How in-house counsel can get management buy-in
With legal advisers increasingly expected to become involved in an organisation’s decision-making process, it is critical for them to understand the company’s strategy and form robust stakeholder relationships, according to a lawyer.
Ahead of the Corporate Counsel Summit 2023, Youi Insurance head of legal Bianca Lau said that in order for in-house counsel to add value to their organisation, it is vital for them to have a comprehensive understanding of the company’s overall strategy and risk appetite.
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“If you’re giving legal advice on a proposal that the company is looking at doing, you can’t give that advice unless you’ve got that solid understanding of the strategy and the risk appetite that the company has adopted,” she told Lawyers Weekly.
“Your advice and guidance must be relevant to management so you can deepen their understanding. I think if you don’t understand the strategy in a deep way, your advice is probably not going to hit the mark, which means you may not necessarily get the best outcome for your organisation.”
At the Corporate Counsel Summit next year, Ms Lau and a panel of speakers will discuss how in-house counsel can understand their organisation’s pressure points and overall strategy and objectives and effectively communicate the risks and legality involved in any decision to management.
In her role at Youi Insurance, Ms Lau said she was required to understand the company’s operations space (which included insurance sales and claims) and form strong working relationships with various departments, such as the finance and IT teams.
“In my role as head of legal, I needed to build strong stakeholder relationships across every area of the business,” Ms Lau said.
“I think in-house counsel needs to look at their business holistically, target the broader business, and form good relationships across the entire business. Understanding how each of those departments operate will be helpful when they’re providing advice down the track.
“I often find that we’re the bridge between departments because there’s not an area in our organisation that the legal team doesn’t engage with. Because we’re always collaborating across the business, we are in a good position to loop in the right people when making decisions.”
How to measure success
In order to incentivise in-house counsel to become involved in business strategy, Youi has designed broad KPIs for the in-house legal team that extend beyond only measuring how they provide legal advice, according to Ms Lau.
“It’s very much expected that you’ll get hands-on with the business and get involved,” she said.
For example, this might be in-house counsel attending management committee meetings, where they can witness how the business strategy is being implemented in practice and educate themselves so that they can provide advice that aligns with the strategy.
“This means you can tailor your advice to be a lot more meaningful to the business and communicate it effectively, and that, in turn, builds up that management buy-in and gets the support for the legal team that you need to be successful,” she said.
Getting involved in automation
Understanding emerging technology in the legal space (and for the broader business) is also essential for in-house counsel, particularly for new lawyers entering the profession, Ms Lau suggested.
“I think legal teams are needing to do a lot more with less or with the same amount of resourcing. That’s where technology can be used for strategic advantage,” she said.
The Youi in-house legal team partnered with some of Youi’s own technology experts to automate low-value, repetitive work, which allowed lawyers to focus on strategic initiatives within the business, Ms Lau explained.
For instance, the team created a legal intake system, which is a system for capturing legal advice requests from the business, as well as capturing data that provides an overview of the legal team’s output and value to the business.
“As part of that process, we have also been able to automate non-disclosure agreements because they tend to be pretty tick-and-flick, but they take up time and are not necessarily adding a lot of value,” Ms Lau said.
“We encourage the business to use our own templates. They can do all of that online via this legal intake system. And we don’t need a human lawyer touching this.”
Similarly, the team has automated what it deems low-risk, low-value contracts to allow lawyers working on large commercial transactions to focus on that and add more value to the strategic priorities for their business, Ms Lau added.
She concluded by emphasising the need for patience from in-house counsel to achieve the level of engagement they desire from their organisation’s leaders, and secure management buy-in.
“Management buy-in needs to be built up over time,” she said.
“You might not necessarily get the level of engagement you want to have in commercial decision-making on day one, but focusing on building stakeholder relationships and understanding company strategy and risk appetite will get you there.”
To hear more from Bianca Lau about how in-house counsel can help their management team make informed, strategic decisions within an acceptable risk profile and add value to their organisation, come along to the Corporate Counsel Summit 2023.
It will be held on Thursday, 25 May 2023, at Sofitel Sydney Wentworth.