Can French Legal Departments Prepare for the Future?

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Wolters Kluwer ELM Solutions, along with Raconteur, recently conducted a survey of legal department leaders in France and the rest of Europe and published the results in our 2017 General Counsel Barometer report. The report provides insight into the concerns, practices, and future of French legal departments.

Strategic Contributions Growing in Importance

As in the rest of Europe, legal departments in France are increasingly expected to play a strategic business role in addition to providing good legal counsel. Thirty-nine percent of respondents told us that in the last three years, the department has been “increasingly strategically focused – viewed as an integral part of the business leadership, providing input to the business.” When we asked about the near future, however, the number who expect to be strategically focused over the next three years jumped to 59 percent.

General Counsel at French companies must quickly find ways to make these business-focused contributions without disrupting their team’s legal work. The study found that the top priority for French legal departments is improving internal efficiency, which indicates that they are already moving in the right direction. One of the best ways to increase efficiency is to implement technology that improves productivity. Repetitive, manual tasks, such as processing invoices and updating spreadsheets, take time away from higher-value legal and strategic business priorities. Many French legal departments see their work requests increasing and don’t have time to spare on low-value tasks.

It is essential to have a comprehensive matter and spend management system (including document and panel management) that simplifies day-to-day operations via automated processes. A robust e-billing module, for example, can check for compliance with billing guidelines, quickly isolate non-compliant line items for the law firm to adjust, and route invoices to the correct reviewer, all before a staff member even sees an invoice. And matter management enables legal staff to easily track key matter events and keep appraised of important developments.

French Focus on Risk Mitigation and Expertise

While results in France were mostly aligned with those in the rest of Europe, there was one noteworthy area of difference. French respondents are more focused on “legal and regulatory risk mitigation and compliance”, setting it as their second most important concern while the rest of Europe ranked it fourth. The most effective way to address these risks is to increase transparency and reportability via performance analytics. With a robust platform you can pinpoint financially risky areas with reports such as Ten Highest-Cost Matters by Region, or Most Expensive Invoices In Review in each practice area.

One of the ways French companies avoid risk is by using appropriate outside counsel when necessary. While French legal departments seek to keep much of their work in-house, when they do assign work externally, it is usually to a specialist firm. These firms are entrusted most often with work that requires their specific areas of expertise. In-house lawyers can have more confidence in their firm assignments if they have access to scorecards in a matter management system that combines both objective records about past results and subjective reviews by colleagues who have worked with the firms.

Companies of All Sizes Benefit from the Right Tools

In Europe, legal departments within large enterprises are leading the change to a more strategic focus because they are most likely to have the necessary technology already in place. However, mid-size companies have access to tools that have been designed and priced to meet their needs and expectations in both the short and long term. These businesses have similar goals to those of large enterprise companies. They would be well advised to seek out similar technology, scaled for their specific needs, that will help them perform as efficiently as their larger counterparts.

Download the white paper, Building the Business Case for an Enterprise Legal Management System, for more information on integrated matter and spend management, and how to calculate projected savings and ROI.

About The Author

Emmanuel Bertrand

As Business Development Manager for Europe, the Middle East, and Asia, Emmanuel Bertrand concentrates his efforts on bringing ELM Solutions offerings to new territories in the EMEA region and introducing our enterprise solutions to legal professionals in these areas. Emmanuel’s familiarity with the needs of global corporate legal departments, combined with his expertise in developing business relationships in new regions, makes him a key member of the international team.