Law departments shouldn’t act like a ‘mini law firm’
LawVu’s chief legal evangelist Shaun Plant advised in-house counsel to change their traditional approach and ingrain themselves in their business to gain respect from senior executives.
Ahead of the Corporate Counsel Summit 2023, Mr Plant remarked that rather than positioning themselves as a “mini” law firm, legal departments must become an integral cog that enables their organisation to achieve its strategic goals, purpose, and objectives.
To continue reading the rest of this article, please log in.
Create free account to get unlimited news articles and more!
“You can’t be a law firm within a business,” he told Lawyers Weekly.
“I know many teams that have structured themselves in that way and see themselves as a centre for legal excellence.
“Moreover, they still refer to their colleagues within the business as clients. If someone goes to a private practice lawyer, they’re a client; they are paying the lawyer for their services.
“But if someone sits next to you and you’re working on a project together and want to achieve the same objectives so the business succeeds, they’re not a client. They’re colleagues.”
Mr Plant’s comments preceded the Corporate Counsel Summit 2023, where he and a panel of speakers will arm attendees with the skills to make more informed strategic choices within an acceptable legal risk profile and bring value to all conversations with the board and senior executives.
He argued that until in-house counsel position themselves as business enablers who become involved in every segment of their organisation rather than lawyers, they would remain at the operational level rather than occupying a seat at the decision-making table at the C-suite level.
“If you can get over that issue and know that you’re not devaluing yourself as a lawyer by seeing yourself as a business enabler, people will respect you more for it because you’re modern,” he said.
“Otherwise, you cannot connect with people. If you think about it as a lawyer-client relationship, you’re not connecting with them on a personal or team level. It’s more like a hands-off paternal relationship.”
Working in an office with the doors closed is also a hurdle as it indicates unavailability and unapproachability, Mr Plant said.
“Get rid of the office, sit with your colleagues, and show that you’re approachable at all times,” he suggested, adding that it engenders a culture of collaboration between the law department and the business.
‘Let’s get legal out of this little black box’
To embed this culture, legal teams must initiate conversations and become more engaged with the business to understand its vision, goals and objectives, pressing issues, and pain points.
In-house counsel could then help senior executives understand what the law department’s pain points are.
Following this, the legal department and senior executives could discuss how they could collaborate and service the organisation as a single unit, Mr Plant explained.
“Rather than being two separate things, with the legal department being this untouchable thing, you are actually integrated within the business,” he said.
“Let’s get legal out of this little black box that’s mystical and working in isolation. Let’s put it right in the heart of the business. It touches everything and has its tentacles across the entire organisation.”
In-house counsel offers wide-ranging skills outside of legal knowledge, including analytical and problem-solving skills, which can add significant value to an organisation.
The onus is on the legal department to involve itself from the inception of a project by connecting with senior executives and team members to demonstrate how its knowledge and skills could add value, Mr Plant suggested.
Streamlining processes to free up time
To become a business enabler, Mr Plant recommended that in-house legal teams streamline processes to boost productivity, and empower businesses to self-serve by creating standard template documents, providing answers to low-value requests through frequently asked questions documents, and automating processes wherever possible.
To showcase their value, in-house counsel could gather and use data to tell stories about how they have influenced key initiatives and how they have enabled the organisation to achieve its key objectives, Mr Plant advised.
“A lot of teams are using spreadsheets to demonstrate their work, but that’s just a list of things that show you’ve been really busy. It doesn’t show any value at all,” he said.
“You need to be able to create stories that speak to the executives on the things that are important to them, and how legal has influenced or preferably enabled that. You can’t do that unless you really understand the business and how it operates.”
Mr Plant concluded that earning the executives’ trust and respect is paramount for in-house counsel to exert greater influence on key initiatives.
“If you’re not trusted and respected, the business will go to private practice lawyers to provide them with the service that they need,” Mr Plant warned.
To hear more from Shaun Plant about how in-house counsel could get business and board management buy-in and how they could get more involved in business strategy and decision-making, come along to the Corporate Counsel Summit 2023.
It will be held at Sofitel Sydney Wentworth on Thursday, 25 May 2023.