Legal waste is the antithesis of a legal function in harmony. It is one of the most common symptoms of disconnection and it can render even the most impactful in-house counsel sluggish and jaded. To such an extent that some even come crashing out of the profession because of it. While this sounds like the stuff of nightmares to in-house counsel and legal operations professionals, it is extremely common and is present in most, if not all legal functions.
So, what is legal waste?
Well, you’ll be pleased to know this nefarious entity isn’t a mountain of misappropriated staples, or hundreds of printed out contracts strewn across the floor. Legal waste simply put, is any inefficiency in the utilization of your legal function. In fact, you’ve probably caused, and been impacted by legal waste multiple times already this week. Any time you’ve flicked between tools, or into your email to find information – that’s legal waste. If you’ve ever chased up your team to see progress on work – that’s legal waste too. All these little inefficiencies add up, not only robbing in-house counsel of valuable time needed to be truly impactful. But, also making them feel like they’re treading water as opposed to breaking new ground.
If we take a broader view, consider the average income for an American in-house counsel is over $200,000, and then income for a CLO or GC is over $500,000, anytime those resources (by resources, we mean you the in-house counsel) aren’t being used efficiently, or impactfully it is costing the organization money. And as we all know, costing the organization does nothing to dispel the legal functions reputation as a cost center. In fact, it is these types of equations which are pushing more legal functions to onboard a specific legal operations resource.
What are some of the most common areas of legal waste?
Legal waste is much more prevalent than you’d think. Most commonly, legal waste can be found dwelling in situations where in-house counsel have to switch contexts, or chase up information unnecessarily. Legal teams already leveraging legal operations have a head start on diagnosing legal waste, but those who aren’t can find themselves floundering after lost hours. The 2023 In-house Technology Report found that 61% of legal teams spend over one hour per day jumping between systems to gain a complete view of work and determine priorities, while 21% spend three hours or more.
The report found some of the most common areas of legal waste to be:
- Back and forth with the wider business with 37% spending three hours or more per day
- Compiling assets needed for reporting with 30% spending three hours or more per day
- Searching through emails and/or other systems to determine contract, matter history or advice from outside counsel with 28% spending three hours or more per day.
It is clear that in-house counsel are acutely aware of when they’re creating legal waste, but often lack the legal operations maturity to properly diagnose it. With 80% of respondents believing time spent on manual activities takes away time and effort from working on larger business goals or their ability to deliver services in a timely manner.
How to identify signs and symptoms of legal waste?
If you’ve ever eye-balled a task and felt it would take an hour, and then proceeded to spend an entire afternoon on it – that is a surefire sign of legal waste. Throughout this undoubtedly frustrating afternoon it is likely you would’ve touched most, if not all of our 10 signs and symptoms of legal waste:
- Work in progress starting work without complete information
- Extra processing over processing or duplicating information or communications
- Overproduction doing more work than necessary
- Poor resourcing senior lawyers doing junior tasks, or worse legal doing admin
- Scattered information/knowledge searching through emails, files, systems and tasks to get complete information
- Back and forth tracking down people with answers, or updating the business on the status of work
- Project management the legal function is frequently stuck waiting for others
- Defects in quality old templates or individual precedents used with no central knowledge base
- Lack of oversight time spent switching between systems to gain a complete view of work and determine priorities
- Team management switching between various systems to determine workload, capacity, the status of individual tasks, and/or managing internal processes.
If any of these sound familiar – luckily we’re here to help!
Have we piqued your interest?
Fortunately, there are a few ways you can begin to combat legal waste. For starters, identifying where you’re inefficiencies may be and quantifying them with a tool such as the legal efficiency and savings calculator is a great first step.
From there, we recommend joining many other legal professionals who are learning how to combat legal waste in our course Intro to Minimizing Legal Waste, as part of the Connected Legal Certification. The course and certification is free, you can do it in your own time and you can earn CPD/CLE points!