The road to in-house success

January 1, 2005

I am sure you are all aware of a book written a few years ago by Stephen Covey called “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”…

Over years the company I work for, LawBook Consulting, has worked with literally hundreds of lawyers both in law firms and in-house. As a result it has been impossible not to notice certain patterns emerge which set apart the excellent from the merely competent.

In the context of a short article it is not possible to do justice in a significant way to the differences that set the excellent apart but it is possible to give a flavour of what those differences are.

In a second article I will write about the successful habits of lawyers in law firms. The following short paragraphs however are my take on a similar theme with regard to the successful management of an in-house legal function.

Six Signs of a Successful In-House Legal Team

One: Quality of Reports

Reports to senior management and especially to executive managers are a window on the world of the in-house legal function. There is no more important way of building confidence and trust with stakeholders.

For executive level reports…the following characteristics are key:

  • Insightfulness
  • Relevance
  • Brevity
  • Usefulness
  • Ease of understanding
  • And a clear statement of the preferred solution or course of action

In a fast moving, multi-media world, where there is too much information and too little wisdom, skilfully presented reports are today’s most important management tool.

They are without doubt the most important documents the legal team will write on a routine basis. They should therefore have the lawyers’ best attention and their highest priority.

It is not enough to simply state the status of matters…such as “major litigation with x, now at discovery…” To do so effectively renders the effort wasted, discourages interaction with the reader and diminishes the value added through the efforts of lawyers.

I repeat…the quality of reports is of the highest priority for the legal team and is a skill that deserves time and practice.

Two: Alignment to your Business’s Priorities

What are the top ten issues for your company today?

What work is the legal team doing to support those priorities?

Ideally the alignment would be exact…the extent to which priorities are mismatched should be addressed.

In addition operational reports and monthly reports should be collated in such a way that to the executive reader the issues are clearly and understandably set out to show alignment to the wider business interests.

Consider using headings and phrasing that is familiar to the reader rather than to the legal function.

Work in progress must also be prioritised to deliver against the company’s interests.

Frankly it is just no good for the legal team to preside over a busy function if that effort is dissipated on issues that in the event matter less to the strategic and operational priorities of the senior managers of the business.

Three: Stop doing Stuff!

How much time has the legal team spent since the last set of reports it prepared analysing what work was adding value and what work should be dropped or done differently?

If not much time, then this too has to become a significant priority.

Stuff happens, crises arise, fires have to be fought, routine work stays and generally increases…But nobody in your business will solve the workflow management problem for the in-house lawyers…only the lawyers can do it.

Those leading the legal function should be spending about 10 – 15 % of the week:

  • Analysing what is being done and
  • Implementing plans to reduce the routine, to prioritise and align and
  • To transfer know-how to business areas for self help solutions.

Legal managers should be targeted to mange workloads more effectively.

Value is not derived form just being busy; value is derived from thoughtful deployment of resources, alignment to interests and effective reporting.

Four: Seek help

With all the lawyers in the legal function there will be myriad expertise and years of collective experience…it isn’t a one man game…you have all this talent…SO USE IT!

Learn to share knowledge, to support and experiment, to challenge old assumptions.

To do this well, individuals have to drop defensiveness about “their” area. It is no good saying that we favour change but then continue to work in the same old ways. If it is a question of confidence or know-how let’s admit it and seek help.

No one wants any individual to fail; collectively the success of the team benefits everyone.

Five: It’s Good to Talk

Management by email, by proxy, by holding on to information…will not work.

There needs to be more engagement in teams if the teams are to step up and work more thoughtfully.

What have been the successes of the function this year…what is going well, what needs to be improved, where are the developments to come, how can we contribute?

The level of interaction, the “buzz” factor, is set by the legal team not anyone else. If there is an absence of palpable enthusiasm it is a problem that can only be solved by the legal team behaving and communicating in ways that demonstrate the way forward.

How much engagement is their with the executive?

How much engagement is there across the business?

Can we predict need and solve issues without the traditional interaction of lawyer and business manager?

Six: Gather Performance Data

Where is the work coming from today? Where will it come from tomorrow? What are the trends? How does that impact on workflow?

How are individuals doing? What are their stress points? Can we support their development before the stress points hit?

How are we manipulating data to show that we are becoming more efficient?

What mistakes have been made so far and how are we sharing this information so that others do not make the same mistakes?

And the biggest question of all…How do we know we are successful?

…Because if we cannot answer it, no one in your business can…

© 2024 LBC Wise Counsel. All rights reserved