For years, many of us toiling away in law firms thought that life would be so much better as an in-house counsel. You didn’t have to bill time; you didn’t have billable hour quotas. You didn’t have to hustle business. Life would be so much simpler.
But a couple of recent surveys pretty clearly confirm that the grass is seldom greener. A study by Axiom, an alternative legal service provider, for example, has disturbing news for those thinking about jumping ship to in-house. 89% of the in-house lawyers surveyed say they are dissatisfied with their positions. That’s just about every in-house counsel surveyed. 61% say they are very stressed with their current jobs (so much for the simplistic, carefree life we outside lawyers envisioned).
What’s the source of the dissatisfaction? 100% say the volume and complexity of the matters they handle are increasing. 81% say they are under-resourced. 41% say they have to spend too much time on administrative tasks. And 33% say their teams lack the legal expertise to do their job.
50% say they don’t even like the work they do and are convinced their talents are being wasted. Despite all this, 76% say there is or soon will be a hiring freeze in their departments. The old “do more with less” model doesn’t seem to be working.
This should bode well for business for outside lawyers, right? Wrong. According to in-house counsel, the advice they get from outside lawyers is too conceptual and too impractical. Managing outside counsel takes too much time. Law firms don’t prioritize their business. It takes too long to get outside lawyers involved to help much. And, of course, outside lawyers cost too much. Only 7% believed that outside lawyers could effectively help them.
The big headline: 66% of those surveyed by Everlaw and ACC say they are going to bring even more legal work in-house
It’s not a rosy picture. And another study, this one done by Everlaw and the Association of Corporate Counsel, doesn’t provide much solace. (Everlaw provides E-discovery and complex case management. The ACC is an association of in-house counsel. The Study is entitled, The State of Collaboration in Corporate Legal Departments). Joe Patrice of Above the Law recently wrote about the numerous and various findings of this Study. But a few things stand out particularly in light of the Axiom findings.
The big headline: 66% of those surveyed by Everlaw and ACC say they are going to bring even more legal work in-house, not less. The idea, of course, is to lower costs and improve cost predictability. (The Survey shows that while outside firms do okay with communications, the in-house law people aren’t happy about costs and predictability. They also get poor marks for transparency). For those Axiom respondents who feel overworked now, look out.
It’s no wonder that more work is being brought in house given so few in-house lawyers think outside lawyers can help them much, according to the Axiom Study.
So what’s the solution for our stressed out in-house friends? While some may think that AI and technology may be a solution, only about a third of those surveyed say they plan to use technology to reduce costs. Other tools like alternative fees (28% say they might use) and using alternative legal service providers (only 10% mention this) do not seem to offer much help either. It’s a sad picture.
In-house lawyers are over worked and over stressed and it’s not going to get better
Of course, some statistics don’t add up much when looking at these two studies together. That may be because of bias or because in-house counsel are too busy to think much about survey responses. But one thing is clear: being an in-house counsel ain’t what it used to be. (If it ever was). In-house lawyers are over worked and over stressed and it’s not going to get better. That’s the bad news.
To the extent there is any good news, it may be for those outside lawyers who heed the findings. There is an opportunity here for those outside lawyers who provide solutions, not theoretical advice. Who provide transparency about fees and what they are doing. Who are frugal with the billable hours. Who make their clients feel like their work is the most important work they do.
The statistics show few outside lawyers get it. But for those who do, they might find their work will not be in the 66% that will be taken away. For client conscious lawyers, there is a real opportunity.