Do you recall why you decided to become an in-house lawyer or legal professional?
Often the drawcards for moving in-house involve playing a more integral and influential role in a business, with the desire to see issues from beginning through to resolution and contribute more to a business’s operational and strategic direction. There’s also the appetite to be part of decisions that really impact the business through being a trusted advisor, a reliable partner, and an enabler of business success.
However, as you may have experienced, sometimes this vision of being a part of the business never quite comes to fruition — and there are many reasons why. There’s stress, exhaustion, and lack of time to engage with the business properly and focus on outcomes. Legal departments face exploding workloads, increasing complexity, and unempowering legal tech and resources. But the more significant, more critical reason is that the legal function is simply not really connected as a department or with the rest of the business.
So how can you tell if your legal team is working in a disconnected way, and more importantly, what steps can you take to remedy it?
How connected is your legal function?
Without access to the right tools, your legal team may experience fragmented ways of working, or what we refer to as ‘legal waste’. Operating in an environment with high levels of legal waste means there are limited connections both within the legal department and with the rest of the business.
If you recognize any of the following signs, that’s great! You’re one step closer to identifying where there’s a disconnect between legal work, the legal department, and the business, which means you’re also closer to addressing the issues and becoming more connected to your work, team, and the business.
Signs of disconnection:
1. Considerable time is spent determining workload capacity and priorities
When work is contained within emails, spreadsheets and other files and distributed across hard and shared drives, it invariably leads to legal waste. Valuable time is spent on unearthing the team’s workload capacity, the status of individual tasks, and managing internal approval processes and other workflows. There’s no system of record, requiring the searching of multiple places to locate documents to determine activity, such as contract or matter history, or to locate advice from outside counsel. Your legal team is overwhelmed, attempting to get more done with reducing resources, with the heavy administrative burden of repetitive tasks and mounting intake requests from the business. Working in this way means it’s difficult to determine priorities and therefore, no way to be truly productive.
2. Point solutions are not delivering a connected legal workspace
Using point solutions to manage separate legal tasks and activities results in a patchwork of individual legal tech solutions, each working independently with no relationship between the legal tasks and activities. For example, when matters are managed in one system, contracts in a contract lifecycle management (CLM) solution and outside counsel spend with an e-billing solution. There are also further inefficiencies in dealing with multiple vendors when managing procurement, security, implementation, training and other activities.
3. The wider business finds the legal department a bit of a mystery
Do the other departments within your business really understand what the legal team does? Sometimes business users have a poor experience with the legal department, leading to the incorrect assumption that legal is a cost center, the department of ‘no’, or a roadblock to completing work. There’s often a lot of back-and-forth with tasks, with no one — the legal team or other business departments — really knowing the status of the work, who is responsible, or the progress made. Gathering complete and up-to-date information uses additional energy, and there’s a lack of automated and self-serve capabilities for tasks such as intake and contracts.
In addition, your legal department may lack understanding or clarity of the other business functions and what’s essential to the different departments for them to achieve their own goals and be successful.
4. The impact of the legal department is not visible across the business
When senior management and the leadership team have no or limited understanding of what’s happening in the legal department, the value of legal to the business is not always fully understood. Compared with other departments, the legal department can be seen as inefficient or lacking transparency, with no data to provide insight on what it delivers to business outcomes. It’s essential your legal department is able to demonstrate its value through data and reporting, the same way as other departments such as finance and marketing do.
All of the signs mentioned above make it harder for you to do the very things that attracted you to an in-house role — being a reliable partner to the business and positively influencing its success. Yet when you’re more connected to your work, team, business, and its outcomes, many, if not all, of the scenarios mentioned above are addressed.
But our business works in silos …
Collaborating and connecting as an organization is no easy feat, and it’s even more challenging when departments are working with blinkers on. The silo mentality is not a new phenomenon — the term has been around for over 30 years, and Brent Gleeson says it’s up to leaders and management to break down the barriers and improve company culture.
Whether the silos in an organization are real or inferred, finding ways to work together in itself can be a collaborative exercise, leading to a new appreciation for colleagues and their business function. Having all employees “rowing fiercely in the same direction” results from creating a unified vision, working towards a common goal, motivating and incentivizing, executing and measuring, and collaborating and creating.
Working towards being a more connected legal function
The good news is that there’s some movement in how in-house legal departments and their leaders are working with the wider business.
The Association of Corporate Counsel 2022 Chief Legal Officers (CLOs) survey found CLOs are increasingly having a more direct connection with their C-suite counterparts, with up to 80 percent reporting directly to the CEO. Most CLOs attend board meetings, discuss operational issues with other business leaders, and consult with other executives on key business decisions.
There’s also the need for legal to work more closely with other business functions. The survey found 84 percent of CLOs are expecting greater collaboration between legal and other departments due to increased regulations and the need to optimize internal processes.
This all points to finding a legal tech solution that supports a more connected legal function, so you and your team are more connected to your work, each other, and the wider business.
Part of managing workloads and complexity and serving the wider business is adopting a legal tech solution to establish a single source of truth. A legal workspace achieves this by providing a truly connected solution across all day-to-day legal workflow, including matters, contracts, e-billing, and insights. With all legal work existing in the same place, a legal workspace provides a powerful system of record for the legal team and the wider organization.
Empowered by a single, unified source of truth, the legal function becomes one of the most efficient business functions, truly connected to the business.
“You can’t advise in a vacuum. You need to understand the motives of the business, the priorities of the business, the context in which people are asking questions, and, sometimes, the background of the person asking the questions. You need to be connected and know what’s happening and who you’re talking to so you can give the best possible advice and therefore get the best possible outcome.”
Matt Vaughan (Executive Advisor, LawVu)