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The Root of Corporate Legal Team Stress

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If yours is like most Corporate Legal Departments, you are already swamped with work, and the volume just keeps rising. The hours are long, and getting longer, and help might not be on the way.

Most budgets are not keeping pace with the increasing workloads, so the immediate effect is even more hours for the team, building resentment from internal clients who were already unsympathetic, and yet more pressure to perform from management. The bigger the shortfall in funding the more pressure that falls on the existing team, and despite heroic efforts, performance will fall and delivery times will lengthen. The very opposite of what is being asked for by Management.

The first thing you should know is it’s not your fault. You are caught in a classic doom loop; a self-reinforcing negative feedback loop that continues to drive-down performance and drive-up your working hours because of systemic under-investment.

The longer the under-investment continues, and the bigger the investment shortfall, the worse it gets for the team. The problem is the funding decision process, not your team’s individual performance.


When the investment shortfalls are small, the negative feedback loop can just make things more of a drag than they have to be; bearable, but not ideal for high-performing team members.


When the shortfalls are large in comparison to the work volume increases, or continue year-after-year, CLD performance can plummet, turnover can grow, and the stress can be significant (along with a host of other second order effects on the business like slowed cash-flows, higher risk, etc.).


How the Mechanics Work

  1. HIGH VOLUME OF WORK As almost every survey done in the last 5 years will tell you, the volume of work that Corporate Legal Departments are trying to handle is growing, and does not appear to be slowing. When people are hurried, under pressure, over-burdened with administrivia, and already overworked, the conditions are ripe for sub-optimal work. So conscientious high-performing individuals work even longer and harder to make up for the crushing volumes only to steal time from family, friends and much-needed downtime.

  2. UNDERSTAFFED When Management looks at the Corporate Legal Department, they generally see a cost center where they want to squeeze the most out of the investments they make because Legal isn’t often seen as strategic or revenue-producing. Both of those are wrong, but we’ll address that in a later post.

  3. NO EFFECTIVE TECHNOLOGY With the same penny-pinching viewpoint regarding human resources, most Corporate Legal Departments are also under-gunned from a technology perspective. Forced to rely on general purpose tools used elsewhere in the organization, or very specific budget allotments for point solutions that are easy for Management to grasp, (ie. Contract Management) but won’t do anything to drive department-wide gains, CLDs rarely get the technology budget that other departments receive.

  4. NEGATIVE REPUTATION It’s no surprise that when the volume of work rises, you are understaffed, and you have insufficient supporting technology, that the people that Legal serve start bad-mouthing the amount of time it takes to “get anything out of Legal.” This inevitably results in name-calling and yet another burden for Legal to overcome. Unfair, and not of their making, but an insidious problem that will require significant efforts at rehabilitation once it is established.

  5. MANAGEMENT PRESSURES Management now typically steps in and suggest that CLDs need to “step up their game” and “people are complaining,” because Legal’s performance is not meeting the needs of the organization. But their criticism doesn’t usually come with an open wallet and empathy for the conditions that have been largely created by Management in the first place.

You may see some of these components at play for your operation. Or you may see you operation described to a t. It’s likely somewhere in the middle. Whatever the case, you’re probably not operating in an optimal performance state or you wouldn’t be here. The fact that none of this is your fault, and you’re already working flat-out, doesn’t do much to ease your pain. We’re sorry you’re having to deal with this. It isn’t fair or just in any way.

In future posts, we’ll outline our methodology for escaping this negative loop. If you can’t wait that long, drop us a line and we’ll help however we can.

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