Premise: The role of in-house counsel has evolved and status has been elevated. Expectations have been raised by the C-Suite. The department must be managed like other business units, with adherence to budget, performance standards, and metrics to define how well the department measures up to the standards.
Gone are the days of "throw it over the wall" to outside counsel. The in-house counsel is expected to make critical decisions once handed off to the outside "experts"—especially those that involve money. The emergence of more powerful technology to assist with such complex matters as discovery makes this transition much smoother in today’s corporation. Now, the in-house counsel has both the knowledge and tools to improve the value proposition of the legal department to be seen as a valuable, proactive contributor to growing the enterprise’s bottom line. Ultimately, this empowered in-house counsel dispels the notion that legal is largely a defensive department that can’t be expected to adhere to a budget but a valuable team player that thru its contributions can grow the bottom line.
To achieve this, in house counsel teams should on these four areas:
Legal must change its perceived role within the corporation from that of unpredictable cost center to a department that moves the enterprise forward. This requires that the department innovate in the way it delivers legal services.
Use new language: become a “Solutions Provider” rather than a “risk manager.” Become a “trusted advisor” and even “business partner” instead of a “bottleneck” or “rubber stamp.”
Add new roles and titles: These signal the change to a cutting edge perspective of the role within the enterprise: Legal now has a “Business Manager,” “Finance manager,” “Data Analysts” and a “Data Solutions” Group.
Adopt new technology: Legal needs to demonstrate that it understands technology. Become involved in its selection, be an early adopter of new technology rather than a late adopter. Embrace, don’t resist, it. The right tools—flexible, predictable, easy to use—can move the department ahead quickly but also efficiently. They can allow the department to manage more work in-house, where the timeline and costs are more manageable and predictable.
Leverage changes in the IT landscape: Be a partner with IT. Promote cloud storage internally to increase the evidentiary value of data, if needed for litigation purposes. Look for technology that can measure the department's performance and show the value you bring forward. Work closely with IT to develop a mutual understanding of how the departments can benefit each other through the deployment of the right tools.
Cloud-based tools: Leverage cost-saving litigation cloud offerings to reduce costly IT expenses, including infrastructure, storage and maintenance costs. IT and Legal work in partnership to reduce costs together. By employing technology with a predictable price model budgeting for a matter is easy and accurate. You never want to ask for more money or constantly over budget.
Make better economic decisions: Emerging technology provides an earlier, more efficient path to decisions by reducing the time for review, giving a more accurate assessment of risks involved. No more armies of paralegals sifting through mountains of data, no more waiting for weeks for a response.
Legal: First and foremost, educate the legal department that a new era has dawned. Old habits—reacting rather than responding, disregard for budget, “throwing it over the wall”—won’t be tolerated. The good news: the reputation and image of the department and its denizens will be elevated.
C-Suite: Demonstrate the objective to “run legal like a business” by proactively being involved in strategic technology decisions, by setting financial and outcomes goals and providing metrics to measure results, and by “being at the table” for major deliberations. Become a strategic partner with the C-Suite, not a reactive department.
IT: When IT understands what drives legal and why, they can make better technology decisions and support legal in their efforts rather than oppose them, the relationship moves from adversarial to partnership.
Marketing and Sales: Enlist the communicators to help create internal campaigns to explain such subjects as legal holds, discovery, HIPAA. Let them market department “experts” for media outreach. Ask them to help improve the mandatory legal trainings (harassment, EEOC, etc.) for more impact.
Internal PR: Improve the workplace by offering services to the employees that show the department understands the values of the company, and then promote it internally (newsletters, blogs, etc.). Go beyond the mandatory trainings to address current topics, offer seminars and lunch and learns.
External PR: Legal becomes a leader in philanthropy, raises its community profile, joins other departments in supporting charities, and challenges other departments to support charities it selects. Pro bono services with a high profile—debt clinic, free legal services, etc. These efforts improve the image of the company as well as that of the legal department.
Internal promotion: Invest time in showing how the department is saving money for the company, promoting good will in the community and generally adding value not just from a legal or risk perspective. Show how your technology, management and operational decisions have reduced cost. Show how your efforts have uncovered revenue opportunities for the company.