For LOD’s 2022 global report, Risky Busyness, we spoke with 169 in-house leaders around the world to get a feel of the challenges they’re facing, their priorities, where they’re investing and how they’re boosting their effectiveness. As the title suggests, the key theme of the report is the dual-pronged challenge of managing risk as workloads continue to increase. 

Facing growing risk and rising demand 

Ensuring risk is tackled appropriately was cited by 68% of legal leaders as their top strategic focus. This statistic has risen consistently over the past 3 years and is compounded by the need to prioritise large volumes of work, which was highlighted by 60% of survey participants. Astute General Counsel are meeting this twin challenge by ensuring that their team’s service delivery is fit-for-purpose, not gold-plated. This isn’t to suggest the balancing act of mitigating risk and getting your work done is easy – it’s a tightrope that requires both legal and commercial experience to know where to focus your efforts. 

The key theme of managing risk while workloads increase is further reflected by the top 4 areas of investment. Unsurprisingly, the biggest focus of investment by in-house legal leaders is lawyers, highlighted by 66% of respondents. With growing workloads, hiring more lawyers is often the first port of call for in-house leaders. Risk and compliance expertise comes in second (25%), with self-serve tools (24%) and both legal operations and outsourcing workstreams (23%). 

Managing the team 

Team management issues are also at the front of legal leaders’ minds. Against the backdrop of a tightening legal recruitment market, 51% mention the need to provide career development and training opportunities to their teams. Effective structuring of workloads, so the right type of work goes to the right people, came in a close second at 50%. This point is interesting and speaks to the wider point of talent retention – if in-house lawyers are stuck doing highly repetitive, administrative-style work, it’s going to be harder to keep them. But it is a challenge to get your team structure optimised, some of the quotes from GCs around the world suggested that streamlining your contracting function is a key way to assist with team work allocation and efficiency. 

What are highly-valued legal teams doing differently? 

In-house leaders were also asked to gauge their teams’ reputation within their organisation, with 45% stating that they were highly valued. Interestingly, this figure increased to 55% for those legal leaders with a clear tech strategy and to nearly 67% for those that strongly agreed with the use of data to boost their value. While it might not be a surprise that data fluent leaders can better show value, reading this report will be an encouragement to those legal functions who are embracing tech and using data to gain an advantage. 

Three hallmarks of effective legal departments 

From this year’s survey, we saw three key characteristics of successful legal departments: visibility, flexibility, and vision. Visibility in two ways – the team is visible across your organisation as a vital department, and visibility in the form of objective data about the contracts, risk levels and matters being run by the legal team. Flexibility in how the team is resourced – armed with data the team can scale up and down with the right blend of specialities and seniority. Finally, vision in having a strategy that underpins its operations. This combination of characteristics creates a legal function that is agile, effective, and able to prove its value to the business. 


The report concludes by looking at the year ahead and predicting the trends for in-house leaders to keep an eye on. Pulling on the thread of what we’ve seen in the past 12 months, it seems clear that legal departments will need to remain focused on talent retention. Secondly, your best value lever to pull might be your contracting function. Thirdly, if you need specialist expertise or even whole project teams, consider getting those resources flexibly to reduce wastage. Finally, strategic legal functions will be integrating more tightly with their business colleagues.