With so many ideas and innovations in legal, it can be difficult to know how to make a difference or bring positive change.
Yet you can make a tangible impact on your department without a full-blown revolution. With these five levers to lift your legal department, it’s time to remind ourselves that sometimes, we need to get back to the basics in order to move forward.
The company still cares about financials/money
Companies have strategies and objectives that align to making money. As the legal department evolves past the cost-center-department-of-no, remember to stick to the basics.
It’s easy to get lost in the excitement of new technology, resource models, and process design but don’t forget about financial management and planning. Legal department costs will continue to be monitored at external and internal levels, with reporting to and visibility of the most senior levels of the organization.
Don’t miss this opportunity to demonstrate business alignment, speak the language of the business, and even generate some savings to fund those other projects!
Technology isn’t the answer but it’s an answer
Technology enables the work and can potentially help execute it – if you do it right. Be realistic about what new tools can and cannot do for your department and don’t forget existing tools. Most importantly, be even more realistic about what it actually takes to get a tool in place that does what it promises to do for you.
Legal technology has advanced exponentially over the past 5-7 years and the market is saturated with solutions offering quick and easy ways to solve your challenges. Educate yourself and leverage other external partners to help you navigate the landscape and make the right decisions for your department.
The suppliers and vendors work for YOU
Look at what you currently have – are you using it to its fullest potential? Have you asked your vendors to identify gaps and opportunities in your department?
Vendors want to be helpful and want their solutions to be maximized to meet client expectations, but you won’t get what you need if you don’t ask for it. A little effort on the in-house part usually goes a long way; vendors can’t guess your outstanding questions or issues and it’s OK to solicit their help.
Success in any project or initiative often depends on the team’s engagement and willingness to succeed. Therefore, change should be managed explicitly, no matter how big or small it may seem.
Being inclusive doesn’t mean that all decisions should be made by committee or consensus – in fact, that can often backfire spectacularly. However, it is always important and helpful to involve the team but keep in mind that there are varying degrees in which they can and should be involved.
For example, if you are making a change to the process by which you engage or pay external counsel, make sure that you clearly articulate to your in-house lawyers who use external counsel what the changes are, when they are happening, what the effects will be, and how they should incorporate that into their work.
For team members that do not work with external counsel, they probably don’t need to be included in those communications and trainings but make sure you are thoughtful about your approach to that.
Stick to the plan but know you will have to change it
Don’t forget to make a plan. Better yet, don’t forget you already made one!
With the recent focus on strategic planning and technology roadmaps, two things are emerging. First, people tend to forget they made a strategic plan and second, when they do remember the plan, they often forget to measure results against it.
Strategic planning is a critical exercise for any legal department. It helps align the department with the company strategy and allows for prioritization of objectives and resources necessary to make meaningful progress as an integrated department within the company.
However, it is tempting to stick the plan in a literal (or figurative) drawer once we get bogged down in the day to day, when this process should be ongoing and incorporated into the team’s daily work. Strategic planning is broad and big but by no means a one-time exercise that we use to draft up some goals and never revisit until the next year. With regular check-ins and checkpoints, you can make sure you’re still on the right track or adjust goals and priorities when necessary.