The role of general counsel is changing.
Where once it was a service role, creating documents and processes that were “sold in” to the business retrospectively, savvy in-house counsel are recognising that they have an opportunity to deliver real, meaningful value. Progressive GCs are taking a strategic medium- and long-term approach to this, putting in place robust plans that move legal teams from being about only ‘service provision’ to demonstrate the many ways in which legal can play a fundamental role in organisational success, growth and development, as well as driving wider societal and environmental impact.
If you’re looking to raise the profile of your in-house legal team and pivot to integrate legal within the strategic, directional elements of your organisation — as well as to make a difference beyond this — it can seem like a daunting task.
We’ve put together our top tips for success to help you with setting your legal team strategy:
1. Start with the WHY
With any strategy or project, most people start with requirements or outcomes. That’s the wrong way round. You need to start with purpose (the big WHY) and drill down from there. Get existential, dream into it, find your purpose. Do this and we guarantee that the rest of your strategic planning journey will be a lot easier.
2. Who are your stakeholders
There’s no shame in it… we all love data and it can play a vital part in your strategic planning journey. Undertaking qualified and quantifiable research is essential to learning about your target audience but also your key decision makers and their priorities. In fact, setting out your different stakeholder audiences can be a truly insightful exercise. All too often legal teams confuse and limit who the real beneficiaries of their services are. This is why reviewing through the lens of WHY in the first point is so important.
So, work out who you’re targeting and then use research to find out what motivates them, the differences between multiple stakeholders and their individual wants and needs. In short… do they want the playbooks you’ve proudly designed but nobody reads? Or do they want something different from their legal team?
3. Get aligned
Legal is not just a part of the business or a support unit. It’s a thread that connects and powers every element of the organisation. Your legal team strategy will need to be aligned on each level – relationships and culture, strategy and policy, process and tech.
Now you know who they are, we recommend talking to your stakeholders. This can be done through mind-mapping and workshop sessions, pushing the antiquated mindset of pure service delivery to demonstrate how your legal team goes beyond this and has a fundamental, strategic role to play. There are now no boundaries with legal. So… get together, map it all out, identify gaps and agree how you can collectively deliver on the purpose you’ve set out at the beginning.
4. Work out what you want to achieve with your legal strategy
It might be easy, at this point, to quit while you’re ahead. After all, you’ve worked out the big WHY and your stakeholders, you’ve spent time engaging them and establishing how everything is going to join up. That’s a big chunk of the battle well and truly conquered. We think you can do more.
It’s time to set some goals. What does your business want to achieve? What does success look like? This is what’s known as the business’s ‘outcome goal’. Next, how can legal support the business in achieving this? The objectives you set here are what are known as ‘process goals’ and the theory is that, if you achieve all of these, you will automatically achieve your outcome goal.
5. Factor in flexibility
Because your business is ever evolving, your legal team strategy (and the team of lawyers delivering it) needs to be flexible enough to keep up with all of this. What problems or challenges are there already — or might there be in the future — preventing you from achieving your goals and objectives? What might slow you down that you can prepare for?
List them out, discuss them, categorise and prioritise them. Factor this into any plans that you might make.
Most importantly, don’t be tempted only to list problems and challenges. True flexibility planning is about considering all possible solutions and going through a similar prioritisation process for them too.
6. What are you going to do
So you’ve mapped out the details, now what are you going to do with them? Think about your objectives, your metrics, and how you are going to progress with your strategy and then implement them. Our advice is always to be realistic. Set logical, month-by-month action plans and show how they can be directly mapped to stakeholder audiences and objectives.
7. How can you simplify everything?
Admit it, lawyers don’t have the best reputation when it comes to simplifying things. That’s why, after we’ve set the objectives, considered the challenges and planned out the activities, we recommend taking a step back to consider streamlining everything. And we don’t just mean in your plan.
Across the business, consider whether innovation has, in fact, led to more complicated solutions and ways of working. Are you using (or planning) technology to supposedly solve problems, when really it just needs simpler or rationalised agreements? What things can you reframe to simplify things? If you’re using data to support your work and decisions, what could you cut? What isn’t helping? What’s simply adding noise and confusion? In short, if you’re going to do the things in your strategy, what can you do to make the whole thing simpler?
8. What are the timescales?
Now you’ve got your objectives and an action plan you also need to set target dates for each element. It’s a good idea to include a timeline in your strategy so you have a clear roadmap to work from and therefore a basis for measuring progress. We also suggest that you get agreement as to who is going to deliver, by that date, as well. The clearer you can be the better.
9. How do you plan to measure your progress?
There are three things to consider when it comes to measuring your progress…
First, how are you going to prove it applies to each stakeholder audience? Can you demonstrate how this aligns with your stakeholder needs and wants? Go through your plan and map out how each objective and activity fits, and adapt it if required.
Second, how will you know you’ve succeeded with each objective or goal? This might be as simple as ticking a box to say a task has been completed. Or it might mean measuring growth in engagement or tasks… or the speed with which you complete things.
Third, don’t only look inwards. Consider industry benchmarking reports such as the LexisNexis Gross Legal Product Index, the CLOC State of the Industry report or Thomson Reuters. Think about your metrics for success, how your team compares with other leading teams in the sector and how you can improve, through training, attending conferences or workshops. This will present an external focus, rather than internal, based on industry best practices.
The three together will give a good overview of how you’re performing and contribute to decision-making about changes, improvements and future activity.
10. When will you review, adapt and plan again?
Your legal strategy needs to be malleable enough to stay ahead of the curve, whilst also being solid enough to provide stability to your team.
A legal strategy review is not just a one-off box-ticking exercise. Your action timeline needs to factor-in both internal and external reviews, as well as opportunities for feedback from stakeholders. Most importantly, changes that are highlighted from a review need to be actioned, your strategy adapted and a new plan set for moving forward.
Our Legal Team Discovery Workshop is designed to provide you and your legal team with a highly effective, interactive workshop which will clarify your strategy, create a roadmap for the future and equip you with a framework for successfully implementing it.
We will also help you to identify a common purpose in your legal team, ensuring all stakeholders are aligned. Our workshop helps to focus your strategic direction, promotes collaboration within your legal team and business and gives you the tools to implement your roadmap and help you achieve your goals.
If you’d like to find out more about how the workshop could be run for your in-house legal team, contact Manu Kanwar on email@example.com.
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