Irrespective of the hours of unpaid overtime (occasionally doubling during a crisis), or the amount of sensitive data that in-house lawyers handle daily, they are traditionally viewed as a cost-center - an expense to the business, and the first ones to be thrown under the bus during the corporate downsizing exercise.
To some extent, it is a result of the subjectivity in value perception. Despite the multiple efforts in KPI establishment, most of the legal team's work - vis-a-vis compliance management, safeguarding the company against legal and financial risks, etc., generate intangible benefits.
Naturally, convincing peers of your importance without the metrics to show is an uphill climb. But should it be that way?
To break out from the bracket of a back-end function and change the unfavorable dynamics that deprioritize them, legal departments need to exhibit value - and that rarely happens when you're working alone.
Here are a few ways in-house teams can make themselves and their work within the company visible-
Offer Proactive Assistance
The old guard of in-house lawyers prided themselves in their technical expertise - were proficient with legal matters but largely aloof and uninformed about the tasks that plagued their neighbors in sales, marketing, or HR. Partly due to an unending array of work. Partly because of a tendency to work reactively.
Even at the risk of sounding predatory - peer issues are a great opportunity for in-house lawyers to add value by presenting solutions.
None of the work in any department happens without documentation. And lawyers are by definition great organizers, expert handlers of document work, and have a sharp eye for analysis.
As an in-house lawyer, try shouldering some of that work, especially during turbid times. For example - offer the sales team some bandwidth to co-create contracts when they're closing multiple deals simultaneously or have their hands too full. Or offer to help your HR team with employee contracts during a recruitment drive. You can also use contract management tools to simplify the process.
If your organization does not already have one, create template contracts for agreements generated by your peer teams to make the contract generation process self-servicing. But more importantly, walk up to their bay and share a coffee. There is no substitute for holistic relationship building.
Be the Knowledge Generalists
Whether it is to help your peers with work that might not directly be a part of your KPIs, or providing informed counsel to the board in their business expansion plans, the knowledge of your specific industry and its operations is necessary.
What agreements were the most executed in your industry over the last year? By what percentage have vendor costs increased or decreased year-on-year? A generalist can answer these (and more relevant) questions by integrating finance, marketing, business operations insights into their daily operations and proactively contribute information by assessing company documents.
Of course, there is great commercial value in walking up to the board and presenting your findings in the quarterly review, but there are also long-term career gains to being a generalist. Your ambit of operations is naturally broader.
With knowledge spanning different disciplines, you become invaluable to both the board and the other teams within the company. Also, you can always hire specialists for tasks that require a deep-dive into a specific domain.
Turn Crisis into Opportunities
Edward Murphy was right - between - 'act of God’ events, economic breakdown, war, pollution, and more - there is a lot of scope for things to go haywire. And at any possible chance, they probably will. Unfortunately, this also leaves businesses vulnerable to crises.
This involves transparently communicating with the customers about business liabilities, your plan of action to mitigate possible challenges, and the promise of prioritizing customers.
While the corporate communications team may have better customer insights, they may not have as much of the legal terms that may help or impair business response, as a corporate counsel.
Lawyers can present themselves as the bridge between communications and viable solutions. They can work with the board to develop response strategies, provide their inputs in drafting them, and help in the customer-feedback loop.
By being visible, an in-house team can market themself as the spinal cord of an organization's crisis mitigation plans.
Cultivating a Sense of Ownership
As a three-time general counsel - Sterling Miller, a popular name within the GC community, floated the idea that for them to be indispensable, in-house legal professionals must learn to think like the business owner.
Not only does it mean prioritizing organizational goals and helping the other teams converge into and optimize for the same targets, but it also means having the same degree of commitment to business success as owners themselves.
When you select an industry or an organization, make sure that you align with their mission and vision statements. That, coupled with thorough industrial knowledge can help you significantly contribute to the C-suite's plans for business growth.
Aligned and empowered well, an in-house legal team can not only break away from the cost-center notion, but can be the backbone for all revenue operations, procurement, and cost conservation efforts of the company.
At SpotDraft we, therefore, focus on building a tool that frees up the time taken by in-house teams to do administrative work and instead refocus it on higher-value tasks that visibly impact the business.
To find out how - click here.