November 25, 2020
The annual Altman Weil Survey is out and the 2020 edition focuses on the ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic on corporate law departments. With 119 respondents, it offers an insightful overview of how many corporate law departments and legal operations teams faced 2020 challenges, their impacts, and new best practices that were developed. Our team sat down and dug into the report to bring you what you need to know:
Highlights for CLOs
A significant survey response showed that 66% of Legal Officers said that there’s a decrease in revenue while 77% confirmed a simultaneous surge in workload for their law departments. Due to the major changes and transitions needed to adapt to the global crisis, this highlighted pre-existing but oft-ignored issues like better technology utilization, attention to cost and, workforce and labor reallocations. Less money in and more money output a lot of CLOs and their staff under greater stress in 2020.
Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, many law departments had to face layoffs, with11% of respondents reported downsizing due to the pandemic. 8% laid off paralegals, 7% of support staff, 4% staff lawyers, and 3% laid off managing lawyers. It is worth noting that no operations manager has been reported as having been let go and that 50% of the respondents claimed that they have someone in the role which is a 4% increase from last year.
Another aspect that was surveyed was department budgeting this year. CLOs were asked about their total spending, 43% reported having an overall increase and 40% reported a reduction and17% maintained budgets. These numbers closely follow last year’s survey forecasting where most of the CLOs expressed concern that there will be an upcoming recession.
Vendor Budgets, however, reflect the most significant change in budgeting priorities. Law departments reporting a reduction in money allocated for vendor services doubled from 9% in 2019 to 18% this year. 25% percent of CLOs confirmed plans to further reduce their third-party spending in 2021. Correlatively, 40% of CLOs stated an expectation for in-house costs to increase as opposed to 32% who predict it may decrease.
Law Firms’ Response to COVID-19
Since this survey focused primarily on the COVID-19 crisis, other factors, such as how specifically law firms offered extra assistance to corporate law departments were taken into account. While the majority of firms (90%) disseminated general info about the pandemic, 46% of them gave specific advice on corporate options and benefits, and only 27% customized their information per recipient/client. Clients rated firms’ helpfulness during the pandemic an average of 6.6 and 6.8 on a value scale of 0 being the lowest and 10 as the highest. Clearly, there is room for improvement on how law firms’ responded during the pandemic and a lot has to be learned moving forward.
COVID-19 forced change onto all of us, and corporate law departments are no exception. In addition to everything we’ve covered, 77% of CLOs expect that remote working and a flexible arrangement will be a common workplace environment going forward. This will also be anticipated in other departments and industries they work closely with.
The pandemic has taught us to make effective changes in how we do things and pushed us to find more efficient tools to adapt quickly and seamlessly. CLOs’ decisions on staffing, spending, and technology will be integral to how modern corporate law departments will create and emerge in the new normal.
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