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You might have a stellar in-house legal team, all geared up for dealmaking, compliance checks, corporate work, and litigation battles. 

But here's the kicker - no matter how awesome your internal team is, sometimes, you need a little extra support to manage the increasing workload.

Outside counsel experts bring specialized knowledge, invaluable insights, and an objective perspective that complements your in-house team's efforts.

In this blog post, we'll unveil how to unlock the full potential of outside counsel. Let’s dive in!

Identifying and prioritizing legal needs

First things first… You cannot be shoving your outside counsel with whatever work arrives at your desk. 

To get the most out of the outside counsel, you need to identify and prioritize legal requirements.

Let’s see how.

#1 Assess your organization's legal requirements

This step involves understanding the various legal aspects and potential risks that your business may encounter. To perform this assessment:

  • Conduct a legal audit: Initiate a thorough review of your company's current legal documents, contracts, policies, and compliance measures. Identify any legal gaps or areas that require improvement
  • Engage with internal stakeholders: Collaborate with key stakeholders within your organization, such as department heads, risk management teams, and compliance officers. Understanding their perspectives will shed light on specific legal challenges faced by each department and the overall organization
  • Stay informed about industry regulations: Stay up-to-date with industry-specific regulations and legal developments that might impact your business. Engaging with trade associations, legal forums, and industry experts can help you remain informed
“Twitter is where I get a lot of my information, honestly. For me, it's more about staying in touch with what's going on in the world rather than just the legal world. I think that informs a lot of what the legal work is going to be. For example, the recent SVB collapse — had a lot of impact on some legal folks. So, staying informed on what's going on in the world is really beneficial, and I always try to stay up to date with news.”

~ Katayoon Tayebi, Associate General Counsel, FIGS
Accelerating Your Career as In-house Counsel

#2 Categorize priorities based on urgency and impact

After assessing your legal requirements, you need to categorize them based on their urgency and impact on your organization. This prioritization will help you allocate resources more effectively and address critical legal needs promptly. 

  • Legal compliance and regulatory deadlines: Identify legal requirements with specific compliance deadlines to avoid penalties or legal consequences. These may include tax filings, data protection regulations, or industry-specific certifications
  • Potential risks and liabilities: Evaluate the impact of legal risks on your organization. Address issues that could result in significant financial losses or damage to your reputation
  • Ongoing litigation and disputes: Prioritize legal matters that are currently under litigation or dispute resolution to safeguard your interests and seek timely resolution
  • Contractual obligations: Ensure compliance with contractual commitments, such as client agreements, supplier contracts, and partnership arrangements

#3 Align legal objectives with business goals

Aligning business goals with your objectives ensures that the legal strategies implemented directly contribute to your company's success. 

“While I have a seat at the table in all meetings with the upper management where key strategies are discussed, I encourage my team members to have 1:1 sessions with team leaders from other business units at their level. This way, they can contribute more to business operations, and the company will, consequently, be more legally compliant on a granular level.

By doing 1:1s with stakeholders, my team members not only get familiar with short-term and long-term business objectives but also take progressive steps toward accomplishing those objectives. The business grows, of course, but at the same time, my team members grow in confidence when they see how their contributions have bolstered the revenue stream of the company.”

Sandeep Chowdhury, Group GC, HCC Ltd.
Transforming the Legal Function at a Large Enterprise
  • Collaborate with business leaders: Engage in regular communication with business leaders and executives to understand their strategic vision and priorities. This will enable you to tailor legal solutions that support these objectives
“As business co-leaders who happen to have a legal skill set and are managing a function like a business unit, I would build trust with the CFO through quantitative metrics after trying to understand what was moving the needle for the business. In a lot of cases, it was contracts. To gain the trust, it was important to track how effectively and quickly we were helping the business close deals without wasting time NDAs, MSAs, and other repeatable stuff.”

David Lancelot, ex-VP Global Head of Legal, eBay Classifieds
Embracing Legal’s Role as Business Co-Leaders
  • Integrate legal and business planning: Incorporate legal considerations into your organization's annual business planning process. This will help you proactively address legal requirements, reducing potential conflicts between legal needs and business goals
  • Measure legal performance: Implement metrics to assess the effectiveness of your legal strategies in contributing to the achievement of business objectives. Regularly review these metrics and make adjustments as needed
“The one metric that I love is legal spend over time versus revenue. The spend may go up, but it won't go up nearly as fast as revenue. Finding a group of companies, getting the data on who works there, how much they spend on external counsel, lawyers per billion, etc., is a difficult task. But once you put that hard work in, you can show your legal leaders what your total legal spend versus revenue over time versus benchmarks was. That's the kind of thing that makes your CFO smile.”

