How In-House Legal Teams Can Better Relate To The Business
(Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Richard Mabey, CEO of Juro, the contract collaboration platform.)
It can be easy to feel isolated as an in-house lawyer. Most are eager to see where their expertise can create additional value across the organization, but there’s often a mountain of day-to-day legal work blocking the roads into and out of their department.
To help clear the path, and make Legal more human in the eyes of your colleagues, here are five strategies I’ve seen our customers use to better relate to the business.
Align on business objectives
Identifying shared goals can immediately strengthen any relationship. If your organization is laser-focused on winning new revenue, for example, then be sure to highlight ways your work can support that objective as well. Sticking solely to your own agenda will only reinforce the notion that Legal lies apart from the rest of the business.
Start by holding regular meetings and conversations with your commercial colleagues. Make sure you know their exact priorities and, conversely, make sure they know your potential restrictions and requirements. This shared understanding will be crucial when it comes time to make the case for any additional resources (whether talent or tech) you may need to deliver the desired results.
Help commercial colleagues self-serve
While no one expects Legal to take the lead on hiring, engineering, sales, or support, there is usually a role to play in helping your commercial teams help themselves. Contract management, for example, is one crucial area where in-house attorneys can make an impact. Providing your colleagues with tools to automatically address recurring elements of contract administration will help close deals faster while simultaneously eliminating a chunk of low-value work from your lawyers’ to-do lists.
A little bit of knowledge sharing also goes a long way. After all, most legal departments find themselves answering the same questions over and over again (ex. “How does GDPR affect us?”). By creating a resource center where you can share news, answer FAQs, and explain legal processes, you can give the business a clearer view into your world and likely reduce the requests sent to Legal. (Tip: A simple shared space like Notion is a great place to start.)
Build a personal network
We all know the stereotypes about in-house lawyers — detached, risk-averse, detail-oriented, deal-killers. Those common misconceptions quickly fade, though, whenever commercial teams see the personal and professional qualities of their colleagues first-hand.
While there may be seemingly no open slots available on your calendar these days, it’s important to make time for people on different teams. There’s no faster, more effective, or more entertaining way to understand the processes, systems, and techniques driving your organization’s daily operations than listening to honest personal accounts. The resulting knowledge and rapport will also be valuable currencies when collaborating on key initiatives in the future.
It works both ways, too. By opening yourself up to the business, you offer an insight into your ways of working and the legal tasks you handle on a daily basis. This understanding will benefit the legal team in the long run, reducing friction between departments and strengthening the working dynamic. And just as importantly, these meetings are a great opportunity to showcase your personality.
Encourage and invite feedback
The most powerful catalyst for internal improvements often comes from external sources. A simple satisfaction questionnaire can offer telling insights into how the business perceives Legal, where colleagues believe you excel, and how they think you might improve.
The results usually hold a few surprises as well. Lawyers often think that their most valuable quality is their ability to dispense word-perfect advice, but surveys often suggest that this isn’t a top priority for internal colleagues. (They already assume your legal opinions are sound — and would they realistically have the expertise to know if they weren’t?)
More commonly, qualities like responsiveness, flexibility, and commercial acumen are the most prized traits. So if you’re struggling to understand where Legal can improve, consider the possibility that the best answers may come from asking a different audience.
Explore all avenues
Business colleagues usually stick to consulting in-house attorneys on contracts, compliance, risk management, and other issues that are self-evidently “legal.” It’s your job to inform them of the full range of unexpected areas where your expertise can add commercial value.
One of my favorite recent examples was how the GC of Habito, Rohan Paramesh, rallied his legal team to support employees during Brexit. The value of a project such as Rohan’s extends beyond business requirements — it’s great for strengthening relationships and building morale during tough times.
In short: Be more human. Be less lawyer. It might surprise you how far that attitude will take you in the quest to become a true partner to the business you serve.