When you think about your in-house legal team’s relationship with other business departments, how would you describe it? Do words such as ‘collaborative’ and ‘healthy’ feature, or are you more inclined to mention ‘challenging’ and ‘separate’?
How about ‘engaged’?
At its core, the in-house legal team provides a legal function to the wider business. While this function can exist in a siloed, less collaborative environment, when the legal function is engaged and connected to the rest of the business, well, that’s when the magic happens!
These days, the modern legal department isn’t supposed to be tucked in a back office, seldom seen or heard. Instead, the vision is one of a truly engaged team, working with other departments to meet objectives and achieve success across the whole business.
Learn more below as we discuss:
- Identifying if more engagement is required between legal and the business
- What a culture of being engaged looks like
- How to build engagement across the business
The risks of a poorly engaged in-house legal team
When the in-house legal team remains disconnected from the wider business, it exists in an environment that’s siloed, where barriers and minimal interactions are the norm, and there’s a lack of understanding between departments of each other’s functions and needs.
The legal department is sometimes referred to as ‘the department of no’, with an untouchable team that hides behind a closed door, and acts as a roadblock to getting things done rather than delivering workable solutions.
This lack of engagement also emerges from an absence of communication and collaboration, which sometimes means even the most simple legal requests from the wider business can evolve into bigger issues. One example is intake, where incomplete details delivered through different channels, such as emails, various communication platforms, and even verbally, impacts workflow and the timely resolution of requests. Additionally, messy intake can mean legal is sometimes gifted ‘surprise’ deadlines when its invitation to the conversation is delayed or misplaced.
There’s also the risk of legal work disappearing into the abyss of disconnected point solutions, documents, and files, resulting in the need for repair work to be done to relationships when (or if) the request is rediscovered.
When the legal department feels out of sync with the wider business, often it’s because there’s a lack of engagement.
A culture of engagement
A legal function that’s engaged with the wider business enjoys many advantages, not only in the day-to-day legal activities but also in the overall ethos of the organization.
There’s more support from the wider business in regard to legal decisions, as authentic relationships are established with all internal and external stakeholders, from colleagues to the C-suite, the board, and outside counsel. This means that there’s a healthy foundation for discussions and debate, both in the good and the more challenging times.
There’s also a greater understanding of what each department in the business does and therefore there’s better knowledge around the best way to work with them on legal requests and larger projects that require legal’s expertise.
Being more connected and engaged with the business is a great place to be — so how can you get there?
How to engage more actively with the business
We’ve put together some ideas on how to optimize the engagement between your team and the rest of the business, starting with the fundamental element of all engagement — relationships.
Build better relationships
To be engaged with the business, it’s essential for legal team members to have robust relationships with everyone they interact with — people they have daily contact with, those they deal with via a colleague or manager, and those they may only deal with on occasion.
Having team members with the right attitudes, who are approachable and eager to assist, and producing high-quality work, means people want to engage with them and it’s not a chore or too much effort!
Visibility is an important part of building relationships, so it’s important to support in-person, remote, and hybrid interactions in a seamless way. Choosing a legal workspace that enables integrations of your favorite communication platform, such as Slack or Microsoft Teams, means you can interact in an authentic and real way, no matter where you’re located.
Perhaps one of the most effective ways your legal team can build great relationships with the wider business is to be receptive and responsive to their needs, especially where intake is concerned.
In the physical sense, how accessible is your department? Is it easy for people to enter, what’s the process when someone walks into the department, and do they feel welcome or uncomfortable?
For those who are regular users of legal advice — your frequent flyers — being responsive can mean enabling them to take more control of their legal work by empowering them to submit legal requests via a legal workspace. By doing this, the legal team receives all the details it needs to complete the task, which assists in triaging the intake, so the business user is more likely to have a faster response. Business users can also be trained to self-serve and complete some of their own legal tasks, freeing up time for the legal team to deal with more high-level, complicated work.
“You can have an engaged in-house team, but a disengaged business. You have to facilitate a mutual connection and mutual communication, not only through technology, but also through having a presence and being proactive – you need two-way communication for the relationship to work.”
Matt Vaughan (Executive VP, LawVu)
Communicate and collaborate effectively
Ensuring relationships are well nurtured instills a business culture where communication and collaboration take place effortlessly. Therefore, it’s essential to choose a legal tech solution that supports the kind of collaborative environment you wish to ignite.
We’ve mentioned above that enabling business users to self-serve is a way to build better, more responsive relationships. Having the right legal tech also means there’s the opportunity for collaborative work to take place and for everyone to work with their favorite solutions.
Consider a legal workspace that assists with consolidating and streamlining collaboration pathways, so it’s possible to have conversations with internal and external stakeholders, track document changes in real-time, and receive status updates. Integrations with enterprise tools like Salesforce, Slack, Microsoft Teams, and Google Drive make this a reality, with fewer clicks and less app switching, enabling everyone to work in sync without any extra effort. A legal workspace will also connect structured requests, requirements, and all relevant workflow touchpoints and documents to the central matter, providing a system of record with the matter the nucleus of every legal issue.
Gain a deeper understanding of the business
To truly engage with the wider business, it’s necessary to understand the different business functions and the organizational context they operate in — engagement is not just all about relationships and collaboration.
While the whole business is working towards success, across the business there are varying objectives and different ways of meeting them. This means legal needs to ensure it’s working with other departments in a mutually beneficial way.
For example, at what point in a project is it necessary for legal to become involved? Too early and legal may put up barriers or not be able to contribute in a constructive way; too late and legal will only be able to look at the lost opportunities or increased risk.
Gaining a deeper understanding of business functions can also mean making a concentrated effort to learn more about a project, or a specific department you’re involved with on a regular basis. This could mean physically moving to sit in the department, becoming a member of the team, participating in meetings, and seeing how it operates, if only on a temporary basis.
There’s also the need to educate the business about the role of legal in their work. This could include training the business around self-serve intake, giving the opportunity to learn more about the contract lifecycle, or running sessions on the processes and systems of the legal function. There’s also the option for the legal team to run legal 101 sessions and mini-workshops to educate others about how the legal team operates, and, more importantly, how what legal does is important for each part of the business.
By truly understanding different business functions, you will be able to advise from a place of knowledge and perspective, thereby improving relationships, engagement, and consequently, results.
Engagement and legal tech
There are many ways a legal workspace makes engagement an integral part of business life including:
- managing and triaging intake from the wider business;
- providing a repository for all historical communications and related content in a knowledge base;
- enabling business users to communicate and collaborate from their favorite integrations;
- using a system of record, linking all conversations and their outcomes to a single issue/matter.
A legal workspace enables you to engage with your legal team and the wider business by providing a centralized work management system of matters, knowledge, documents, collaboration, tasks, and projects. It also provides contract management, e-billing, and outside counsel management, intake and self-service, and reporting and insights.
Curious about how improving engagement leads to a more connected legal function?
Learn more by reading The Connected Legal Playbook: Your guide to becoming a more productive, engaged and impactful legal team in an increasingly complex legal environment.
“Technology is great for engaging legal. It really helps to streamline the flow of requests, and that’s really helpful to see; to be able to measure how long things have been sitting there, how quickly you’re responding, the types of requests coming through. We can then help the business with self-service flows or extra training to reduce the bottleneck of coming to legal.”
Rosanna Biggs (General Counsel, Linktree)