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How legal teams can get ahead in 2021

The start of a new year presents an opportunity to start fresh. Here, Xakia outlines eight tips to help in-house teams with their forward planning.

user iconEmma Musgrave 05 January 2021 Corporate Counsel
How legal teams can get ahead in 2021
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According to Xakia’s latest white paper, “Yearly Planning For An Unusual Year”, the COVID-19 pandemic has further cemented the need for in-house teams to be prepared with a strategic plan.

“Legal departments are so often buried in work that it’s hard, if not impossible, to pause and contemplate strategic projects. Indeed, in a FindLaw Corporate Counsel survey, more than 40 per cent of in-house counsel said they were typically too busy ‘fighting fires’ to achieve long-term goals,” the white paper said.

“And that was before a global pandemic that increased the workload for 76.7 per cent of Legal Departments, according to the Altman Weil’s 2020 Chief Legal Officer Survey. 


“It may feel like strange timing to develop a strategic plan – but without one, your Legal Department is unlikely to get out from under the Sisyphean busywork to: accomplish meaningful improvements in process; find operational adjustments that enhance service delivery (and your quality of life); and, demonstrate value. 

“The legal departments that proactively plan during COVID-19 will be far better positioned to thrive after it.”

The first step outlined by Xakia encourages in-house teams to gather intel on how the team managed over the last year, particularly from a workload, budget and personnel perspective.

Gathering intel from clients is equally important, Xakia noted, with this information allowing for effective forward planning on what their goals and concerns are for the year.

The second step outlined encouraged readers to think long-term.

“According to Boardview, 95 per cent of employees do not understand their organisation’s strategy; perhaps that’s why only 2 per cent of leaders are confident they will achieve most of their strategy’s objectives,” the white paper said.

“Be proactive and forward-thinking. Putting COVID-19 aside, what other legal, regulatory, business and political trends might affect your organisation in the year ahead?”

Third, Xakia advised in-house teams to think short-term and acknowledge the abnormal environment the organisation has been thrust into over the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’ve mocked the cliches – these unprecedented times, the ‘new normal’ and so forth – but they are apt,” the white paper said.

“In a June 2020 survey of in-house lawyers by Morrison & Foerster, respondents rated the pandemic’s impact on their business a 6.7 on a scale of 10; for June 2021, they expected its effects to continue, predicting an impact of 5.0. Even by June 2022, respondents predicted the effects to linger, with an expected impact of 3.7. 

“A different kind of year calls for a different kind of approach. Start your planning by anticipating what your Legal Department will need to address as vaccines are distributed, workers return to the office, liability limits and insurance policies are debated, and more.”

Steps four and five were laid out as “determine major missions” and “draft strategic objectives”, respectively.

The former called for in-house teams to select no more than three “major missions” where they can deliver value in the year 2021, while the latter encourages in-house teams to review those major missions and identify the “building blocks” that will help achieve those missions. Again, Xakia recommends starting with no more than three strategic objectives in total as the likelihood of success “will be much greater with a shorter list, and you will avoid overwhelming your team”.

The sixth and seventh step is defining what success means to the team and committing to the tactics that will ensure that success, respectively.

Finally, the eighth step is to ensure the plan is shared across those it concerns.

“Sharing your strategy will do two important things, according to the ACC Legal Operations Maturity Model Toolkit: It will provide focus, and it will drive the team toward specific and important goals,” the white paper said.