Legal12 May, 2021

Why legal departments struggle with implementing a digital strategy

Legal departments have been increasingly turning to technology, without even realising it, but they are struggling to put a long-term plan in place. According to the Demonstrating value: legal technology and your in-house legal department report by Wolters Kluwer in association with The Lawyer, 40 percent of respondents indicated they do not have a clear digital strategy. This figure falls to 28 per cent for respondents from organisations with a turnover of more than £1bn but climbs to 47 per cent at organisations with a turnover of less than £125m. The difference highlights a gulf in sophistication between larger and smaller organisations.

In this article we’ll look at some of the challenges that can arise when planning for, and implementing, a digital strategy.

Finding the time

In some legal departments it’s difficult to dedicate time to long-term planning, especially when there are other important, high-priority matters. In the report, 31 per cent of respondents said that their digital strategy isn’t supported by a plan with specific due dates and milestones. This highlights the difficulty of creating a long-term vision. Without a timeline or milestones, it’s likely that your plans will not be executed within the desired timeframe. A clear roadmap that includes specific dates and milestones helps legal departments to win stakeholder approval.

Tight budgets

The report also revealed that budgets for implementing a digital strategy are tight, with 43% stating they have no budget. This doesn’t necessarily mean legal departments have no budget at all, but rather a broader lack of maturity in long-term planning. Although getting stakeholders to approve budget can be difficult, it should not be insurmountable. As Maurits Annegarn, Segment Manager Legal Software at Wolters Kluwer Legal & Regulatory remarked, “Cost and time are key considerations, but if they’re preventative it suggests that you’re running your department as an external law firm rather than as an integral part of the organisation.”

Perception of the legal department as a cost centre

When the rest of the business perceives the legal department to be a cost centre, it’s difficult to convince stakeholders to approve budget. This particular challenge came up frequently during our roundtable co-hosted with The Lawyer. Attendees agreed that when the business sees the legal department as a cost centre, asking for budget for something that’s not a legal fee is a tough sell.

Building a skillset

Two skills that are essential for building a digital strategy, financial planning and budgeting, are not always part of a general counsel’s skillset. This is often complicated by the fact that within organisatios it’s unclear who owns what processes. In order to avoid being left out the general counsel needs to make sure the legal department is integrated into tech enablement initiatives and enterprise wide transformation.


For more insights from the report, including top improvements, technology usage and challenges when introducing legal tech, download the report, Demonstrating value: legal technology and your in-house legal department. The report is based on a survey of over 130 general counsel and heads of legal across the U.K. and looks at how legal technology can improve efficiency within the modern in-house legal department.

Download the report here

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