The growing pressure on government attorneys – ranging from steadily increasing workloads to keeping current on the new laws and regulations while dealing with tight budgets and loss of a generation of institutional knowledge – has made the status quo at state, federal and local levels difficult to sustain.
A new Thomson Reuters white paper, entitled Government Law Departments 2017, discusses in-depth this “challenge-rich” environment that government attorneys are facing today.
Indeed, citing a recent Thomson Reuters survey of 238 government attorneys, the white paper explains how dealing with tighter budgets, rising workloads and increasing complexity in their jobs are the main challenges these attorneys face today. In fact, almost 80% of government attorneys responding to the survey said they expect their workload to increase within the next few years, and to become more complex, according to the survey. And more than two-thirds of respondents (67%) said scarce resources and tight budgets add pressure to their jobs.
To get an idea of the pressures government attorneys face, it is helpful to remember that unlike their private-practice counterparts, government attorneys have to be “Jacks (and Jills) of all Trades”, navigating civil complaints, local and state regulations and evolving new laws.
“It’s soup to nuts,” says a former county attorney from Florida, quoted in the white paper. “I might be in county court one morning arguing a zoning code enforcement, and a couple hours later be working on a federal housing grant or drafting a contract to purchase a sheriff’s helicopter. We are expected to be generalists, but we are also expected to do everything and know everything.” In fact, according to the survey, the average government attorney works on 32 different matters every week.
Another problem plaguing government attorneys is the growing number of Baby Boomer era attorneys – those who may have served in government for 30 years or more – who are retiring and taking with them their knowledge base, the paper says, adding that “upwards of 50% of the state and local government workforce will be eligible for retirement by 2019, and 33% of federal workers are eligible for retirement this year alone.”
The white paper does offer some solutions, however, showing that, with the “common denominator” in all these pressures being the infringement on the government attorneys’ time, one way they are fighting back is by adopting technological innovations designed to automate routine, day-to-day tasks that take up a majority of a government attorney’s daily workload. These tasks can include, drafting, reviewing, and proofing legal documents or getting up to speed in unfamiliar areas of the law. As the white paper demonstrates, agencies and their attorneys are getting more apt at using these technologies to improve their overall workflow and increase efficiency.
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