Many in-house counsel wish they could spend more time on the work that matters most.
And research shows they’re not alone. A recent study by the Harvard Business Review uncovered that “knowledge workers” spend on average 41% of their week on non-value-add tasks that they don’t need to be doing themselves.
For legal, the bulk of that figure typically reflects dealing with simple but recurring workflows, for instance: marking up supply agreements, responding to subject access requests, reviewing employment contracts.
At first glance, the time spent on these workflows may seem harmless enough: a few mornings taken up here, a couple of afternoons used there.
But take a closer look and you’ll see routine legal work costs more than time.
What’s an in-house lawyer held back from when they’re doing busy work?
Maybe these examples will be familiar. One senior in-house counsel told me she’d organised a meeting with the new commercial director to discuss launching a subsidiary in a new jurisdiction. She then had to postpone because she needed to “sign off a bundle of low-value service agreements”.
Another lawyer was meant to be preparing for her company’s AGM but was instead marking up “non-compete clauses in new joiner contracts”.
A third was “at full capacity dealing with run-of-the-mill vendor contracts”. He ended up delaying a presentation on a compliance project business case to his CFO. The meeting was pushed back to the following Monday, then the week after; the project was eventually postponed until the next quarter.
And the typical solutions for finishing these non-strategic tasks are a choice of: come in early, log out late, or push something out of the diary. “Only if there’s capacity left over can I get involved in key business initiatives.”
But there’s now an increasing awareness there’s clearly something not right about this vicious circle.
Because the true price for maintaining the status quo - continuing to handle these routine tasks as “daily interruptions” - is not the minutes lost, but the opportunities missed: the chance for an in-house lawyer to drive the business in a new direction, to push a business-wide project, to show the C-suite what they’re made of.
What’s the solution?
As the HBR study advises, “knowledge workers need to think consciously about how they spend their time, decide which tasks matter most to them and their businesses, and drop or creatively outsource the rest”.
So now’s the time to step back and identify which tasks and workflows consistently block you or your team. Identify the cost of keeping workflows as they are. Which key projects could you or your team be involved in but aren’t?
For a long time, outsourcing routine matters didn’t feel like a good use of the legal budget. Law firms were too costly and that’s what the in-house team was for, right?
However, now there is more pressure on legal counsel to contribute strategically to company growth as well as a myriad of new options available to in-house teams looking to outsource creatively, making teams rethink their approach.
The aim of re-designing routine workflows is to prioritise the work that matters most to your team members and to the business. So, although routine work is necessary, it’s not necessarily the best use of your time. We've made an in-house or outsource decision tree to help our clients decide what work is best placed to be outsourced - you can check it out here.
There are ways that your expertise is needed that couldn’t possibly be fulfilled by someone else. Which means you won’t simply be saving time, you’ll be opening up a whole new way of thinking about legal’s role in the company.
Lexoo runs prioritisation workshops to help clients brainstorm their workflow processes and coordinate their legal teams more effectively. If you’d like to learn a bit more about what workflow optimisation and re-design can look like, send us a quick message on firstname.lastname@example.org.