REUTERS | Enrique Castro-Mendivil

Thomson Reuters Institute: 2022 State of Corporate Law Departments report

The Thomson Reuters Institute has recently published its 2022 State of Corporate Law Departments report. The report captures the experiences of more than 2,000 senior in-house and private practice lawyers globally.

One of the headlines from the report is that 43% of those corporate law department leaders surveyed said that they expect their departments’ total spending on legal matters to increase in the coming 12 months, as opposed to just 21% that said they were anticipating a reduction in spending. This is the strongest indication yet of a significant upturn in the level of legal expenditure that the survey has tracked over the last decade.

Among other things, the report provides insights to help corporate law departments:

  • Benchmark legal spend and team size against the latest peer data.
  • Optimise systems and processes to drive greater efficiency by learning from others.
  • Innovate for the future by understanding how other law departments are implementing transformational change.

Key themes from the report

Technological transformation

Law departments that fail to make the most of rapidly evolving legal technology and digitisation are in danger of being left behind by those that do. If you suspect your department is not keeping pace, tackle the biggest issues and quick-wins first, and then keep evolving. Investment in technology should not be regarded as a discrete initiative, instead it should be treated as an ongoing activity requiring continuous funding.

Choosing the right metrics

Most law departments currently focus on the easiest-to-measure metrics, and in many cases fail to capture the most strategically meaningful and operationally actionable data. Departments should collaborate with other parts of their organisation and agree on the right metrics to use. They then need to work out how to measure against those metrics, rather than simply reporting what is most easily captured.

Law firm partnerships

Relationships with law firms and other external legal service providers account for a large proportion of most legal departments’ costs, so it is vital to ensure that these relationships deliver the maximum value. There is much that law departments can do to improve their chances for success in this area, including managing throughout the relationship life cycle, from consideration to post-matter feedback.

Action plan

The report concludes with some practical steps that a law department can take to address the key points raised.

Selecting law firms

Ensure a broad scope of factors are considered when selecting law firms, including those factors with a less direct impact on matters, such as:

  • Business understanding.
  • Innovation.
  • Feedback loops.
  • Gender diversity.

Review your current selection process and look to widen the factors that gain firms entry on to your panel. Define which of these factors (if any) should become formal selection criteria and how they will be evaluated. Communicate your department’s intention to broaden consideration and selection factors to your law firms and provide guidance on how to demonstrate each new factor.

For further information, see Practice note, Legal panel reviews: an introduction.

Legal project management

Improve legal project management, both internally and externally, to drive greater cost certainty, better client experience and optimal matter outcomes. Assign internal legal project managers to the largest or most complex matters, and consider investing in or implementing legal project management software.

For further information, see Practice note, Legal project management: an overview.

Matter scoping

Enhance matter scoping by systemising the involvement of external counsel at the earliest stage. Invest in internal resource to ensure clarity, consider likely alternative scenarios and develop contingencies.


Invest in high-impact technological solutions. If you are not currently using certain tech tools, consider obtaining document management, contract management and e-discovery systems, which all appear underutilised in relation to the value they deliver.

For further information, see Practice note, Demystifying legal technology.


Build value-oriented metrics into your departmental performance monitoring. Consider your department’s roles across the organisation and focus on metrics that demonstrate your department’s value. For example, by tracking:

  • Losses or settlements.
  • The impact of training and education.
  • Internal customer satisfaction.

For further information, see Practice note, Data analytics and business intelligence: an overview.

Avoid being a cost centre

Reposition your department as an organisational value-centre by ensuring that corporate goals and supporting the organisational strategy are high on the departmental agenda. Balance reactive work with a proactive approach to risk management across the organisation.

Environmental, social and governance (ESG)

Develop your department’s ESG proposition by moving from a generic to a specific approach to ESG. This could include:

  • Identifying which factors resonate most with your organisation.
  • Embedding aligned values within the department.
  • Seeking external lawyers with complementary ESG propositions.

For further information, see Environmental, social and governance (ESG) toolkit: UK.


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