“The proposal is held up in Legal. Wish they could hurry up!”
It’s a common refrain around the office. Legal teams recognize that they are often a “bottleneck” when it comes to getting things done. According to research from CEB, now Gartner, 90% of legal staff report feeling they slow other functions down when they execute their tasks slowly.
So the business wants legal to move faster. But are legal departments really as slow as the business considers them to be?
In a CEB, now Gartner, survey of nearly 10,000 employees across 10 functions about the tasks that are central to their jobs, a higher percentage of legal teams report executing tasks slower than any other corporate function. In fact, legal departments self-assess as being the slowest corporate function.
For the average company, legal’s slow speed adds 6.5 days to a company’s launch of a new product
Forty percent of legal department managers report that legal takes more time than necessary overall to complete activities. The slowness of execution resides heavily in five key legal activities:
- Managing outside counsel
- Supporting go-to-market strategy
- Advising M&A transactions
- Protecting intellectual property
- Managing contract risk
These tasks are not busy work — they are key ways legal supports the business and enables growth.
When a legal team’s ability to execute is slow, it spends about 1.3x longer than appropriate on their tasks. This translates into 1.3x longer contract review cycles, 1.3x longer time reviewing marketing copy or 32% longer contracting with a third party. This equates to a substantial loss in productivity. Moreover, for the average department, the extra cumulative time spent completing legal tasks is equivalent to nearly 3 FTEs wasted on extra work annually.
Legal drag translates into reduced firm growth. For example, legal adds 10% more time than necessary to the launch of new products. In dollar terms, this delay translates into $7 million in revenue losses from delayed product launches that can be directly traced back to slow legal speed. In a continually changing climate — with factors like M&A activity increasing year over year and boards pushing executives to enter new markets — these delays will increasingly damage business unless legal department leaders take action now.
Reduce the drag
For organizations to have the agility and efficiency necessary to meet a constantly changing market, legal teams must work to match their speed with the rest of the business. Legal department leaders, including general counsel and chief legal officers, can take these steps:
- Emphasize the importance of speed. General counsel should ensure they don’t unintentionally send messages to their team that speed matters less, i.e., by over-focusing on the quality of project reviews.
- Standardize legal processes by creating alignment criteria and prioritization tools that help employees make the right tradeoffs. For example, early case assessments can clarify when it’s acceptable to give up something for quick execution and when rigorous rounds of revision and negotiation are required.
- Create a positive end-to-end client experience with guidance targeted at reducing client efforts throughout their interactions with legal. Train lawyers to understand client needs and design legal guidance and self-service tools that are easy to use.