Guardian of the Enterprise: A Look Into Legal’s No.1 Role as Business Protector

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The legal department is viewed as an outstanding protector of the business and remarkable advisor. The perception of Legal as a business partner is not quite as stellar. What can Legal do to reconcile these images and come out on top as both?

Bulwark. Safeguard. Defender.

With 77% of enterprise employees around the world rating their legal departments as talented negotiators and almost half (47%) believing Legal positively affects forward-thinking innovation, there are many different perceptions of Legal.

However, the Enterprise Legal Relationship (ELR) Report – a third-party, multinational study of 4,000 enterprise employees and 500 corporate legal professionals spanning the United States, United Kingdom, France, and Germany – revealed that, far and away, the number-one image that enterprise employees have of Legal is as a protector of the business, its assets, and its people.

Guardian of the enterprise

Legal is responsible for ensuring the compliance of a company’s actions, so it’s no surprise that the department is seen first and foremost as an authority figure both expected and enabled to protect the corporate mission. When one envisions the responsibilities of various functions within an enterprise along a spectrum between protection and promotion, Legal – as opposed to Sales and Marketing – falls soundly on the side of protection. Overall, the perception of Legal around the globe is primarily positive with three out of five respondents (60%) citing good relationships — no doubt due in large part to the protection the department imparts to the enterprise as a whole.

Two separate perceptions

When it comes to Legal, however, there is also a Perception Paradox: While Legal is highly respected as the protector of the business, three out of four enterprise employees (73%) do not consider Legal a good business partner.

How can Legal be lauded as protectors of the business when many of its internal clients don’t see it as a good business partner?

It all comes down to perception. Among enterprise employees, protection and trust appear to be two separate perceptions. In fact, 49% respondents globally describe Legal as “inflexible” and 59% call Legal “inefficient.” Additionally, one in 10 – and as many as one in five in the United States and United Kingdom – voiced concerns that Legal’s abundance of caution as protectors have extended the time to close and win deals, slowing and negatively impacting sales cycles.

That said, this is a cross to bear that shouldn’t entirely rest on the albeit strong shoulders of Legal. If Legal is indeed viewed as and expected to be the protector of the business, but those same employees believe that Legal hinders business from moving forward, it might explain why two out of three respondents (65%) admit to having bypassed the Legal departments and its policies in the past, at least on occasion.  

So then how is Legal supposed to act as the very protectors they are regaled as being?

The future of Legal: protector and partner

 Where Legal shines is in matters ensuring that accountable decisions are made and inherent risk is mitigated: patents, trademarks, and intellectual property (92%) and regional and global-specific matters (89%) top the list. Yet Legal has the potential to evolve its perceptions and become not only the intellectual “head” of an enterprise, but much more of its heart.

Employees want, need, and deserve to feel secure in an organization.  As a true protector, Legal can be empowered to let internal clients know Legal is “with them.” By freeing up time from mundane tasks with state-of-the-art automation, Legal will have an opportunity to contribute more collaborative support to its internal clients, earning greater trust and transforming into a truly valued business partner as well as the protector of the business they always have been.

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