The future of in-house teams - more business than law?

7 Mins Read

Last updated: June 26, 2024

The rate of change in the in-house community is unrelenting. But it is creating an exciting new world. Where will it end up? Will future in-house leaders be more business than law? Will they and their teams operate with a business mindset first, and legal mindset second?

Momentum has been building for some time but the combination of legislative change, tech advances, ongoing budget challenges, and renewed debate about ethics and wellbeing mean the in-house community is at a tipping point of change. With the next few years set to be transformative, the ability to navigate change seamlessly is key. Successful in-house teams of the future will be agile powerhouses, evolving with the times, and embracing new roles and technology with ease. The influence of their leaders will spread significantly further than the realms of law. With a deeply embedded seat at the table, they’ll be pivotal in shaping business direction and guiding business decisions.

So, what might this look like?

Strategic, future-proofed leadership

Thanks to the hard work of GCs over the past 10 to 15 years, the role of the General Counsel and the in-house team is more embedded in the business and strategically focussed than ever before. With recent significant legislative changes like GDPR, the emergence of ESG, and growing complexity across organisations, in-house leaders will play an increasingly important role in shaping business practices.

But there’s also a renewed debate around the ethical side of the role of the GC and the need for in-house lawyers to maintain a level of neutrality. It’s hard to see how things will balance out, but it is clear that the pressure to maintain both agendas will continue to weigh on General Counsel for years to come.

Streamlined agility

Budget tightening isn’t letting up and in-house teams are having to think strategically about getting things done. Whilst it’s difficult, it’s also where innovation and creativity flourish. Some in-house leaders are shifting to smaller teams, with strategic outsourcing providing cost-effective back up to ease high demand.

Those who work with a trusted provider that understands their business achieve great relief when workload is picked up smoothly at times of need. With more in-house teams recognising the value of partnering in this way, ALSPs will become permanent fixtures in their resourcing strategies – creating lean, agile teams that efficiently deals with workload peaks.

Maximised tech potential

Our most recent Global Survey Report showed that 42% of in-house teams now have either an informal or formal tech strategy – a 20% increase on 2022 figures.

Across the market in-house lawyers are realising the productivity gains that tech enables. Tech uptake, particularly the use of Gen AI and automation, outstrips that of law firm tech adoption. In-house lawyers are leading the way and showing how tech can support their agenda and this will only continue to gain momentum.

Role revolution

Many in-house roles are becoming more specialised and as the demand from businesses evolves, GCs are looking at the skillsets within their teams to ensure they have the right people in place. Whilst it varies across industry and practice area, many GCs are ensuring that their teams possess excellent technical legal skills to enable them to keep more complex work in-house and reduce reliance upon expensive law firm support. For some businesses this means creating new teams and hiring top talent to address topics that in the past have been commonly outsourced.

Legal leaders are also looking beyond pure legal skills for their teams with increasing investment in specialist roles like contract managers, compliance professionals and legal ops and tech specialists to enhance team efficiency and free up lawyers for strategic tasks.

Shaping the future

Now more than ever before GCs have the ability to shape the future of the legal profession. Recent changes to the qualification process for junior lawyers means training in-house is much easier. Legal teams can now develop their own talent moulded to their needs. Not only does this affect greater change around social mobility, it enables leaders to develop a more dynamic and inclusive legal team that reflects the evolving business they support.

Businesses are increasingly partnering with external providers to support in-house training. At LOD, we work with clients to provide our LOD Trainees with in-house placements. We give them the qualifying work experience needed, whilst taking care of the rest of their training and scholarships so our clients don’t have to.

So what’s next?

It’s hard to predict the future. We might have some of the above wrong, but one thing we know for sure is that tomorrow’s GCs would surely give credit to today’s leaders. From rough economic conditions to relentless advancements in tech, they are taking a forward-thinking approach which is creating an industry that’s efficient and agile.

Now in-house legal leaders have got their seat at the table, their approach to leadership will evolve to set them up for success in tomorrow’s business-weighted era.