Corporate law departments may have a perception problem, according to a recent survey commissioned by the technology company Onit. But there are also widespread opportunities for them to correct misunderstandings and ensure they get the recognition they deserve.

The Enterprise Legal Reputation Report reveals that organizations often fail to see the full value the legal department brings. And this reality could be impacting GCs’ fundamental business relationships. 

A few highlights:

  • 78% of enterprise employees view the legal department as protectors of the business, yet 65% knowingly bypass legal and their policies due to inefficiency and poor responsiveness.
  • Only 19% of enterprise employees believe Legal considers client service a priority, while 8 in 10 (79%) do not see Legal as a modern operation. 
  • Only 39% of U.S. 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 study drew on 4,000 enterprise employees and 500 in-house legal professionals in the U.S., U.K., Germany, and France. (Read the full study here.) 

As Onit CEO Eric Elfman put it in a news release: “The ELR Report reveals a glaring reality check on the full spectrum of how Legal is perceived by their enterprise organizations.” 

In light of these metrics, here are some steps to consider today, which will help ensure individuals throughout your organization remain aware of what your team delivers. 

Prioritize Tech Adoption … 

According to the Onit report, 79% of employees say they do not see Legal as a modern operation. 

One way Legal can refute this idea is by continuing to embrace and implement technology. Many of these tools can modernize interactions between Legal and other departments, strongly demonstrating that the law department is in fact a modern operation. 

AI and workflow automation can address inefficiency and responsiveness complaints and help with increased workloads and understaffed teams, especially when working remotely, for example. 

New tools can streamline workflow intake and workflow management, and self-help tools can automate responses from the legal department to common questions it might receive. 

These types of tools will also allow you to compile data on the work your department is performing. You can use this data to demonstrate your department’s value to the organization, make effective management decisions, and demonstrate budget needs.

… But Move Deliberately

It’s key to do the upfront readiness work in implementing any of these types of tools — start slow, and work from process maps. 

“Maybe you want to start with automating NDAs,” Stephanie Corey of UpLevel Ops said in a recent webinar we sponsored. “You’ve got to understand what your templates are, make sure they’re harmonized, make sure you’ve got only one or two or three instead of 87, and really reduce the number of templates you’re using, and do that upfront readiness work.” 

“That’s what’s going to make the automation so much more simple, and thus, the reporting and information you’re getting out of it more simple.”

And with the modern solutions available, bringing this type of technology on is easier than ever. 

Focus on Partnership

Above all else, Legal is there to play by the rules — and that’s why the vast majority of respondents in the report view their law departments as stellar business protectors. 

But remaining a good business partner is a separate challenge. 

Of course, there are times when a lawyer must push back on a risky idea. But even then, responding with suggestions and alternatives will help you be viewed as a team player.

A better approach, though, is to always be on the lookout for ways to drive these conversations before they occur. 

Take the time to keep everyone in the know with companywide status updates on key objectives or projects. 

Proactive communication will keep you more visible, and it will keep your department in a positive light.

Consider the ALSP 

These advances in technology, operations, and business philosophy are also accompanied by new staffing options — particularly flexible counsel. 

Consider, for example, how you may approach a special project or work surge.

You could simply ask your staff to take on the extra work — but putting too much on their plates could lead to burnout. 

You could hire another staff attorney — but that means onboarding a new person and trying to wring an additional salary from your budget. 

You could kick the work to an outside law firm — but their rates continue to rise, even as budgets continue to fall.

With flexible interim counsel, law departments can access high-quality support without overextending their resources. 

Not only do these attorneys have premier credentials and work experience, but they’re also able to seamlessly fit into your legal department — and offer big wins to GCs

Lead From the Front

While much of the Onit report could be jarring, the news wasn’t all bad.

Take the following excerpt, for example: 

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.

Through updated policies and processes, embracing tech, and focusing on partnership, Legal does have the power to be viewed as a leader.

Ultimately, these steps will help you better protect the company, be an integral part of the future, and garner respect from all within the organization.