How to design and deliver a valued legal service to your organisation was the topic of conversation at the latest Centre for Legal Leadership webinar, hosted in conjunction with Thomson Reuters. This post summarises the key talking points.
Communication is key
In-house lawyers are in a privileged position due to their proximity to the business and this proximity should shape the way in which advice is delivered. Your style should be short and succinct; avoid trying to draft the “perfect” document.
As well as being legally accurate, your advice must focus on what the business is trying to achieve. You need to really understand the business’ priorities and demonstrate that you understand them. Focus on solutions, risks and mitigation.
For further information, see Practice note, Communicating effectively: fundamental skills for lawyers.
Develop and maintain the team’s capability
Regularly question and, where necessary, re-calibrate what type of legal expertise is required within your team. You need a team that is prepared to constantly learn and develop, and is willing to innovate and embrace change, qualities which came to the fore during the COVID-19 pandemic.
A team of specialists is likely to be too narrow, so instead hire individuals with the desire and appetite for personal growth. You can always hire an external lawyer if you require specialist advice.
Create an open, diverse and inclusive working environment
In-house teams cannot compete with law firms on salary, so focus on providing a good work-life balance and support and opportunities for development (for example, by enabling lawyers to step into the business via secondments).
Your role should be as a facilitator, whose aim is to retain and maximise the talent that you have within the team. You want those individuals to feel valued and be able to contribute and thrive within the structure that you have created.
For further information, see Practice note, Strategies for improving diversity, equity and inclusion in the legal industry.
Demonstrate your value to the organisation
Relationship building is vital and there is simply no substitute for getting out into the business and having conversations with colleagues. These interactions will help build credibility and trust, and enable you to understand how the legal team is perceived within the organisation.
Technology can help improve the visibility of the legal team as online meetings mean you can reach more people than ever simultaneously. Depending on the circumstances, you can decide whether in-person or virtual meetings are what is needed.
Make sure you take every opportunity to show your value (for example, by entering awards organised by the likes of The Lawyer). Be proactive and be prepared to talk about your successes.
Tackle any misconceptions about the team
Sometimes it may be necessary to build or re-build trust in the legal team. This can take time and be rather draining but is vital. Be collaborative, not confrontational, and develop relationships with the parts of the business that use the team the most. Look for opportunities where you can change the narrative and find specific issues that the legal team can help with. “How to work with your lawyer” training can be useful too.
Embed lawyers in the business
Lawyers should be involved on the risk committee and at board level to ensure that legal risk is considered when business decisions are being made. Lawyers also need to get involved early on in business projects and help shape them. Their involvement in business decisions at an early stage may help to avoid unnecessary U-turns (for example, during product development).
Make intelligent use of external legal resources
It’s important to take a flexible approach when engaging external legal providers and to be prepared to experiment. Don’t get too comfortable relying on just one firm for advice. Depending on the circumstances, you may wish to:
- Engage a magic circle firm.
- Go direct to the bar.
- Employ a locum.
- Hire a specialist lawyer (for example, a procurement expert or a specialist in fraud and financial crime).
For further information, see Practice notes, Alternative legal service providers: an overview and Legal panel reviews: an introduction.
Manage legal risk effectively
The legal function does not just exist to serve and facilitate the business. Another vital function is to manage legal risk. Sometimes your proximity to the business may cloud your judgment, so it’s important to get an external view for objectivity and to enable decision-makers get the best possible access to information (for example, on ongoing or high value litigation).