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Four Steps to Optimize Your Legal Department


As in-house legal departments continue to grow and legal leadership continues to enjoy a greater scope and influence within the business, the legal team is, conversely, expected to do more with less.

According to the latest Acritas global survey of senior in-house counsel, the proportion of an organization’s legal budget allocated internally has increased from 37 percent in 2013 to 43 percent in 2017.

Legal budget allocated internally has increased from 37 percent in 2013 to 43 percent in 2017

So, even though budgets appear to be on the increase, expectations are still to tighten the proverbial belt. Therefore, to help you get out in front of your CEO or CFO asking you to cut costs even more, we turned to our Senior Advisors for some guidance and advice on this contradiction, and how best to prepare your team. Our Senior Advisors are distinguished former General Counsels and Chief Compliance Officers who have been in your seat.  They know how to transform legal and compliance departments, enhance processes, create innovative solutions to reduce costs, improve quality, accelerate positive results, and drive revenue.

1. Be a Great Coach.

Good coaching involves four elements: establishing standards, consistent monitoring, on-going analysis, and honest feedback. Clearly communicate the goals of the company and remind your team of the importance of flexibility in times

Action Steps: Conduct more frequent performance reviews to evaluate where your team members excel and where they struggle; coach them accordingly. As identified goals are achieved, new goals will evolve to elevate the standard.

2. Check the Overall Health of the Department.

Whether you are new or have been in your General Counsel role for a while, take a holistic approach – rather than analyzing composite reviews – and assess the legal department afresh to reveal what changes are needed and what changes can be implemented. For the newer GC, this allows you to quickly develop a real understanding of the status of the department and establish yourself as a strategic and business-focused leader. Documenting legal spend as a percentage of corporate revenue, including both internal and external matters, will ultimately result in making the company aware of how the legal department adds value.

Action Steps: Administer periodic legal department assessments to measure strategic alignment and internal client satisfaction as well as business process improvement; benchmark this against industry standards to get an outside perspective; develop a plan to remedy any problems.

3. Create a Culture of Continuous Improvement.

Fixing or reacting to problems represents a short-term approach to improvement, but actively monitoring the department on a regular basis leads to higher levels of innovation and success. In a culture of continuous improvement, the legal department and the GC or CCO self-evaluate and look for opportunities to create new solutions and accelerate positive results by reflecting on questions such as:

  • Do the goals of the department support the goals and strategies of the business at this moment?
  • Does the legal team focus on and actively work towards achieving the goals of the department?
  • What, if anything, would I change about the performance of the department?

Action Steps: Review your department’s culture to determine if it’s reactive or proactive; be ready to reprogram the department to create a mindset of continuous improvement and forward-thinking. For example, commit to staying abreast of how your industry is evolving and track the new ideas that your team generates as a result.

4. Communicate the Value of the Legal Department.

Data collected in the course of conducting assessments and monitoring departmental performance can be repurposed and used to communicate the value of the legal department to the C-Suite, the Board, and other senior executives. Plan on conveying the challenges that your team confronted and use specific details to demonstrate the solutions they designed so that executive leadership can review and understand the team’s contributions. Tell them how you streamlined the work flow, reconciled departmental functions, reduced costs, met or exceeded industry benchmarks, or achieved any other strategic goals to add value to the company’s bottom line.

Action Steps: Capture metrics that measure the progress of the department throughout the year to deliver a report showcasing the department’s achievements and improvements. Consider administering a client satisfaction survey to company management and employees and include selected results to further communicate the department’s value within the company.

Advisors for Legal and Compliance Professionals from BarkerGilmore
Contact BarkerGilmore to learn more about how our advisors can help you optimize your department. Our distinguished former General Counsel and Chief Compliance Officers can provide the insight and expertise you need in areas such as: Legal and Compliance Function Assessment, Digitization Initiatives, Managing Outside Counsel and Third-Parties, and many other challenging issues.

Topics: Legal Talent   |   Legal   |   In-House Counsel


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