David Lancelot, ex-VP Global Head of Legal, eBay Classifieds
Embracing Legal’s Role as Business Co-Leaders
  • Foster a culture of compliance: Encourage a culture of compliance within your organization, emphasizing the importance of legal adherence and risk management at all levels. This proactive approach can help prevent legal issues from arising in the first place
Also read: Rethinking OKRs, KPIs, and Goals for In-House Legal Teams

4 Steps to effectively utilize outside counsel for increased workloads

As your business grows and faces increased workloads, leveraging outside counsel becomes essential to manage increasing legal responsibilities efficiently. Engaging external legal support can provide specialized expertise, alleviate internal resource constraints, and enable your organization to focus on core operations.

Step #1: Build strong relationships with outside counsel

Effective utilization of outside counsel requires more than just hiring a legal team; it involves cultivating strong relationships built on trust, communication, and shared goals. 

Establishing clear communication channels

Clear and open communication is the foundation of any successful relationship, and it is especially crucial when working with outside counsel. Establishing clear communication channels ensures that information flows smoothly and that both parties are on the same page throughout the engagement.

  • Designate a primary point of contact: Identify a specific individual within your organization who will serve as the primary point of contact for the external legal team. This streamlines communication and avoids confusion
  • Share information transparently: Provide outside counsel with all relevant information pertaining to the legal matters they are handling. Transparently share internal policies, documents, and any potential challenges or risks to enable a comprehensive understanding
  • Responsive communication: Encourage the external legal team to be responsive to your organization's inquiries and requests. Prompt communication ensures that urgent matters are addressed promptly, preventing unnecessary delays
“Time kills deals. Because of this, the documents must move quickly. You want your outside counsel to share your sense of urgency, he said. This entails effectively managing the company’s external deal counsel to keep these documents a priority.” 

~ Vin Thomas, ex-Chief Legal Officer, CURO Financial Technologies

A Day in the Life of a Financial Services General Counsel

Setting expectations early and defining deliverables

When you clearly define expectations from the beginning of your arrangement, it ensures that both parties are aligned on the scope of work and the desired outcomes. Define the following beforehand:

  • Scope of work: Outline the specific tasks and responsibilities that the outside counsel will be handling. Clearly define the scope of work for each legal matter to avoid any ambiguity
  • Timelines and deadlines: Set realistic timelines and deadlines for the completion of various legal tasks. Discuss the urgency of different matters and prioritize accordingly
  • Budget and fee structure: Establish a clear understanding of the fee structure, billing rates, and payment terms. Discuss any potential additional costs that may arise during the engagement. 
Expert tip: Instead of agreeing on an hourly rate, consider AFAs (Alternative Fee Arrangements). AFAs can foster a stronger alignment of interests between you and outside counsel. AFAs encourage a focus on efficient and effective resolution of legal matters. 

The outside legal team is incentivized to deliver quality outcomes promptly, which ultimately benefits the client. Types of AFAs include a flat fee, capped fee, retainer fee, or a subscription model.

Step #2: Effectively delegate and allocate work

Delegating legal tasks to outside counsel is a strategic approach that can significantly benefit your organization by optimizing resource allocation and leveraging specialized expertise. 

“You need to decide what to send out. The “what” in large part depends on the people you have on your team.  If it’s just you, then you – I hope – have a pretty good understanding of your skills and abilities.  If not, you will need to spend some time understanding what the members of your team are capable of (or what you want them to learn). Generally, the bigger the legal department the greater the ability to keep things within the team vs. sending work out. But even if you have a good size team there will likely be legal issues that no one has the right background to handle. For example, most in-house legal departments are not equipped to handle large M&A transactions internally.  That type of work must go to outside counsel.”

~ Sterling Miller, CEO, Hilgers Graben PLLC

Ten Things: When to Send Work to Outside Counsel (And When to Bring It In-House)

Analyzing tasks suitable for outside counsel

Not all legal tasks require external assistance, and it's crucial to identify the most suitable responsibilities to delegate. 

  • Complexity and specialization: Assign tasks that demand specialized legal knowledge and experience. Complex litigation, regulatory compliance, intellectual property matters, and mergers/acquisitions are examples of tasks that often benefit from the expertise of outside counsel
  • Workload and time sensitivity: Delegate tasks when your in-house legal team is overloaded or when certain matters require immediate attention. Outsourcing time-sensitive or high-volume tasks can help maintain efficiency and prevent delays
  • Cost-benefit analysis: Conduct a cost-benefit analysis to evaluate whether outsourcing a specific task is more cost-effective than handling it internally. Outsourcing may prove more economical for certain matters, especially those with sporadic or irregular demand
  • Risk mitigation: Assess tasks that carry significant legal risks, and consider using outside counsel to reduce exposure to potential liabilities. Experienced legal experts can provide valuable risk management strategies

