Corporate Counsel Studies Reveal Challenges and Hopes Entering 2021
In a series of surveys throughout 2020, a picture emerges of tightening belts and increased roles

by Avery Martinez

Throughout the changes of 2020, different groups sought to understand what challenges legal departments faced as companies cut costs, adapted to new work environments and made sudden changes to how they did business.

Several groups produce information on the concerns of law department operations and their legal officers. Across the reports that sought to define the impacts of 2020, a picture emerges of restrained impact from the pandemic, the increases and challenges of tech and new costs of doing business.

Some might have thought the strategic priorities of 2019 were thrown “out the window” by the pandemic, but Thomson Reuters’ Acritas 2020 State of the Corporate Law Department survey reports that’s not exactly the case. In speaking with general counsel since the start of the pandemic, many departments report that core strategic priorities remain as described — and “may even be more important at the current time.”

“The current crisis only underscores the previous environment in which in-house legal teams face pressure on a multitude of fronts,” the Reuters report states. Corporate leaders want these teams to provide protection against growing risks but also facilitate growth of the company.

However, Blickstein Group’s Law Department Operations Survey found that the pandemic isn’t necessarily at top of legal officers’ minds. In a list of concerns, COVID items were behind cost containment, managing a budget, service providers and performance. The only reported COVID issues were budget cuts, noted by 11% of respondents, expense pressures and work from home or return to work concerns.

However, a pool of chief legal officers reported that their organization’s revenue was down in the past year in response to COVID, according to Altman Weil’s 2020 CLO Survey. Still, over three-quarters of respondents reported their law department workload was up over the same time.

Regardless of the financial impact of the pandemic on individual offices, the pandemic did change some things across the board — the Blickstein survey notes working from home opportunities and cultural acceptance of remote work as significant impacts of the pandemic. Other respondents reported that legal operations were playing a larger role in their organization than before.

Altman Weil respondents reported both lawyer and non-lawyer staff decreases due to COVID, which perhaps creates a new urgency and focus on staffing choices, efficiency and resource allocations.

This complete article appears in the Jan. 18 issue of Law Week Colorado. To read other articles from that issue, order a copy online. Subscribers can request a digital PDF of the issue.