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More Than Just a Cost Center: It’s Time for Legal Leadership to Change The Perception of In-House Legal

In-house legal departments are under increasing pressure from senior leadership to do more with less. The 2021 EY Law Survey found that General Counsel is preparing for a 25% increase in their workloads, and yet 75% of them won’t be given budgetary increases to offset it.

Senior leadership’s perception of legal as strictly “cost centers” is one of the reasons they’re vulnerable to organizational budget caps. And unfortunately, budgetary limitations reduce in-house legal’s ability to properly resource matters, placing an increased burden on their legal teams—legal teams that may already feel stretched to their limit.

But in-house legal is not a cost center. We’ve just not been collectively good at demonstrating that to senior leadership.

Shifting the Perspective

The challenge for legal leadership is to shift their organization’s perception of in-house legal from that of a cost center to that of a strategic partner. This shift happens once a department’s operations, and in particular its expenses, become predictable and transparent, allowing General Counsel to correlate future legal costs with broader organizational goals.

When senior leadership understands the full value that in-house legal teams bring, General Counsel will finally be given a true seat at the table alongside their peers. Once seated, they can better influence the future of their department and further increase the value it delivers to the organization.

Demonstrating In-House Legal’s Value

Before we dive into how you and your team can elevate your organization’s perception of in-house legal, let me quickly explain why now is the perfect time to do so.

DLA Piper reported that 45% of in-house legal teams surveyed are more involved in strategic decision-making than ever before.

This data reinforces three beliefs:

  • Senior players have become receptive to the idea that legal leadership deserves an equitable seat at the table alongside other departmental leaders.
  • Legal leadership whose teams can predict legal spend, and demonstrate legal’s connection to organizational revenue, are most likely to grab that seat.
  • Legal teams that can’t predict legal spend and therefore can’t answer leadership’s question, “Is this a necessary cost” will find themselves in an increasingly challenging work environment.

Convinced? I hope so. You and your team deserve more control over your future, and accurately predicting legal spend can help you get there.

Getting The Whole Team On Board

When broaching the subject of predicting legal spend, it’s important your team understand that doing so doesn’t just serve the organization, it directly impacts their career trajectory as well.

Take the time to explain how helping senior leadership view in-house legal as a strategic ally ultimately gives the department (and therefore them) more control over their future.

Common Concerns About Predicting Legal Spend

Understandably, your team may still be concerned about the difficulty of predicting legal spend. After all, managing legal spend can be difficult. When you broach the topic of predicting legal spend, your team may wonder:

  • How can we predict future expenses when legal must respond to other organizational stakeholders’ unplanned, ongoing legal needs?
  • How can we budget for truly unpredictable events like bet-the-company litigation or the pandemic?
  • How can we correlate costs to business drivers when the data we’re pulling from outside counsel’s invoices is unstructured?

Where to Get Started

The truth is your legal team can predict legal spend, and objections like these can be overcome with a solid process. To help you with this, Brightflag has created the eBook, Taking The Fear Out of Predicting Legal Spend: A Guide for In-House Legal Teams.

Written in a clear and actional format, this ebook breaks down why predicting legal spend matters and how in-house legal can do so successfully. We invite you to take a look for yourself and share a copy with everyone on your team.

Sinead Kenny

Director, Customer Insights at Brightflag

Sinead holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Law and Accounting from the University of Limerick, and previously worked as a Solicitor with Matheson LLP.