Strategic Thinking: The True North for In-House Legal Digitalization

As the corporate world evolves, in-house legal teams stand at a pivotal juncture. The urge to digitize and adopt a business-oriented mindset is intense, yet the true course forward is not marked merely by innovation. This narrative points towards what in-house legal professionals genuinely need – strategic thinking. This isn’t to undermine the importance of digital tools but to advocate for a strategy-led approach that emphasizes thoughtful planning over the indiscriminate adoption of technology.


The Digitalization Imperative

In-house legal departments often bear the reputation of being the last to embrace digital advancements, lagging behind their counterparts in efficiency and modernization. This observation has given rise to a misconception that the absence of innovation is the primary obstacle to their progress. However, this view neglects to consider the complex dynamics involved in digitalizing a department with strings attached across the organization.

Understanding Strategic Thinking

Strategic thinking is about comprehensively understanding one’s business environment to pinpoint key opportunities and threats, crafting long-term plans to achieve overarching goals. For in-house legal teams, it translates to aligning legal strategies with the broader business objectives, ensuring that legal decisions reinforce the company’s overall health and competitive edge.

According to a recent survey conducted by Statista, almost 3.9% of an in-house legal department’s budget was spent on legal technology in 2020. It is further predicted that this budget is likely to increase by 12% by 2025. Yet survey data from 2022 reveals that 77% of in-house lawyers experienced legal tech project failure, with the top three reasons being that implementation took too long, the tech was too complicated, or wasn’t the right fit.

The Misguided Rush for Innovation

In the race for innovation, the market floods legal departments with digital tools, each promising transformative impacts. Yet, without strategic direction, these technologies can lead to fragmented processes and complexity. Through examples, we see companies that leaped at legal tech without a strategic plan, resulting in underutilization and missed opportunities for true integration with their business goals.

Strategic Thinking in Action

The first step before embracing any new technology is for in-house legal teams to set clear, strategic objectives. What business outcomes are they aiming to support? How can legal tech streamline operations in alignment with these goals? Strategic thinking promotes an integrative view, encouraging legal tech to function not in isolation but as part of a system that enhances decision-making and operational efficiency across the board. It also involves early identification of potential legal and operational risks, allowing legal teams to proactively use technology to mitigate these risks.

Building Strategic Acumen

To cultivate strategic thinking among in-house legal professionals, initiatives such as workshops, mentoring, and exposure to business operations are vital. Encouraging collaboration with other departments can deepen the legal team’s business understanding and pinpoint where legal tech can offer the most value. Furthermore, establishing metrics to evaluate the strategic initiatives’ impact is crucial, ensuring they contribute meaningfully to the company’s long-term goals.


Navigating the digital landscape for in-house legal departments is less about the digital tools and more about the strategic mindset behind their deployment. By focusing on long-term objectives, integrating legal operations with company goals, and understanding the broader business context, legal departments transcend their traditional roles. They become indispensable strategic partners, leveraging technology as a means to an end, not an end in itself. In this light, the role of innovation is redefined – not diminished but aligned within a strategic framework, ensuring that in-house legal teams’ digitalization efforts are in sync with their company’s vision and objectives.

Further reading

Jack Shepherd is an ex biglaw insolvency lawyer and innovation, turned legal practice lead at iManage. He is interested in the human side of legal tech and actually getting things used.

How can you tell if a law firm is innovative? According to Laura Collins Scott, it’s the wrong question to ask. Read her quick take thoughts here – her mindset applies to in-house too.

Electra Japonas, founder of TLB (The Law Boutique) shares her own take on the rise and fall of the generative AI hype in law – read how AI expectations change over time.