As an in-house lawyer or legal professional, you know that your work has an impact on the business. But does the business know the value of that impact?
It’s only natural that business leaders need to see a ROI from the legal team, just as they do from every other function in the business. The premise that legal is only a cost center is certainly outdated, and while there’s an appreciation that legal performs at the highest level of excellence, there’s often no evidence or data readily available to support this.
When the legal team’s impact on the business becomes visible, the role many lawyers came in-house to do — be a strategic partner in the business — gathers momentum and becomes a reality.
Read on to learn about:
- how to maximize impact
- the importance of impact and value
- how to showcase impact and value
“Sometimes you need to tell people about the value that the legal function brings; it’s sometimes just not front-of-mind. It’s not that people don’t care or value it, it’s just that you need to remind them! For example, letting the business know about the lawyer that’s led negotiations successfully or been at the forefront of a transaction, and showing the C-suite stories and metrics that demonstrate the value the legal function is bringing to the organization.”
Katie Bhreatnach (GM Customer and Regulatory Partnerships, Airways New Zealand)
How to maximize impact
To impact the business, it’s essential the legal team not only prioritizes its internal customers — the other business functions — but also works to enable these internal customers to meet the objectives and outcomes of their own departments. When this happens across the entire organization, the whole business benefits.
A legal department that’s productive, engaged, and working in a proactive way frees up time to focus on having a greater impact on the business. This impact builds on solid relationships and connections, creating a foundation for progress and growth.
In some ways, the legal function is like an internal counseling service for a business. Those working in the legal department are responsible for removing a lot of the pressure, stress, and worry within other business functions, enabling each function to focus on what they do best.
Thinking about the needs of your internal customers means:
leveraging relationships with the business and understanding the organizational context everyone works in to help determine what the wider business is trying to achieve;
- providing alternative and creative solutions that empower teams to achieve their goals in an alternative way, even when the answer from legal is a ‘no’;
- taking the time to understand the goals or desired outcomes when receiving requests from the business; and
- look for the appropriate level of risk appetite in new hires.
Being impactful also means engaging with the wider business, understanding their objectives, different ways of doing things, and the different processes that work for them. By doing this and acknowledging the context other departments operate in, the legal function can provide a function that works effectively and efficiently as possible with other departments.
“It’s important to be thoroughly ingrained with the business. It’s
not about having just a few good relationships … We’re here to navigate obstacles and suggest solutions, but also to help determine the path from the outset. Legal should never just relay the law.”
Rosanna Biggs (General Counsel, Linktree)
The importance of being an impactful and valued legal team
Being an impactful legal function is not just about completing good work and influencing outcomes — although that, of course, is a significant part of the equation! It’s also about being valued for the work you do. While measuring ‘value’ may seem difficult or a less-than-exact science, its importance cannot be understated.
When the value of the legal function is truly transparent and understood, then:
the work of the legal team is visible, meaning the value and the impact you bring to the business is also seen;
there’s evidence for further resourcing and investments, including hiring new staff and digital transformation;
senior leadership can justify spend on the legal function and can calculate the ROI;
legal is more likely to be invited to participate in high-value strategic initiatives within the wider business; and
there’s a greater overall level of fulfillment as an in-house lawyer or legal operations professional.
“It’s about providing a good service where you’re adding value, and you’re valued as part of the organization. It’s adding value and being valued.”
Shaun Plant (CLO, LawVu)
How to ensure your team’s impact and value is visible
Throughout the business, it’s expected that departments have the tools to report on the value and impact they bring to the business. Finance, sales, marketing, HR — are all able to show, through reports, analytics, and insights, the value they bring to the business and the impact their work has on business outcomes.
There’s no reason why the legal department should be any different. But, often it is.
While other departments have long-established and integrated ways of reviewing their performance, the in-house legal department is still finding out how to measure its contribution and success, particularly when it comes to business outcomes.
Delivering the data and the insights
It’s well established that for something to be managed, it needs to be measured — and it’s much the same premise when it comes to showcasing the value of your in-house legal team.
Other functions across the business have a complete story — the data they have access to talks about cost and it also talks about benefits, value, and impact. Conversely, legal talks about costs, but there’s little data or conversation on the benefits of the legal team, or its value to the rest of the business. The way to combat this lack of alignment is to use data and change the way legal speaks about its impact on the business.
Therefore, legal needs to change its approach.
Your legal department is already producing data in its day-to-day work, and there’s every chance you already have valuable information on contract values, matters completed, risk, key dates, turnaround times and budgets. It’s just a case of surfacing this data into reports so you can tell the story of how the legal department is a center of legal excellence and has an impact on business outcomes.
For some businesses, there will be more focus on quantitative legal data and metrics, while others may require a more qualitative approach with measures such as how the legal team aligns with company culture and integrates with the wider business.
Understanding the OKRs of other departments can also assist the legal department to show their impact across the business, especially when legal’s involvement has contributed to the achievement of significant goals such as M&A.
Where to begin
It’s incredibly difficult to maximize impact within the business without first optimizing productivity and engagement, and being proactive. Once you free time up from manual repetitive, lower-value tasks, build solid relationships within the business, and leverage those around you to be more proactive, you’re in the optimal space to be an enabler and really focus on driving the business forward and impact business outcomes.
Curious about how focusing on impact contributes to being 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.