Ensuring proper alignment with in-house capabilities

While leveraging outside counsel can bring substantial benefits, it's equally important to ensure proper alignment with your in-house legal team's capabilities and responsibilities:

  • Delegate tasks that complement the strengths of your in-house legal team. This strategic allocation ensures that both internal and external resources are utilized optimally
  • Encourage knowledge sharing between your in-house team and external counsel. As outside counsel handles certain tasks, insights gained can be shared internally to enhance overall legal capabilities
  • Be mindful of potential conflicts of interest when delegating tasks to outside counsel. Ensure that there are no conflicts that could compromise your organization's best interests

Step #3: Maintain consistency and quality

Consistency and quality in legal work are essential to ensuring favorable outcomes and building a reputation for reliability and professionalism. Whether the legal tasks are handled by in-house legal teams or outside counsel, maintaining high standards of work is crucial. 

Establishing standardized processes and guidelines

Standardization is the key to ensuring consistent and high-quality legal work. By establishing clear processes and guidelines, you provide a framework for how tasks should be handled. 

  • Create detailed workflows for common legal tasks, including step-by-step instructions, templates, and best practices. Standardized workflows promote uniformity and reduce the chances of errors
  • Incorporate quality control checkpoints throughout the legal process. These may involve review stages, compliance checks, or approvals to ensure that work meets the required standards
  • Offer training sessions and resources for legal professionals to familiarize themselves with the standardized processes and guidelines. This ensures that everyone involved is on the same page and adheres to the established procedures
Also read: How to Build Effective Outside Counsel Guidelines?

Regularly reviewing work and providing constructive feedback

  • Set up regular review sessions to assess completed legal work. This can be done internally within the legal team or in collaboration with outside counsel
  • Encourage peer reviews within the legal team to promote knowledge sharing and identify areas for improvement. Constructive feedback from colleagues can help refine legal strategies
  • Provide timely and specific feedback to legal professionals, both in-house and external, on their work. Recognize achievements and offer suggestions for improvement to foster a culture of learning and growth

Addressing any discrepancies promptly

In legal matters, prompt action is crucial. If any discrepancies or potential issues arise, address them without delay:

  • Encourage open communication among team members and with outside counsel. Promptly report any concerns or discrepancies to the relevant parties to initiate timely resolutions.
  • Conduct root cause analyses for significant discrepancies to identify underlying issues that may require process improvements or additional training
  • Implement corrective actions promptly to rectify any discrepancies and prevent their recurrence. Monitor the effectiveness of these actions to ensure sustained improvements
  • Establish escalation protocols for handling critical issues that require immediate attention or higher-level intervention. This ensures that urgent matters are addressed promptly and efficiently

Step #4 Communicate and report

Effective communication and reporting are essential components of successful legal operations. 

Setting up regular meetings and updates

Regular meetings and updates facilitate ongoing communication and ensure that all relevant parties are well-informed. 

  • Set up regular meetings with your legal team, whether in-house or external counsel, to discuss ongoing legal matters, progress, and upcoming tasks
  • Include representatives from outside counsel in your internal meetings to foster collaboration and enable them to stay informed about your organization's priorities and goals
  • Provide periodic reports to key stakeholders, such as senior management or the board of directors, summarizing the status of critical legal matters and any significant developments
  • In addition to scheduled meetings, be open to ad hoc discussions when urgent matters arise. Agile communication ensures that issues are addressed promptly.

Maintaining transparency on progress and challenges

Transparency is essential to building trust and promoting effective decision-making. Ensure that progress and challenges are communicated openly:

  • Promptly communicate any emerging challenges or potential roadblocks to stakeholders, allowing them to be aware and participate in finding solutions
  • Be candid about the strengths and weaknesses of legal strategies, providing a realistic assessment of the likelihood of success in various matters

Addressing emerging priorities and adapting strategies

The legal landscape is dynamic, and priorities can change rapidly. Adaptability is crucial to respond effectively to emerging priorities.

  • Conduct strategy sessions with your legal team to assess emerging priorities and adapt strategies accordingly. Flexibility is essential in addressing new challenges
  • Engage with relevant stakeholders to understand shifting business priorities that may impact legal strategies. This collaborative approach ensures that legal objectives align with broader organizational goals
  • Continuously reassess potential risks and consider alternative legal approaches when dealing with rapidly changing circumstances.
Also read: Unveiling the Value of Legal in Unstable Environments

Navigating priorities with confidence

We understand that effectively managing multiple priorities is crucial for your success, and leveraging outside counsel can be a strategic solution. 

So, identify your legal requirements comprehensively by conducting audits and collaborating with internal stakeholders and delegate tasks to outside counsel wisely by analyzing their expertise, workload, and cost-effectiveness. 

Stay tuned for more!

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