Findings of the latest Thomson Reuters Legal Department Operations (LDO) Index reveal 81% of legal departments surveyed have dedicated legal operations staff, up from 57%. It’s the first time the survey – now in its fifth edition – has seen a significant shift in how legal departments are operating.

The report showed legal departments’ use of outside counsel and technology are on the rise due to COVID-19, though their key priorities have remained relatively consistent. The two top priorities continue to be controlling outside counsel costs (89%) and a focus on internal security (74%), while the next three priorities are driving internal efficiency (74%), using technology to simplify workflow (61%) and focusing on legal operations (52%).

COVID-19 has had a significant impact on legal departments’ use of technology, with 27% of departments reporting they are implementing more legal technology solutions due to the pandemic. Also, 44% of legal departments simplified their workflow by increasing their use of technology tools, while 30% have increased their legal technology budget.

Legal departments indicated they’re focusing on using technology to be more efficient in these areas: eBilling/spend & matter management, contract management, legal research, document management and legal hold.

COVID-19 has also affected legal departments’ work volume, and in turn, their use of outside counsel.

An increased work volume over the past 12 months was reported by 68% of legal departments, with 79% indicating the uptick was due to the pandemic. To address the shift in type of work, 35%of legal departments noted they have increased their use of outside counsel.

“We weren’t surprised to see that in-house legal departments continue to experience pressure to do more with less,” said Carly Toward, proposition lead for Legal Departments at Thomson Reuters. “This is the first time, however, we have seen a significant change in how legal departments are operating and it’s clear legal operations teams are now an expectation for any modern legal department. COVID-19 also has placed a heavier burden on legal departments and it’s more important than ever for the legal function to demonstrate value through cost control measures and adoption of technology.”

For more insights, download the full 2020 LDO Index.