GCs Turn to Legal Ops as Escape Valve

The General Counsel Report 2024 from FTI Technology + Relativity highlights the growing need for in-house Legal Ops professionals to manage increasing workloads and complex regulations.

GCs Turn to Legal Ops as Escape Valve

(Image courtesy of FTI Technology)

In an era where workloads are increasing but budgets are not, General Counsel are increasingly seeing investing in Legal Operations professionals as crucial to free up their time towards being effective leaders. This was a key finding of the newly released fourth chapter of the “The General Counsel Report 2024,” from FTI Technology and the compliance tech company Relativity.

The Rising Tide of Regulatory Challenges

Earlier chapters of the report focused on the “regulatory tsunami” sweeping through legal departments. The increasing complexity and volume of regulations have put immense pressure on legal departments, forcing them to adapt. Legal departments can benefit from hiring skilled legal professionals who can navigate the regulatory landscape efficiently.

The Promise and Perils of Generative AI

The report also highlighted the risks and opportunities of generative AI. Gen AI, with its ability to automate tasks and generate insights, presents a significant opportunity for legal departments to enhance efficiency and effectiveness. However, it also brings new challenges in terms of data privacy, ethical considerations, and the need for appropriate oversight. To address these challenges, bringing in specialized legal talent with expertise in technology and data privacy could be a key strategy for forward-thinking legal departments.

ESG Responsibilities of Legal Teams

Legal teams are also grappling with increasing Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) responsibilities. As companies strive to align their operations with ESG principles, legal departments play a crucial role in ensuring compliance, managing risks, and guiding strategic decision-making. This underscores the need for posting job opportunities targeted at professionals with ESG expertise.

The Growing Concerns of GCs

Perhaps the most important finding of the full 2024 report was that survey respondents feel less prepared now to handle every single risk area studied—from data privacy to disputes and investigations—than they did in the 2023 study. And they said they believe risk-preparedness will only get more daunting. 87% of respondents believe risk will increase in the coming year.

Comments sprinkled throughout the report from GCs interviewed by Kaplan suggest they fear the deluge of work crossing their desks puts them in danger of being reactive, put-out-the-latest-fire managers rather than strategic advisers to business-unit leaders, the C-suite and board who help the enterprise grow and thrive.

They’re also concerned that if they’re constantly on their heels, they’ll be less successful fulfilling their crucial risk-management responsibilities. As one study participant said, “We are focused on being a proactive, rather than reactive, legal department so we are very interested in compliance and risk management as early as possible.”

The Role of Legal Ops Professionals

Given those dynamics, having Legal Ops professionals on board to leverage technology and create and improve processes that enhance efficiency has never been more important, GCs quoted in the report suggested. Legal Ops professionals oversee vendor management and internal processes, and introduce new technologies that improve efficiency and reduce cost.

New technology is the way to win; if you are not getting more people, you need to leverage more technology,” one study participant said. Another added: “Freeing GC time was a huge driver in hiring a dedicated legal operations professional. I would focus on more strategy to drive growth if I had operational support”.

Despite all that enthusiasm, legal departments are miles away from fully harnessing the power of Legal Ops. Just 42% of participants have at least one dedicated Legal Ops professional, while 53% said they are looking to delegate more operational decisions to the Legal Ops role so General Counsel can focus on risk mitigation. To bridge this gap, requests for Legal Ops talent can be submitted to meet the growing demand for such professionals.

The Future of Legal Departments

Legal departments’ growing interest in adopting generative AI tools have the effect of accelerating legal ops hiring, legal leaders interviewed for the study suggested. As one noted, “We have seen an increase in evaluating new technology due to the emergence and interest in AI.

The report concludes that General Counsel, buffeted by pressures from every direction, by necessity have become “more technology inclined” and “more focused on running a strategic and efficient department.” This shift towards a more strategic and technology-driven approach is likely to continue as legal departments navigate the complex and rapidly evolving landscape of regulatory challenges, technological advancements, and ESG responsibilities. To stay informed on these developments, legal professionals can explore the latest news and resources.

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