Online Availability Guides Senior Counsel: GCs who want innovation in online communications need to be proactive in making requests to external counsel

Wednesday, November 25, 2015 - 17:36

In February, we revealed the challenges and needs of general counsel within the technology sector, however, the impact of the sector has much weight on peers within other sectors also. This is largely down to how technology and online advances can be used in managing the legal affairs of a business. This month, we have used Sharplegal data to unearth the best practices for corporate counsel to innovate and create improvements in communication with their external counsel.

Online World

When we asked general counsel* how their law firms should be using technology and internet-based services to enhance how they deliver legal services, we received a wide-ranging set of wishes from the most innovative ideas, like taking legal service delivery into the cloud, to the most basic ways to facilitate transmission and reception of information between parties.

Of elite corporate counsel, 15 percent** said they would like online data storage. One manufacturing senior corporate counsel placed high importance on accessibility between legal services, saying, “I think we would prefer to have more open platforms, where we can access general material, but also communicate on invoicing and general caseloads, so systems which allow higher transparency.”

In the U.S., the emphasis is on giving corporate counsel real-time, self-service access to information and knowledge, allowing in-house counsel to be in control of transparency and efficiency, whether via online billing platforms or purpose-built extranets. “They should be putting a lot of those out front, if they have extranet or something else they can offer. They should be developing those client tools because they are really helpful,” said a retail GC in the U.S.

An insurance counsel added, “Just creating portals that allow us to seamlessly view their file and product. Don’t hide the file from us; let us go into the file and look at the legal research they have done. Let us have complete access to it.”

“Their billing platform, there should be an interface between firm and hospital,” a U.S. counsel in healthcare echoed.

Their global counterparts agree, and in regions where businesses and law firms have been earlier to adopt technology, the next level of development stretches beyond information transparency and into the realm of driving more collaborative and higher value outputs.

“Platforms for collaboration, particularly on documents across networks, would be useful,” said a mining-industry attorney in Australia. “I always find it tedious to exchange info with lawyers by email or by providing a disk. There must be a better way.”

About email, a UK retail-focused lawyer added, “I’m increasingly email heavy. It’s how you can address either of those things to help make sure I’m seeing what I need to see as quickly as I need to see it and not seeing very much else. Then providing me a way of still being able to reassure myself, if I want it, in terms about what is going on.”

For many clients, they aren’t asking much of their law firms in terms of investing heavily in technology; for some, it is less about leading the way as catching up to the norm: “I think law firms should exclusively be using emails as a correspondence instead of letters,” said a U.K transportation counsel.

However, as far as technology may develop, in the real world we are still (thus far) limited by the human element. As one UK GC pointed out, law firms could use technology better by using it at all: “By providing online information. [What else?] Answering emails.”

GCs in Charge

Although many would agree with one UK retail GC, who told us that law firms “should be bringing me the answers, not me having to come up with them for them to be honest,” for now, evidence suggests that if GCs want innovation to match the growing demands of their industries, they will need to be proactive in making requests to their external counsel to advance online communications.

Add Your Voice

What are your views on the future of legal service delivery and how it should change? If you have yet to voice your opinions through Acritas’ Sharplegal study in 2015 and are interested in being interviewed, or would like a fully detailed spend report on the retail sector (generated from data provided by your peers), please contact Deidre Roddy at or go to It only takes 15 minutes to add your voice!

Acritas interviews over 2,400 senior corporate counsel across 50 countries every year for Sharplegal, the world’s most comprehensive annual study of the global legal market. *Interviews conducted with 1,103 senior corporate counsel in organizations with revenues of $1 billion and above who took part in Acritas’ Sharplegal survey in 2014. **Interviews were conducted with 130 corporate counsel in organizations with revenues of $1 billion and above who took part in Acritas’ Sharplegal survey in 2013.

Elizabeth Duffy is Vice President of Acritas US, Inc.