How to be a legal team that cre­ates val­ue for your busi­ness by set­ting your strat­e­gy for the year ahead

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 manu@​lexsolutions.​com.

Vd photography t Csywze Vsl E unsplash

Further reading