July 26, 2017
Government legal departments facing higher workloads, tighter budgets, according to Thomson Reuters survey
EAGAN, Minn. – Government attorneys face daunting workloads, tight budgets, and pressure to keep current on increasingly complex laws and regulations at a time when a generation of institutional knowledge is leaving as Baby Boomer-era employees retire. That’s according to a Thomson Reuters survey across federal, state and city/county levels with 238 government attorneys responding.
Seventy-six percent of government attorneys expect their workload to increase in the next few years. According to the survey, the average government attorney each week works on 32 matters. Compared with their private-practice counterparts, they are typically required to cover a much broader range of legal disciplines. As a “jack of all trades,” the typical government attorney may be responsible for everything from drafting new laws on emerging issues, such as data privacy and cybersecurity, to adjudicating civil complaints and enforcing compliance of regulations.
Two-thirds (67 percent) of government attorneys say that scarce resources and tight budgets are adding pressure to their workloads.
Consulting a colleague to tap into their experience and knowledge is an efficient method of getting a head start on a project, and 75 percent of government attorneys noted they seek help from a colleague weekly, and sometimes more often, regarding unfamiliar legal issues. But as many Boomer-era attorneys, who likely have served in government for many years, are in position to retire or will be retiring, they will take their institutional knowledge with them. By 2019, nearly 50 percent of the full state and local government workforce will be eligible for retirement.1 At the federal level, roughly one-third of workers are eligible for retirement this year alone.2
As workloads increase, and resources become more limited, government attorneys face another pressure in keeping up with the law. Forty-six percent of government attorneys said a top challenge is staying apprised of changes to existing laws. Additionally, 46 percent noted the challenge of keeping up with new and emerging legal issues. To keep current, government attorneys said they spend an average of six hours per week studying areas outside of their expertise.
“Government attorneys face unique challenges,” said Steve Rubley, managing director of the Government segment for Thomson Reuters. “While attorneys in private practice can defer work outside of their practice area and corporate counsel can send work to firms, government lawyers generally can’t turn down work. At the same time, they face challenges familiar to other parts of the legal industry — an increase in workload, institutional knowledge walking out the door and limited budgets requiring them to do more with less.
“Technological resources and workflow solutions are important resources government attorneys should use to help improve their efficiency, allocate their time more effectively and mitigate the loss of institutional knowledge in the retirement wave if they are going to successfully address the wide array of legal matters they deal with regularly,” added Rubley.
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1 Governing, 2014 Market Briefing
2 United States Government Accountability Office (GAO), Federal Workforce: Recent Trends in Federal Civilian Employment and Compensation, January 2014