Although the majority of U.S. in-house lawyers prefer not to return full-time to their offices, nearly half have done so, in part because their organizations have failed to effectively adopt new technologies that would facilitate hybrid work arrangements.

This is among the findings of a new survey of in-house lawyers commissioned by the contract management company ContractWorks and conducted by the U.K.-based research company Censuswide.

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The survey of 250 in-house lawyers in the U.S. found that two thirds (64%) of them prefer policies that would permit them to work from home, even as many companies are now insisting they return to the office full-time.

In fact, 44% of in-house lawyers are now back in the office full time, the survey found.

LawSites was given advance access to the preliminary findings of this survey, which was conducted in January. In the coming months, ContractWorks will be releasing additional data from the survey and publishing a report with further findings.

Technology A Factor

One factor inhibiting legal departments from adopting remote-working models is their failure to adopt new technology, the survey concluded.

This is the case even though the survey corroborated the perception that the pandemic had prompted an uptick in legal departments’ use of technology. More than half of in-house lawyers (54%) agreed that COVID had accelerated the adoption of new legal technology by at least three years.

Just since the onset of the pandemic in 2020, 39% of legal departments had implemented contract management software and 34% had started using a matter management solution, the survey found.

Nearly half of respondents said the adoption of these technologies had made their day-to-day jobs more enjoyable, with 38% saying it had improved their work-life balance.

Even so, the survey found that many organizations have yet to adopt the tools needed to effectively enable remote working. Over a third of respondents said that contract management software and litigation management software remained two of their top tech priorities for improving post-pandemic legal operations.

What is holding legal departments back from adopting technology? The main obstacles, according to those surveyed, were lack of resources (30%), departmental budgetary restraints (27%) and lack of tech literacy (29%).

A Factor in Retaining Talent

Mark Rhodes, London-based managing director of ContractWorks, said that legal departments should consider the implications of these findings for attracting and retaining top talent.

“Most in-house lawyers want to work from home now, either solely or as part of a hybrid model,” he said. Working from home makes lawyers more productive while also giving them greater leeway to deal with family and non-work responsibilities.

Adoption of technology such as contract management software directly impacts an organization’s ability to adopt a hybrid work policy and its lawyers day-to-day enjoyment of their job, Rhodes said.

“The right combination of working conditions with the right technology to support that can lead to a happier set of employees,” he said. “If you get that right, its easier to attract the best talent and to keep the best talent. But if you get it wrong, you risk losing your top talent.”

Getting that right — having the right tools in place — can be a daunting task, he said, but one that offers huge potential for enriching employees’ experience.

He urges legal departments to include employee stakeholders in the technology procurement process.

“Take those people on the journey with you, include the stakeholders, and don’t just outsource the process to the IT or procurement team,” he said.

“Stay focused on the problem you’re there to solve and make sure your criteria for selection and success includes those factors that will impinge on the human experience of your team.”

ContractWorks is part of SecureDocs, a Santa Barbara, Calif., software company with products for contract management, virtual deal rooms and electronic signatures, and which was acquired in January by Onit, the Houston company that provides enterprise workflow products for corporations and corporate legal departments.

Featured photo by Alesia Kazantceva on Unsplash.

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Bob is a lawyer, veteran legal journalist, and award-winning blogger and podcaster. In 2011, he was named to the inaugural Fastcase 50, honoring “the law’s smartest, most courageous innovators, techies, visionaries and leaders.” Earlier in his career, he was editor-in-chief of several legal publications, including The National Law Journal, and editorial director of ALM’s Litigation Services Division.