For corporate law departments, the onset of the pandemic presented a monumental challenge: how to successfully navigate a simultaneous drop in revenue and explosion in legal needs.
As an Altman Weil report noted back in the fall of 2020, for example, 66% of chief legal officers said their organization’s revenue had decreased in response to the Covid crisis, while 77% said their law department’s workload had increased.
A focus on legal operations helped corporate lawyers weather the storm, according to that report. And corporate profits, of course, have increased dramatically since its release.
Now, a recent survey suggests that law department clout is on the rise, with financial organizations appreciating their legal teams more in the pandemic era.
In a report commissioned by the legal spend management company Apperio, 71% of respondents said the pandemic has made the legal team “more valued” or “much more valued.” The respondents were 300 senior legal and finance professionals, all of whom work in financial services, and were surveyed in late 2021.
What’s more, finance leaders, including chief financial officers, were notably more appreciative, with 40% saying the legal team was “much more valued” — compared with just 29% of those with titles such as chief legal officer and general counsel.
“The risk and uncertainty that accompanied the coronavirus pandemic caused financial organizations to view their legal departments and in-house lawyers in a new light,” the report notes. “In-house legal teams are now more valued than ever.”
However, this newfound appreciation hasn’t come easy.
“The newly heightened level of respect has been hard-earned because the in-house team’s work volume has grown too,” the report says. “Most respondents (70%) said the legal workload has ‘increased’ (40%) or ‘increased significantly’ (30%) over the last three years.”
And the increase in legal work is unlikely to slow down. General counsel are anticipating workloads to jump 25% over the next several years, according to a report from EY and the Harvard Law School Center on the Legal Profession.
This reliance on the legal department also comes as in-house law departments have “evolved from a narrowly focused, reactive legal adviser and risk manager” into a “robust strategic adviser,” as Bloomberg Law puts it.
The outlet notes that in-house departments are “increasingly involved” in giving advice to organization leaders on topics like “revenue-generating initiatives, labor and employment matters, corporate social responsibility, and regulatory compliance.”
This confluence of factors is setting law departments up for increased clout in 2022. As Above the Law’s Jill Switzer recently wrote: “Corporate law departments are starting to get the respect they deserve.”