Speaking at McInnes Wilson and lexvoco’s In-House Symposium in Sydney earlier this week, QBE general counsel Pita Williams (pictured) discussed the reasons why in-house legal teams should have a strategic plan that is different from their business plan.
"In summary, a business plan provides a written tour of your business operations – it shows your business models, your objectives, staffing, location, money, and a strategic plan identifies your steps or strategies that you will use to meet your objectives."
The legal department’s strategic plan should be in the context of and support the strategic plan of the organisation and work towards achieving the organisation's desired future, she emphasised.
"There’s no point at all in making a strategic plan in isolation. You must know what the strategic plan for your business is, and your plan must further the objectives of the organisation; otherwise there is absolutely no point of going through the exercise," she said.
"Once you understand the organisation’s strategic plan, the next step is to work out what the legal team will need to do in order to support the organisational strategy."
Ms Williams said that legal teams have a tendency to work on whatever comes through the door, without thinking whether it's core to the organisation's goals or not.
"You have to resist that temptation, because at the end of the day you won’t be able to continue to operate that way. You have to work out what's truly important and do that, and not do what's not important."
Therefore, Ms Williams said the ‘hidden gem’ in having a strategic plan is the benefit it has on expectation management.
"Expectation management is very difficult if you're operating on the cab-rank principle because everything that comes in the door may or may not have legal importance and if you do it on a first-come, first-served basis that work can just snowball and become ridiculous, so that you can’t possibly make everybody happy," Ms Williams said.
The benefits range across the organisation's expectations, the clients' expectations and even the in-house team's expectations.
"It helps us identify where we're going to allocate our resources, and where we're not, so that the business knows where we will be concentrating our efforts and what to expect from us," she said.
"All clients like to think that all their work is important, but the fact of the matter is it's not. You have to get better at saying to them actually this doesn’t fit into the plan of the organisation.
"It also means our teams know where we're focusing our efforts for that year and the direction that we're heading in."
Having a strategic plan makes it easier to say no to work that’s not necessary.
"Strategic planning gives you a framework for discussions. If you've identified the key strategic objectives and you are aligning yourself with those, that becomes a much easier conversation to have with somebody who comes to you with something that's actually not important," she said.
When there is work that doesn’t align with the legal team's strategic plan, Ms Williams said sometimes it doesn’t need to be done at all, and other times it can be done by an external firm, allowing the in-house team to focus on more important matters.
"Sometimes it actually doesn’t need to be done at all. Sometimes there are things where you can circumvent the whole process by building yourself a simple template that shows if it falls within these things it's fine, you don’t need to run it past me," she said.
"Sometimes you might actually say, it possibly needs to be done, but doesn’t need to be done by us, we'll find you an external firm and get them to do it for you."