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The Legal function: Finding opportunity on the road to recovery

The resilient leader series for general counsel

Rather than simply waiting to see what changes the business will make, the leading legal departments are embracing the crisis as an opportunity to drive much-needed transformation in their operating models. They recognise that their current ways of working are no longer fit-for-purpose in a virtual and rapidly-evolving environment. They understand they will need to rethink their technologies and cost structures if they hope to continue delivering on their ever-expanding list of objectives.

Our work supporting leading legal departments around the world suggests there are three key priorities that all GCs should be focussing on as they support their organisation’s evolution.

1. Leveraging the digital acceleration

The lessons learned from the COVID-19 crisis suggest this is an opportune time for the legal function to take serious steps towards digital transformation. The leaders are assessing the pain points they experienced over the past few months and working with the broader organisation to leverage existing digitisation initiatives that can accelerate virtual collaboration and help solve data and digital problems across the enterprise. Use of the Cloud is increasingly important across the organisation and for legal departments to ensure secure access to all the information and repositories necessary to complete work remotely.

2. Getting the work done (effectively)

Everybody is being asked to do more with less; the legal function perhaps more than most. That is causing many GCs to fundamentally rethink their value proposition and operating models. In some cases, legal functions are finding ways to reduce the workload by automating manual processes and leveraging new technologies. More often than not, they are recognising their own resource constraints and are looking for ways to relieve themselves of the tactical workload entirely. This crisis has proven work once thought could only be done onsite, is now able to be done remotely. This is opening the discussion around the possibility of outsourcing some activities. Companies are reevaluating their panel of external providers. This is often being driven by purchasing managers and operations consultants rather than GCs.

3. Contributing to business strategy

As executives and businesses make the decisions required to ensure their organisation’s recovery, the top GCs and legal functions are getting closer to the decision-making process and providing the insights required to drive strategy. They are helping the organisation manage contract disputes and negotiate changes to debt and financing arrangements. They are supporting due diligence and helping drive strategic M&A activity. The leading legal functions are working hand-in-hand with the business to design and enable the new business strategy.

Where do we go from here?

Over the past few months, Deloitte Legal has been working (for the most part, virtually) to help GCs and their legal departments respond to the immediate crisis, recover their operations and plan for a future. While most GCs seem to understand their immediate priorities, the scope of the transformation required has many legal professionals wondering where to start.

So, what should GCs be doing over the near-term in order to develop the digital and strategic capabilities required to support the organisation into the future? Deloitte’s collective experience suggests there are five key steps that every GC and functional leader should be considering.

Key steps

  • Get close to the business. Understand the evolving priorities of the business and how the legal function can contribute to achieving its short and long-term goals.
  • Leverage broader technology changes: Identify and leverage business-critical changes that can help advance the digitisation of the legal function at the same time.
  • Reassess the operating model: Determine how you will cope with increased complexity, volume and pace without increasing headcount or investment allocations.
  • Deliver insight: Proactively deliver the data and analysis that the business needs as they continue to pivot and evolve the organisational strategy.
  • Control the risks: Consider how the risk profile of your team and business operations have changed in a virtual and distributed environment. Develop appropriate controls and monitoring activities to identify and mitigate risks materialising.

Finding opportunity in the midst of forced disruption

While the COVID-19 crisis has certainly created significant hardship and disruption around the world, it has also catalysed GCs to rethink the way they serve the business. Indeed, rather than discouraging the leading legal functions from progressing their transformation journeys, the COVID-19 crisis has sharpened minds and accelerated timelines.

At a time when budgets are tight, the leading legal departments are the ones advancing their own digitisation journey by leveraging the business-critical change happening in other parts of the business. More than simply coping with today’s environment, they are using these forced changes as an opportunity to also advance the transformation needs of their legal department.

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