There is no doubt that the legal landscape has shifted dramatically over the past five years, none more so for in-house lawyers. No longer are law firms the sole external supplier of legal services, but rather consultancies and technology providers continue to edge themselves further into the picture.

Unsurprisingly, this has led to the role of legal becoming increasingly complex, with the list of demands growing exponentially. A recent roundtable hosted by Deloitte discussed how in-house lawyers can navigate this diverse legal ecosystem, with attendees coming from an array of companies, including an oil and gas giant and a regional utility company.

Facilitating the roundtable were Deloitte Legal’s Laura Bygrave, who is head of commercial for legal managed services, and Jack Diggle, who runs the legal management consulting arm globally. Diggle kicked off the conversation by referring to the increased cost and demands for in-house legal teams of late, while also noting the explosion of lower-risk, higher-volume activities, which has led to more automation.

One delegate claimed that his organisation is looking at how they can automate tasks more often: “We know how to use external counsel but it’s the automated self-service we are looking at,” he said. “There’s more and more work to be done and the budgets and resources aren’t increasing. We want to be getting the business doing as much for itself and then keeping the lawyers [available] for higher risk [activities].”

Over the session, it was clear among attendees that Covid had prompted an increased drive towards self-service, with this splitting across two areas. The first looking at how legal tech can be utilised to help solve problems within the business, while the second concerns in-house lawyers’ attempts to standardise contracts. This means they can rely on a single version of a document that can be saved internally and allows for other members of staff to help themselves.

Crucially, both strands free up lawyers’ time to focus on more practical problems within their respective businesses; however, often Alternative Legal Service Providers, such as Deloitte, are required to assist with implementation. From the hosts’ perspective, Deloitte claims this is the best entry point when looking to alter your legal ecosystem as it allows legal teams to carve out the high-value items to work on.

Overall, the roundtable also revealed that there is no one-size-fits-all approach regarding the constituent parts of the legal ecosystem. Rather, the general trend was that the larger the legal team, the more elements it can cover. By contrast, the smaller teams were reliant upon a more traditional system that sees frequent instruction of law firms. However, this was not triggered by a lack of ambition, it was merely a fact that the smaller businesses did not have the time or budget to look elsewhere in the eco-system, meaning they were stuck in the traditional model.

A number of GCs present said they wanted to explore legal technology but only a handful had done so to date. A survey was also conducted during the session that questioned delegates on where do they expect to see key investments over the next 12 months, with the two most popular answers being legal tech and external law firms.

Another topic of discussion was the “legal front door”, which allows for a group to capture all the requests that come into the legal team so that they can manage demand. The benefits of this are that it allows an in-house lawyer to identify the blockers in their system. One attendee who works at an FTSE100 company highlighted the importance of this tech-driven and data-led approach: “We’ve created a legal front door that is bot-based,” he said. “The business sends in a question and it’s triaged there. It will then determine whether it goes to a paralegal, a lawyer or a law firm. One of the ways you justify your tech budget is by demonstrating the value that each of these things is delivering. If you have data-driven conversations, then you’re much more likely to get the right buy-in from the business in terms of what legal can and cannot support.”

However, this view was not shared by all, particularly by one GC at a much smaller UK-based business that has a legal team of three: “We don’t use data,” he said. “As I walk down the corridor, I see all the owners of the business, the head of legal also sits with the procurement team.

The way we measure is through personal connections rather than saying we’ve done 180 contracts or 20 disputes. They [the business] care less about the metrics compared to presence and engagement.”

This contrast encapsulates the differing demands and requirements of the modern-day lawyer working in-house. Workloads are rising and budgets are under increased scrutiny; however, there is not a one-size-fits-all approach. While most of the general counsel present at this roundtable accepted that harvesting internal data is essential to efficiency, there are still some teams out there that rely on the traditional system of hard work, personal communication and outside counsel.

Deloitte Legal are hosting another Legal Ecosystem roundtable webinar for legal teams across the North West, South West and Wales on Thursday 27th May. If you are interested in attending, please email Elly McNeill for more information.