Productizing Your Corporate Legal Department’s Services: Understanding the Needs of the Business

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Many law departments are reactionary. Someone comes to legal with a “legal” question and they help that person. Although this makes a lot of sense, as legal is a support department, it makes it very difficult to thematically explain the value legal is driving as well as understand the work the department is doing. As legal operations matures and legal departments look to be more efficient, productizing the services in the department is a natural progression. This approach was a central discussion at the 2021 CLOC conference and the subject of this blog series. In order to productize something effectively, however, you need a very good understanding of your customer and prospective customers’ needs. In this article, I will give you an overview of how to get that.

A central theme in product management is building resonators – products that resonate with the buyers. You may have the best idea but, if it doesn’t meet a pervasive market need, nobody will buy it. There are many great examples of products that failed and dozens of lessons we can learn from those failures. Most of the lessons come back to misunderstanding the customer's need and the nature of that need. For example, people may say they want a better mousetrap but if you don’t ask how much they would pay for that mousetrap, whether they would replace any current mousetraps with a better one, and whether it matters if the new mousetrap gives off an odor of chemicals, you can see how you might not make a best seller. To give an example in the legal services space, in my first general counsel role, I heard from many people how it was frustrating that they could never find contracts when they needed them. I immediately set upon a mission to create a contracts database. After investing a lot of time, we had a wonderfully organized database, and the only person who ever used it was the legal team. So what happened to all the frustrated employees from other departments? It turns out I didn’t ask them how often they needed to look up contracts and whether that need was part of another legal request (meaning that legal was the one actually looking up the contract anyway). In the end, the contract database was extremely helpful for the legal department but I could have saved myself the time of making it self-service and figuring out permissions for different users had I asked some questions upfront. To avoid the same fate, there are four principles you can use when asking your company about its legal needs.

1. Don’t rely on the users to define the needs.

Instead, be curious about their day-to-day and in that curiosity, you will be able to see the legal needs. The theory is this: if you ask someone what they need from legal, they will overlay their belief system about what legal should provide before they answer. Instead, when you ask them about their role, their goals, how they are measured, and what their biggest challenges are, you are more likely to be able to understand them and see where legal may be able to help.

2. Create a template interview form and use it religiously with each person.

When you do 10-15 interviews, you want to be able to discern themes and compare interviews. When multiple people are conducting interviews, you want to be sure you are all hitting the same topics. This is much easier to do when you start from a template. For a 30-minute interview, I would suggest 3-5 template questions. Always get background information before the interview starts including their name, title, department, and contact information. Put this information at the top of your interview summary. Do not include this in your 3-5 questions. Having this information clearly labeled and available allows you to easily follow up later. Next, move on to background and devote 2-3 questions to this area including what are their main goals for the year, how is their department measured, what are their biggest pain points. Finally, go on to any specific areas you may want to ask about. For example, you may want to know how they have used the legal department in the past, how much they interact with overseas colleagues, etc. Here is a list of common questions:

  • What are your department’s goals for the year?
  • How is your department measured?
  • What are your biggest roadblocks in achieving your goals?
  • What are your biggest roadblocks in getting your job done?
  • If you had a magic wand and could change one thing about your job, what would it be?
  • What are your most common needs outside your department?
  • What is your perception of what the legal department does?
  • What kinds of things have you come to legal for?

3. Interview a diverse group.

It may seem obvious that you need a good sample size, however, you will be surprised at how varied the needs are at different levels and across different departments. If you are only interviewing one person to represent a specific level or department, you should ask them “how representative do you think your pain points/goals are of the department?” This will give you a good idea of whether you can rely on this person’s interview as representative of the department or whether you will have to do some follow-up interviews with others.

4. Always ask follow-up questions.

The guidance for limiting your template to 3-5 questions above ensures you have time for follow up on each response. More specifically, you want to be sure you are really understanding the responses and quantifying the level and frequency of any relevant pain points. I would set a goal to ask 2 follow-up questions for every first response. For example, if your first question is “what are your goals for 2021?” then you should expect to ask 2 follow-up questions after your interviewee responds. If at any point the person you are interviewing mentions a challenge that you think legal can help to solve, this is your queue to follow up around the pain and pervasiveness. Here are some questions you can ask to get into how big a problem they are facing:

  • How often do you run into this roadblock: daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly?
  • When you run into this roadblock, how much time do you spend resolving it: 1-2 hours, 2-5 hours, 5-10 hours, 10+ hours?
  • Does this roadblock impact multiple people? If so, how many?
  • Does this roadblock (or a stoppage in you moving towards your goals) impact other departments?
  • Are there workarounds for this roadblock? If so, how cumbersome are they on a scale of 1-5?
  • If you had to reach out to another department and work with someone to remove this roadblock each time it came up, would you do that or would you continue with the workaround?
  • How long would you wait for an outside resource to help before you proceed with your current workaround?
  • Does the challenge have an impact on revenue?

Whether you are a general counsel just getting to know your organization, a legal operations professional tasked with making your department more efficient, or a lawyer who is interested in ensuring you are providing great services, the above should give you a good place to start to understand your customer. Once you understand your customer, you’re able to provide great resonating services and position your existing solutions.

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