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How to Achieve Work-Life Balance for In-House Lawyers

Transitioning from being a lawyer within a firm to an in-house counsel used to bring the promise of a more manageable work-life balance.

The trade-off seemed simple: accept a potentially lower salary in exchange for fewer work hours and less stress.

However, recent findings, such as those from a 2023 Bloomberg survey, paint a different picture of the legal industry. The reality for many in-house lawyers today still involves long hours. Many in-house legal professionals also report a decline in mental health and overall well-being. This shift challenges the once-accepted norm and signals a need for a strategic reassessment of how in-house teams approach legal work.

While the quantity of work on the in-house team’s plate is ever-increasing, part of the answer to this workload problem lies in how it’s managed. In-house attorneys often work in small corporate legal departments without the extensive support networks available in large law firms. This can lead to inefficiencies and an overwhelmed feeling, with manual, time-consuming tasks eating into precious personal time or causing burnout.

By using various strategies, processes and automation tools, in-house counsel can increase their productivity and focus on high-value activities that require their unique expertise rather than getting bogged down in administrative tasks.

Delegate Work To Your Team

Wherever feasible, taking into account risk and resourcing parameters, you should seek to delegate work matters to more junior colleagues. That means handing work with low levels of complexity or uncertainty to paralegals and legal administrators.

Some examples of work you should be delegating include reviews of contracts with standard terms and low-complexity queries from the business.

Legal operations, or legal ops, teams can help you with this work by identifying the high-volume, low-risk work burdening your in-house counsel. Then, they can decide whether that work would be best to delegate or even fully automate.

Delegating tasks is a strategic approach to ensure in-house lawyers focus on the aspects of their job that genuinely need their expertise. Delegation isn’t just about lightening the load—it’s about smartly distributing it to maintain a balance that benefits both the individual and the team.

By effectively delegating, in-house counsel reduce their workload, allowing them to concentrate on high-value tasks requiring their unique skills. This strategic approach to workload management is key to achieving a healthy work-life balance. It ensures everyone is working within their strengths and contributing to the team’s success most efficiently.

Consider (Cost-Effective) Outsourcing

Determining when and how to outsource legal work is crucial for in-house counsel aiming to maintain a balanced workload and ensure cost-effectiveness. Strategic outsourcing allows in-house teams to take time to focus on core activities while leveraging the specialized skills of outside counsel and alternative legal service providers (ALSPs) for specific tasks. Here’s how to make informed decisions about outsourcing:

Assess the Nature of the Work

High-complexity or high-risk matters, such as litigation or specialized regulatory compliance issues, typically require the expertise of outside counsel who bring specific legal acumen and experience within a given practice area. High-risk matters that do not require the niche skill sets of outside counsel are usually good candidates to keep in-house, given their importance to your business and the value internal knowledge brings to them.

In contrast, high-volume, routine tasks such as document and contract reviews are well-suited for ALSPs, who can often provide these services more efficiently and at a lower cost than traditional law firms, while removing this workload from the desks of in-house attorneys.

Evaluate Cost vs. Benefit

Before outsourcing, work with your legal ops team to conduct a cost-benefit analysis and determine whether the expense aligns with the value it brings to your organization.

Consider the direct costs, the risk impact of outsourcing the work, and the potential for freeing up internal resources.

You can justify the higher cost of outside counsel for tasks where specialized knowledge is critical. The efficiency and scalability offered by ALSPs may present a more cost-effective solution for more routine tasks.

Use Data to Inform Decisions

Leverage data from past legal matters to guide your outsourcing decisions. This includes analyzing the performance of outside counsel and ALSPs in terms of cost, efficiency, and outcomes.

Tools like legal spend management software can provide valuable insights, helping you to identify which providers deliver the best value and under what circumstances.

Zillow's Mark Allen on the benefits of benchmarking outside counsel firms.

Eliminate Unnecessary Work

In-house teams should leverage modern tooling to reduce time spent on low-risk, low-value work that doesn’t meaningfully impact business outcomes. This improves operational efficiency and contributes to a more satisfying work environment by letting lawyers focus on work that is important and aligned with their skills.

Leverage FAQs

Develop a centralized knowledge base where employees can find answers to frequently asked legal questions. This reduces the need for in-house counsel to spend time answering routine queries and allows them to focus on more complex legal matters.

Implement Self-Service Workflows

Establish self-serve legal processes that empower non-legal employees to handle basic tasks independently.

For example, you can set up automatic NDA reviews and train other staff on how to manage that workflow. This legal workflow automation can save legal departments hundreds of hours.

Automate Administrative Tasks

Some tasks cannot be eliminated but can be fully automated to free up in-house counsel’s time.

By automating these aspects of legal work, in-house teams can drastically reduce the time spent on administrative tasks, improving efficiency and job satisfaction. Automation supports the legal department’s operational needs and aligns with broader organizational goals by streamlining processes, reducing errors, and ensuring compliance.

AI-Powered Invoice Review

Integrating AI for invoice review transforms how legal departments manage and control their legal spending. This technology automatically scrutinizes invoices against established outside counsel guidelines, flags discrepancies, and can even reject non-compliant submissions without human intervention. The result? A significant reduction in manual review time and a more strategic allocation of in-house counsel’s efforts.

Brightflag's Michael Dineen on the benefits of using A.I. for automated invoice review.

Centralized Matter Management

Instead of wading through endless emails to find important matter information and get updates on current status, in-house teams can rely on matter management platforms. These platforms offer a convenient location to store all relevant matter information, plus centralized dashboards to provide insight into the team’s workload.

Automated Reporting

Say goodbye to the manual compilation of matter status reports. Modern e-billing solutions automate report generation, scheduling regular updates directly in stakeholders’ inboxes. This automation ensures in-house teams and senior management are always informed, facilitating strategic decisions without time-consuming data gathering.

Use Brightflag To Move From Overwhelmed To In Control

Navigating the demands of an in-house legal role requires more than just legal expertise; it demands a strategic approach to managing work and well-being. Embracing solutions that alleviate the daily grind can significantly shift the balance toward more meaningful professional lives.

Brightflag offers a comprehensive suite of tools that automate routine tasks, provide clear oversight of matters and invoices, and enable effective communication and delegation. Sign up for a demo to see how Brightflag can transform your legal department’s productivity.

Brightflag Director of Legal and Compliance Laura Gleeson, smiling in business attire.

Laura Gleeson

General Counsel and Vice President at Brightflag

Laura’s career has spanned senior legal roles both in private practice and in house, giving her first-hand exposure to the importance of legal technology. Prior to joining Brightflag, Laura spent more than ten years at Matheson, Ireland’s largest law firm, where she was a partner in its Finance and Capital Markets group, after which she served as senior counsel at PM Group, a multinational engineering firm. Laura serves as a board director at Make-A-Wish Ireland and has a degree in Law & European Studies and a Master of Laws from the University of Limerick.