Since I first came on as editor five years ago, many of my columns have centered on the struggling economy and every legal department’s challenge of doing more with less. And for good reason.       

The past few years have put general counsel and other legal department leaders in a unique position: dealing with substantially slashed budgets and staff while managing the same or increasing workloads. Sure, it’s every department leader’s job to work his budget most efficiently, despite the state of the economy. But no one would argue that the past few years have offered unprecedented challenges.

It’s safe to say that GCs and legal department leaders across the country have risen to the challenge. In these past few years, our annual InsideCounsel 10 feature, which runs every September, has showcased more and more interesting best practices stories that are unique to both new and old legal department management challenges. 

What’s clear is this: The exercises GCs and CFOs have faced the past few years have strengthened their skills and opened their minds. Now more than ever, we’re seeing unique best practices being rolled out in the interest of a not only efficient legal department, but also a highly functional and successful one. The 2012 IC10 winners’ best practices included the implementation of a complex anti-corruption program, a DIY project to streamline and organize the internal matter intake function, and a reorganization of outside counsel management—all of which saved their departments money.

This issue, we decided to dig even deeper into best practices in creating a leaner, more efficient legal department. In this month’s feature story, “Strategies for leaner legal departments“, which will run as a two-part series (look for Part 2 in the April issue), InsideCounsel takes a look at strategies for maximizing internal efficiency and resourcefulness in today’s legal department. 

Through strengthening skills, properly allocating resources, implementing effective uses of technology, and simply being creative and thinking outside of the box, legal departments are seeing marked improvement and success internally. In the next installment of “Strategies for leaner legal departments,” InsideCounsel will delve into applying similar techniques to effectively cut external expenses while improving department efficiency.

While the economy has done its part to give us all a big headache, it has also allowed us to open our minds and get creative—a valuable and welcome exercise.