Working in local government means the constant balancing of resources in order to provide an exceptional service to your organization, stakeholders, and the wider community.
Having the right legal technology is essential in achieving this, giving you time to work on higher-value and strategic legal work and support your organization’s changing needs.
In this article, we’ll discuss several challenges facing local government legal teams and learn how legal technology helps to solve these by optimizing productivity, improving engagement, and showcasing the impact of legal on your organization.
Local governments in the post-pandemic era
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the legal teams of local governments have continued with business-as-usual, while also facing a new landscape that’s continuing to recover and evolve.
While local government legal teams weren’t quiet over the pandemic, many businesses and developments were. Now post-pandemic, recreation, property development, affordable housing, and escalating environmental challenges are all back to being a priority and adding to the volume and breadth of legal work for local government legal teams.
Despite some activity coming back, there is still an environment of slower economic growth and cash constraints which adds complexity for legal departments in local government.
Meanwhile, CIOs are driving a push for digital transformation — from developing metrics to measure progress, to linking departments through common platforms and better data use. There’s also a deluge of data from moves to smarter and more connected cities with the Internet of Things.
Yet throughout these challenges and changes, local governments are expected to be connected, powered and trusted, ready to serve their organization and communities.
Fortunately, there’s the opportunity for the legal team to lead the way, and show how the right technology can improve service delivery and connection between the legal department and the rest of the organization.
“A key motivation of going in-house is to be a part of an organization—to get to know the business and create close working relationships with colleagues and see how your legal advice, big or small, makes a difference on a daily basis… Having a matter management system has freed up time for us to get on with this work and think about how we might do things better.”
Fiona McLeod — General Counsel, Nelson City Council
With the right legal technology, your legal team can …
1. Be more productive and get more out of your existing resources
As a legal team in the local government sector, you’re dealing with an avalanche of activity and data from all areas of the organization — especially with the increasing volume and complexity of legal work. For the most part this work (and its data) remains in silos, dispersed across local government organizations and their external stakeholders, agencies, and communities.
Many local government legal departments rely on disconnected legacy point solutions to deal with all this work, with files and documents distributed across emails, spreadsheets, local desktops, and hard drives.
This leads to a myriad of issues such as:
wasted time searching for documents and information, with 77 percent of legal professionals wasting over an hour per day jumping between systems according to the 2022 In-house Legal Technology Report;
a lack of context for legal work, particularly contracts and their related matters; and
trouble determining who’s working on what, and continuity issues when a team member is absent or departs, with 45 percent of legal professionals spending three or more hours daily on team management, according to the report.
A single source of truth like this, enables your legal team to make incredible productivity gains in the following ways:
Reduce time spent jumping between solutions: With everything in one place, there’s visibility across all legal work, information and documents — no more switching systems.
Richer context: When contracts or documents are not managed in the same place as their associated matters they lack context — what about the contract’s history, associated tasks, and subsequent disputes? With a single system of record like a legal workspace, all that rich context is in the same place — no need to search disconnected solutions for the context of a contract.
Find documents quickly: With all legal work on one platform, everything in that single database is searchable, eliminating the need to hunt through separate emails, documents, and other tools for information.
Have full visibility of all legal work: When all legal work is connected and on one platform, there is total oversight of where work is at and who it’s with. This means it’s quicker to see where extra resources are required, transfer responsibilities to another team member, and cover absent colleagues’ work.
Through productivity gains, the right legal tech provides local government legal teams with the ability to do more with their legal resources.
“LawVu has saved us an immense amount of time due to numerous features, but the big one is the full-text search functionality … It has truly saved hours upon hour of time we would otherwise have spent trying to track work down.”
Matt Pentz — Assistant Town Attorney, Cary, NC
2. Remove bottlenecks with intake
As we’ve outlined above, local government legal teams deal with activity from all corners of the business — and this work is steadily increasing. Delays or non-submission of legal tasks, overflowing inboxes, back and forth, duplication of effort, and time-wasting manual work lead to bottlenecks with increased miscommunication, increased cycle times, and missed deadlines. Forty percent of legal professionals are spending over three hours per day searching through emails or other systems to determine matter history or find advice from outside counsel. A further 40 percent are spending the same amount of time on back and forth with the business to gather complete information or update them on the status of contracts and other work.
When intake is part of a legal workspace it reduces the disconnect and lack of engagement between legal and the rest of the organization. Colleagues in the wider organization can submit structured legal requests via integrations with their favorite tools (such as Outlook, Gmail, Salesforce, Slack, and Microsoft Teams) into the legal workspace, using structured form fields to gather clear instructions and reduce back and forth. Legal then has a consolidated view of all of its work, and can triage, prioritize, and assign tasks from one place, resulting in a more proactive legal function and improved service delivery. And, more importantly, less time is spent in email!
