Ever had those days when you just can’t think what to make for dinner, but don’t want the expense of ordering in? You have to take stock of what is in the fridge or cupboard and get creative to feed the family – we use what we have and can (sometimes) achieve a great result from it. Sticking with this principle of being creative with what you have, how can we do the same as in-house lawyers?
The current climate has brought uncertainty to the legal market, with the demand on in-house teams for the timely delivery of legal and strategic advice being greater than ever, in an environment where budgets may be tight. So, how can we achieve more impactful delivery using what we have in stock already?
Here are my top five tips:
Our people are at the heart of our success and we must utilise them effectively and flexibly, whilst continuing to invest in their development. An often-overlooked way to achieve this is by enabling the sharing of knowledge within your legal team and with the law firms that you partner with.
Knowledge sharing is an effective way of upskilling and cross-training, supporting professional development whilst mitigating the risk exposure that so often comes with too much technical expertise resting with just one person.
Whilst the sharing of knowledge often happens organically within a department, implementing an effective strategy for doing so can increase your function’s ability to deliver, and could even reduce the need to link in external panel advisers, mitigating the potential for associated delay and expense.
Take stock of the expertise that exists within your function and strategise how to maximise the output through the collective knowledge of the team.
2. Marginal gains through automation and processes
The impact of small changes soon adds up; it is often those five- to 10-minute tasks that feel like they take up most of our days. Think about your existing processes and how they could evolve to drive leaner ways of working.
This is especially important when it comes to managing (and ideally reducing) repetitive tasks. Consider where you can introduce automation and whether your clients could get their answer to basic, or frequently asked, questions from somewhere else, allowing you and your team to focus your time where the most value can be provided.
Some more food for thought:
• In the procurement of services, why not provide a set of standard contracting principles to use in the first instance, only involving the in-house team at the next stage?
• Can a standard NDA template be made available via an auto download?
• Instead of acknowledging each email manually, could an automatic message do the same job?
Doing this does not necessarily require the purchase of new software or platforms. You should look at what’s already in your toolbox just waiting to be used. The desire to do things perfectly is very strong inside many of us, but striving for the perfect answer often stops anything getting done. Start small and don’t be afraid to fail – but learn quickly from it.
3. Set stakeholder expectations
Clients will usually want a quick turnaround on advice, but factors such as resource availability, complexity or external expertise requirements mean this may not always be possible. Save time and remove frustration by setting your requirements out up front to your clients. Ask your clients to ensure full instructions are provided with all the relevant information – mandate this via an intake form which must be completed before the instruction is accepted.
Prioritise the work, using clear criteria that everyone can understand and accept (e.g. regulatory requirements, then contractual requirements, then new contracts, then business, HR and budget processes needs, then everything else) and communicate your prioritisation framework to your clients, so they understand the order in which their work will be completed and how much resource you have available for them.
Remember that your total capacity is less than your total working hours – you need to remove time for training, keeping current on the law, supervision, team meetings, holidays(!) and necessary admin etc, before you start to look at the capacity that you have left for client work.
This will no doubt generate some challenging conversations, but see this as an opportunity to embrace healthy tension and create a culture where stakeholders understand both your processes and the challenges you face. By doing so, you will be able to manage and prioritise the workload, whilst enhancing your relationship with your clients.
4. Reduce the legal jargon
This is a quick win – think about your client, what they want and (most importantly) what they really need. For the majority of in-house teams, your clients will not be lawyers and will need you to provide clarity alongside your advice.
Think about how your advice is delivered – could it be made easier to read and understand? Consider setting up standard advice replies, with the headline advice highlighted and the detail appended with a traffic-light approach.
Implementing a clear, concise style will remove the back and forth we often get if the detail of the legal speak hasn’t landed with the client as it was intended.
5. Up your internal and external networking
Define what your function is there to do, and then share that clearly and simply across your organisation, making contacts as you go. Partner with your stakeholders so you can understand what their business plans are for the coming 12-18 months and consider how your team can support them. This will help you identify and prepare for a pipeline of work that may be on its way.
Your experience will often allow you to anticipate a demand before your client has considered it, enhancing your relationship with them whilst linking back to the benefits of clear prioritisation, discussed earlier.
Networking in your own organisation is extremely important. You need your clients to know who you and your team are, and to understand the support you can offer and the value that you add. Early and consistent engagement is critical to achieving this.
Networking outside your organisation is important, too. We can and should all try to keep learning from others all the time – but, as you have read this article, I guess that you know this already!
Gurminder Kaur Nijjar, head of in-house legal and regulatory
First published by The Law Society on 29 July 2020