright, Legal can act as a more consultative partner and offer alternatives that appease both parties.

  1. Quicker turnaround times

While 3 in 5 reported a matter of days as the average time for Legal teams to respond to requests, the ELR showed that at times inquiries can take weeks to be acknowledged, especially in the United States, Germany, and France — leading a similar 60% of respondents worldwide to perceive Legal as inefficient.

Ever-increasing workloads, chronically understaffed teams, and the constant mantra to “do more with less” can put a strain on both people and processes, hampering the ability to prioritize legal asks in a timely fashion, which in turn can impede the flow of business.

To turn this perception around, legal leaders can examine the current process for legal service requests (LSRs) to identify potential bottlenecks and then implement measures and technology that enable a faster response to inquiries.

  1. Embrace WFH 

While the capability to work remotely proved a blessing for most businesses during the height of COVID-19, 61% believe that Legal has been less responsive since the work-from-home (WFH) trend began. In fact, 38% of enterprise organizations say that Legal was more responsive prior to the pandemic.

With more than half of legal teams continuing to work at home full-time or on a hybrid schedule, this transition has presented novel challenges for collaboration and support – a sentiment magnified in the United Kingdom and France, where 42% of respondents reported a perceived slowdown by Legal.

Legal can set expectations for responsiveness by adding proactive communication around how or why processes may have changed in addition to offering direct solutions for adjusting to new working environments.

  1. Increase visibility

Similarly, while most respondents believe that Legal is visible and transparent regardless of their working location, two in five regard Legal as less so today than the department has been in the past.

Virtual and remote engagement, when compared to face-to-face office connections and real-time visibility, may understandably diminish approachability, which could in turn affect the resolution of legal issues and impact operational efficiency for a multitude of matters.

To increase visibility across the enterprise, legal departments may want to participate in company-wide communications to provide status updates into key initiatives or projects. Frequent and proactive touchpoints go a long way in promoting transparency.

  1. Encourage flexibility

Half of all global enterprise employees — 49%, and as high as 58% in France — believe that Legal creates an inflexible corporate culture. This perceived inflexibility can prohibit future collaboration, growth, and Legal’s fundamental role in the enterprise.

There is a colossal level of scrutiny on Legal and the department’s obligation to not only mitigate risk, but to set the standard for new and acceptable risks; this is true. The ELR Report found that Legal has a direct and positive impact on various functions from sales, revenue, and renewals to the corporate brand, R&D, and innovation. Legal can use this opportunity to lead from the front and transform beyond a traditional back-office function.

A Light at the End of the Tunnel

“The ELR Report reveals a glaring reality check on how Legal is perceived by their enterprise organizations,” Onit CEO Eric Elfman said. “It’s time for Legal to evolve in impactful ways — their businesses are counting on them.”

Evaluate and implement cutting-edge technology, like workflow automation and artificial intelligence (AI) tools. Improve efficiency and reduce rigidity. Be bold and step up as a business partner like never before.

Now is the time to evolve.

Get your head start on a legal evolution by downloading ELR Report Chapter 1.

The ELR Report is a third-party, multinational study of 4,000 enterprise employees and 500 corporate legal professionals across the United States, United Kingdom, France, and Germany intended to showcase relationship dynamics and perceived image between corporate legal teams and enterprise organizations.