Benchmarking Data for Australasian Law Departments

In the United States, legal industry consultants have been publishing law department benchmarking reports for years. (See, for example, the annual law department surveys produced by Hildebrandt and Altman Weil.) Such reports provide the proactive general counsel with lots of useful information for analyzing the current performance of his or her department against that of industry peers and taking corrective action where appropriate. Unfortunately, similar data is far less common for legal departments in other countries.

So, the release this month of the ACLA/CLANZ Legal Department Benchmarking Report 2008 was big news. Commissioned by the Australian Corporate Lawyers Association (ACLA) and the Corporate Lawyers Association of New Zealand (CLANZ), the report delivers the results of a survey of more than 125 Australian and New Zealand companies and government agencies that together spend over a billion dollars on lawyers each year.

One survey metric of particular interest is the list of most pressing issues for general counsel. 32% of respondents cite high workloads / time constraints as the most pressing issue their law department faces today (more than double the next most pressing issue).

Benchmark-ChartClick chart to enlarge

The top six issues (by percentage of respondents) are:

  • Workload/time pressure (32%)
  • Attract/retain/motivate good lawyers (15%)
  • Demonstrate value of legal dept (14%)
  • Keeping appraised of activities with legal implications (9%)
  • Reduce outside legal costs (8%)
  • Resource/budget limitations (6%)

Asian Legal Business found it surprising “that a reduction of outside legal costs ranked only fifth on general counsel’s list of most pressing issues.” I, however, am less surprised given that many law departments have long had sophisticated tools for managing outside legal spend (such as tender processes, panels, mandatory estimates and e-billing).

I would expect workload to be far more of a problem because, in my experience, relatively few law departments actively try to improve productivity and deliver meaningful workload reductions. So the question then is, why do so few law departments try to improve their own productivity? Well, that’s a topic for another post.

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