FTI Consulting announces findings from its technology segment’s second annual study of corporate legal departments, in partnership with Relativity. Based on a detailed survey and one-on-one interviews by Ari Kaplan with chief legal officers at companies of all sizes, The General Counsel Report 2021: Rising to Today’s Challenges and Building Resilience for the Future, outlines the elevated responsibilities general counsel have taken on amid the pandemic and current social climate.
Notably, the majority of respondents indicated moderate to significant difficulties in navigating today’s top challenges, including widely dispersed workforces, emerging data types, technology adoption and tackling diversity, equity and inclusion. The report shares the strategies counsel are implementing to overcome these and other issues, establish resiliency for the future and adjust to the changing demands of their role. Key findings include:
- Respondents indicated their roles have changed or intensified this year, with many taking on heavier workloads and new responsibilities, largely due to the pandemic. These include decision-making regarding company-wide COVID-19 plans, increased emphasis on risk management, more time on team support and engagement and preparation for an anticipated uptick in litigation.
- Emerging data types and AI applications are beginning to impact legal teams, particularly in the context of litigation and e-discovery, with more than half feeling less than well-prepared to manage these new challenges.
- The pandemic has forced 84 percent of general counsel to fulfill the critical role of chief health officer and/or manage employee well-being. Many of the general counsel surveyed said they are now responsible for assessing and recommending policies to balance maintaining business activities with the health and safety of their employees.
- Many respondents work with a wide range of law firms and outside legal service providers, and 84 percent said they outsource legal work because they lack the necessary in-house expertise for certain matters or technical needs.
- AI use in the legal department has increased since 2019, with 32 percent of respondents indicating they currently use AI for legal functions. Many expressed interest in exploring how to leverage AI for contract management and review needs.
- Some technology initiatives stalled in 2020. One respondent said, “My role is to modernize the law department, but the pandemic has prevented many of those initiatives.”
- Perceptions about technical competence have improved, with 55 percent stating they believe lawyers have adequate knowledge of technology, compared to only 39 percent in 2019. Still, many respondents made a point to distinguish between technology proficiency in using productivity and collaboration tools versus leveraging advanced e-discovery and analytics technologies.
“General counsel have risen to meet the immense challenges that have defined 2020 and solidified their role as critical strategic leaders,” said Daryl Teshima, a Senior Managing Director within FTI Technology. “Last year’s General Counsel Report revealed a marked shift in the role of the GC from the ‘office of no’ to an important contributor to business strategy. The events of this year have further accelerated this shift, with organizations now looking to their in-house legal teams to guide important decisions relating to pandemic response, inclusion, employee wellness, mitigating new and unexpected risks and contributing to the overall success of the business. Our goal with this study is to help counsel better understand this landscape and to facilitate insights that will help them as they take on an endless influx of complex challenges.”
The study also found that corporate legal teams continue to rely heavily on outside partners to fill critical skills and resources gaps. Respondents listed a number of factors that impact how they select outside providers. Specialized expertise and quality of work stood out as the top factors, with cost, relationships and diversity also making the list of considerations.
“One of the goals of The General Counsel Report is to give readers insight into what may affect organizations in the future based on the experiences of chief legal officers, but predicting the turbulent times of 2020 would have been difficult, bordering on the impossible,” said David Horrigan, Discovery Counsel and Legal Education Director at Relativity. “Nevertheless, the general counsel in last year’s study gave us actionable insights into what would happen in 2020, including tremendous risk and the embrace of cloud technologies—and they may not have even realized how prescient and insightful their observations would be for a 2020 remotely connected world. As we look to 2021, The General Counsel Report provides actionable intelligence on issues ranging from the technical competence of legal teams to the latest on inclusion and diversity initiatives.”