With high workloads and resource constraints, you don’t want legal to become a bottleneck. Legal tech provides streamlined intake to ensure this doesn’t happen!
3. Refocus on higher-value initiatives by reducing low-value, high-volume work
Legal teams spend a large portion of their time on repetitive, manual tasks — with Gartner reporting that, on average, 63 percent of all legal work is routine or can be standardized by using templates, creating self-service options for the wider business, or implementing standard decision rules.
This takes time and effort away from larger business goals, as found in the 2022 In-house Legal Technology Report.
However, with self-service and automation, a lot of low-risk, high-volume legal work can be reduced, and in some cases, eliminated. By providing self-service contract creation (such as NDAs) or frequently asked questions, the legal team can still provide a service without directly being involved with every task; while colleagues in the wider organization can create and manage their own contracts, and meet their objectives faster.
This reduces the number of requests and queries the legal team receives, giving time back for higher-value, more strategic work.
“We use LawVu across every aspect of our work: at team meetings to allocate new requests to the right lawyer; to assign work to external lawyers, including scoping and tracking costs; to report on Business Unit Managers work and any trends we’ve identified. We also use LawVu to report to the Senior Leadership Team on emerging risk areas, trends, and overall legal costs. All of this happens with very little administrative overhead, freeing up time for us to get on with the work, and think about how we might do things better.”
Fiona McLeod — General Counsel, Nelson City Council
4. Justify resourcing and showcase the value of legal
Being able to demonstrate the value legal brings to the organization is a common concern in the local government sector. There’s often a lack of context and visibility around the outputs of the legal department, and without this senior leadership cannot establish ROI or justify further investment in the legal function. This only compounds the pressure on resources for local government legal teams.
This lack of visibility often results from a lack of data that measures and reports on legal’s performance, which leads to an absence of evidence of the legal team’s work.
Matt Pentz, Assistant Town Attorney, Cary, NC uses comprehensive data to demonstrate the value and role of the legal team to the organization. Full transparency over team metrics gives him the ability to report on:
how many matters per department come in, per month;
how many active matters there are at any one time;
how many matters there are from a specific department, within a specific time frame; and
the type of matters the team is dealing with.
By being able to report on performance, not only can local government legal teams showcase their value to the wider business (which is important during times of high pressure), they can justify the need for more resourcing.
5. Retain staff and knowledge
According to KPMG, federal, state, and local governments are all struggling to attract and retain younger, skilled talent compared with the private sector. Part of the reason is that available talent is deterred by outdated technology, with part of the answer being to adopt emerging technology for a more digitalized experience. Other issues around staff retention include the fact that many staff are approaching retirement age, and when they depart, so does valuable institutional knowledge.
You’re also able to capture the knowledge and IP of the legal team, so that if people do move on — not all knowledge is lost with that person, and better yet — the history of all their matters and legal work is saved in your legal workspace.
“Knowledge is power and LawVu increases our knowledge. It increases the speed and efficiency of accessing the knowledge that we have, as well as leverages the experience of team members in a more efficient and standardized manner.”
Matt Pentz — Assistant Town Attorney, Cary, NC
“We no longer have to worry about corporate knowledge being lost.”
Dunedin City Council
6. Remove security and risk concerns
To remain trusted organizations, local governments must protect their data with the highest cyber security and privacy standards. This involves providing all stakeholders, including citizens, transparency on how information is protected and making further investments to safeguard data.
And it’s no different for the legal teams that work within local government.
Working with a patchwork of different tech solutions leads to a heightened security risk, so a connected, cloud-based solution, for example a legal workspace, is a smart choice that puts data security at the forefront. Examine the approach to security, privacy, and reliance, and choose a solution that aligns with your compliance standard, such as Azure Government which offers the broadest level certifications of any service provider.
Also, ensure the security measures of the technology itself reflect the needs of your legal department. For example, is there the option to lock sensitive information in emails and notifications, log out users after a period of inactivity, and customize and manage data permissions of the wider organization?
7. Reduce costs with a single vendor
Dealing with multiple vendors for matter management, contract management, spend, reporting, and knowledge and document management means not only increased risk, but also extra cost and the added admin of dealing with multiple subscription fees and renewals
Selecting a full-suite solution such as a legal workspace means dealing with one vendor when managing procurement, security, implementation, training and so on. It also means that the solution provides depth of product, where you can select one or two modules that suit your needs, and then continue to scale with the growth of your legal department.
Working as a Connected Legal Function
To better manage the complexity and volume of work local government legal teams are experiencing, the right technology is essential. Leveraging this technology also empowers legal to become a more Connected Legal Function, optimizing productivity, engaging more proactively with the wider organization, and showing the impact of legal to the organization and its stakeholders.
“We were immediately aware of the advantages of having all our moving parts working together, in a shared working space. The LawVu solution has helped us to grow as a legal team, and as a service provider.”
Dunedin City Council