As CEO and Founder of Melius Law, I am passionate about helping legal teams realize their potential. Melius Law is a Legal Function Consulting business—by lawyers, for lawyers. We advise in-house legal teams on how to strategically collaborate with key stakeholders to overcome a wide range of challenges.
Prior to founding Melius Law I spent two decades leading and transforming legal teams, holding positions that included General Counsel at Bank of Ireland UK, and Legal & Regulatory COO at Santander UK. Given the unique perspective that these roles have afforded me, I’d like to share some insights into what goes into establishing a strong relationship between a Legal COO and General Counsel.
Laying the Foundation Between the General Counsel and the COO
The first thing I’ll say is that every relationship is different. But for me, I always find it important to call out three key points:
1) Ensure the COO has the right chemistry with their GC.
The COO should be the GC’s right hand. This does not mean they’re two peas in a pod. In fact, it often works best when they bring different skills and experiences to the role. Clarity of mandate is key—the GC should be running the show, whilst the COO runs the shop.
2) Develop the right operating rhythm.
Change that is too slow or too fast will often come with the baggage of a frustrated or unsettled team. Real, sustainable change (i.e. transformation) is the right change done at the right pace, taking your team with you.
3) Focus, focus, focus… on the key elements of the strategy.
The stuff that, as they say “makes the boat go faster.” It’s so easy to be blown off course, especially by lawyers that too often see Legal Ops teams as the “Miscellaneous” team. Stick to the path—they’ll thank you in the long run.
How Can the GC and Legal COO Work Together to Get a Better Handle on Legal Spend Management?
For the General Counsel, legal spend management is often a priority, and they are under greater pressure than ever to deliver more with fewer resources—so it doesn’t get any easier. But effective legal spend management is critical for any legal function looking to reduce costs. Here are some tips on how GCs and Legal COOs can collaborate to achieve this goal:
Set a clear strategy.
The first step in achieving better external legal spend management is to set a clear strategy for the legal function. In particular, what are the purpose and priorities of the in-house team? Are these aligned with the strategic goals of the business? To ensure this is not just an abstract exercise, it requires a deep understanding of the skills and experience of the resources you have at your disposal and an appropriate operating model.
Build a legal panel.
Choosing which firms make your panel requires a hard-headed strategic approach rather than simply a tactical, procurement-led exercise. What do I mean by that? Well, it’s critical that GCs address what the panel is for, and how it links with their in-house capabilities. They should also ask how can it be an enabler to not just manage legal risk, but help deliver business growth.
Only once you’ve done this work, should you set about building it. And there’s many ways to do that. But for me, focusing on fewer but deeper relationships where there is real skin in the game for both the business and the firm is the right way to go.
Leverage the right technology.
Too often I have joined organizations where there is no real grasp of what was being spent, who it was being spent with, or what activities it was being spent on. Safe to say, that’s not a great place to be. And if your spend is of any material size, getting a grip requires more than a spreadsheet—you need tech to help you see. That tech will give you a richness of data that will help you build the right panel and enable better management of it.
Win hearts and minds.
I’ve put this last, but in many ways, it’s the critical keystone for building sustainable change. The GC and Legal COO should foster a culture of cost-consciousness within the legal team. This means encouraging their lawyers to consider the cost implications of their decisions, and to be mindful of legal spend. In a nutshell, you want your team to be spending money as if it were their own money.
Legal COOs and General Counsel: Legal Spend Management Stewards
In conclusion, the General Counsel and Legal COO can work together to deliver better external legal spend management. By setting clear goals, partnering with the right firms, harnessing technology, and fostering a culture of cost-consciousness, they can help their organizations reduce legal spend while maintaining high-quality legal services. This collaboration can be a significant contributor to the overall success of the organization.
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