29 April 2020

Legal operations function helps boost in-house maturity, survey finds

Efficiency concept illustration

Fragmented organisational structures, technology challenges and short-term distractions... prevent in-house departments from advancing their long-term strategy

ACC study shows legal departments without ops professionals significantly lag peers

In-house legal departments that employ at least one legal operations professional are more advanced than in-house teams with no dedicated legal ops function, according to a new study from the Association of Corporate Counsel.

The 2020 Legal Operations Maturity Benchmarking report ranks legal departments’ level of maturity across 15 legal functions, including strategic planning and process and project management. The overall maturity score for departments with at least one legal ops worker was 43.3 out of 100, compared to just 27.3 for companies without a legal ops function.

Compliance is the legal function that is at the most advanced stage of maturity on average across the companies surveyed, followed by financial management, information governance, contract management and external resources management. Even so, the data showed that legal departments on average are only at an intermediate stage of maturity for those functions.

At the other end of the scale, the survey found that, on average, change management, eDiscovery and litigation management, and innovation management are only at an early stage of maturity.

The ACC noted in the report: “Regardless of where departments are on the maturity scale, challenges to advance are numerous and varied. Budget limitations, leadership scepticism on the added value provided by legal operations, and general resistance to change hinder the efforts to increase maturity.”

Fragmented organisational structures, technology challenges and short-term distractions also prevent in-house departments from advancing their long-term strategy, the report stated.

Larger departments in larger companies were generally more advanced in almost all functions apart from contracts management.

The survey found that the top 10% of in-house departments were generally at an advanced stage of maturity, scoring 64 out of 100, but the data also showed that only 2.5% of those departments were in an advanced stage of maturity across 10 or more functions, and no department was in an advanced stage of maturity across all 15.

For those best-in-class teams, average company revenue is $9.3bn, with total legal spend clocking in at $28.5m; $12.9m of which is spent on external counsel. On average those departments have four legal ops professionals, with almost three-quarters employing at least one.

The report was produced in partnership with Wolters Kluwer Legal & Regulatory and surveyed 316 legal departments in 29 countries across 24 industries.

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