Press Releases

STAMFORD, CT, January 26, 2021

Gartner Says More Than Half of Legal Transformation Projects Underperform Expectations

General Counsel Must Create Climate Conducive to Successful Transformation Projects

Most legal transformation projects fail to meet the expectations of general counsel (GC), according to new research from Gartner, Inc. The research also shows that most projects fail due to a lack of prioritization or insufficient support, both of which the GC can exert direct control over.  

In the fall of 2020, Gartner surveyed 200 GCs and legal operations managers to measure their satisfaction with legal transformation outcomes in their departments. Only 49% agreed that the projects met GC expectations for quality, 47% said that the projects were “usually” or “always” completed within budget, and 43% said that the projects met with the overall satisfaction of legal leadership (See Figure 1). 

“General counsel typically think of legal transformation projects taking place at the operations level, but to a large extent it’s the GC that determines whether these projects will be successful,” said Stephanie Quaranta, research vice president in the Gartner Legal & Compliance practice. “Too often, GCs send mixed signals about the priority of transformation projects that undermines legal staff’s commitment to them. Examples include borrowing resources from transformation projects to address unexpected, high-urgency work, or simply not pausing to publicly praise these projects in the same way that more standard ‘legal’ work is recognized.”

As a result of COVID-19, 92% of legal departments expect flat or reduced budgets in 2021. Support requests will increase, however, with 65% of GCs anticipating more routine legal work, while 66% expect more mission critical work. To meet rising demand with flat resourcing, GCs must pursue legal transformation projects that increase the efficiency, speed and quality of their work. Examples of such projects include standing up an outside counsel panel, implementing a contract management system or automating a process.

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Figure 1: Legal Transformation Project Outcomes

SOURCE: Gartner, January 2021

Climate Determines Transformation Outcomes 

For that minority of legal leaders who were satisfied with transformation outcomes, there was one common factor: GCs in their department focused on creating a climate that prioritized transformation work. The two most critical element of these climates are parity between transformation projects and more standard legal work and effective support for executing on these projects.

GCs who succeeded in the first step focused on the consistency of their messaging and creating the right incentives for ensuring participation with transformation projects.

“It’s natural for lawyers to prefer ‘legal’ work with immediate and clear client impact and asking them to defer that work to focus on these projects often meets with some resistance,” said Ms. Quaranta. “GCs have to build staff engagement with these projects by demonstrating their value—both to the legal department and the business—and taking the lead in rationalizing workloads to ensure that they aren’t forced to trade these projects off for other asks.” 

Beyond messaging and proactive prioritization of work requests, GC who have delivered successful transformation outcomes also tied promotions of their lawyers to consistent participation in legal transformation efforts, while also reimagining roles in the department to put transformation responsibilities at the forefront.  

The second element to better ensuring transformation success is how the project is designed from the start. GCs should focus on scoping transformation projects to be realistic, feasible and in line with the department’s needs and abilities. A focus on capturing knowledge from the completion of one project to make future projects easier for lawyers is essential. Project success depends on giving lawyers the right tools and support as well as ensuring they have the skills and capabilities they need for transformation.

“The best programs we see have a focus on project management fundamentals, often relying on other centers of excellence in the organization to bring that discipline to the legal department,” said Ms. Quaranta. “Scoping the projects appropriately and providing plenty of support in the form of processes, tools, and trainings—together with sending the right signals about the value of these projects—makes them more attractive to lawyers, drives more engagement with them, and ultimately leads to better outcomes.”

Gartner clients can learn more How General Counsel Can Ensure Successful Legal Department Transformation.  

Non clients can also learn about legal transformation here: Legal in 2025.

About the Gartner Legal & Compliance Practice

The Gartner Legal & Compliance practice brings together in-depth research and analysis, peer-based best practices, metrics and data to offer legal and compliance leaders a platform to make the choices that will drive their business forward and deliver results. Additional information is available at Follow news and updates from the Gartner Legal & Compliance Practice on LinkedIn and Twitter.

About Gartner

Gartner, Inc. (NYSE: IT) delivers actionable, objective insight to executives and their teams. Our expert guidance and tools enable faster, smarter decisions and stronger performance on an organization’s mission critical priorities. To learn more, visit


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