All departments are charged with spending their budgets smartly and, in many cases, with reducing their spending whether on staff, projects or external advisers.
Legal teams are not immune from these pressures. They must be increasingly adept at turning a "more for less" discussion into a "great value for doing an agreed set of things" discussion and then making their case for resources, demonstrating that this supports the business strategy and will add value.
Aligning your team's needs to organisational goals
All legal teams face the challenge of demonstrating that they add value to their organisation's 'bottom line'. To help secure the resource you need, follow our five-stage process. Remember, additional resource may mean more people but also consider technology and skills. Better technology may enable you to do "more with less" - although it is far better, if you can, to turn this vague expression into a more concrete commitment to provide great value in delving a clearly defined and agreed set of work deliverables. You may not need more people overall, just lawyers with better skills, which you may achieve via recruitment and also from training.
Stage 1: Gather data
Don't skimp on getting the data to support your case. Make time to gather reliable information and from as many sources as possible (and to understand it properly), including:
- The legal team: if you don't already track activity, record how your department’s time is spent over a given period. Make this long enough to assess the impact of peaks and troughs. Record as much activity as you can to avoid under-reporting and focus on types of activity performed (i.e. poor uses of time, time doing other people's work for them, high and low value add activities). Seek to gather data that will help you to understand and improve what the team does rather than simply time recording to show how busy you are "private practice style";
- Bench-marking: some law firms and organisations like Consilio and Acritas conduct annual surveys of in-house teams. Speak to your in-house counterparts to agree an exchange of departmental data. Recruitment agencies are another potential source of information if they see an opportunity to work with you;
- External counsel: gather time and spend information on external counsel for the last year. Create a standard format to ensure you collate consistent data. This will also help you assess if you've paid external counsel to carry out work you could handle in-house, to understand if they are putting the most efficient grades of staff on your files and managing them well and compare the cost. What value does the organisation get from this external spend? Is knowledge being built up in you team or are you repeatedly paying to have the same work done over and over again because the law firm has no interest in you building your own internal knowledge banks?
- Your organisation: your business case must support the organisation’s strategy, its targets and its growth plans and the way it prioritises its risks. Take time to review the corporate business plan and analyse whether you can properly support it with your current resources. Where are there gaps in both resources and skills? How will this gap impact the business strategy? Analyse how the organisation’s business and turnover has changed in recent years. If these have grown, has the legal team kept pace or are you trying to support a larger, more complex organisation with little or no increase in your own resources? Have other departments, such as finance or HR, increased their resources over the same period? What are their recruitment and resourcing plans going forward? Are you setting your team up to fail by failing to be as smart and as structured as other departments?
Risks and challenges
Analyse the risks and challenges ahead. These should be in the organisation's risk management planning which you should analyse to consider the potential impact on resources if the risk is managed as planned and also if it becomes more significant. But, in any event, you need to consider the legal, business, regulatory and political challenges and risks that the organisation is facing - which should, after all, be a significant part of the business' overall risk management and planning activity. Can you manage if the regulatory burden increases? Can you adapt to new legislative requirements like GDPR, the Modern Slavery Act, or the Bribery Act? What about Brexit?
What general contract risk is carried in the organisation? Is this known and managed or is it partly unspecified? What about information security and cyber risk?
Is the organisation subject to regulatory sanction and reputational damage if it gets things wrong? Are there legacy issues that could surface causing challenges to the organisation and to its ability to conduct business such as a ban on bidding for public sector work?
Take a realistic view of what resources you need to meet these challenges and to properly support the organisation in these vital areas both now and over the foreseeable future (i.e. the life of the business' current business 3-5 year business planning and strategy "horizon").
Consider opportunities. The organisation is planning to develop and succeed. How can the legal team support this? It's not just about dealing with risks. You may need resource but can you also reduce costs in some areas? Lawyers cost a lot for their level of experience. So you will always be an expensive resource/head for a business and you should be seeking to maximise the value that the business gets out of the skills and knowledge that are contained in your team.
For example, would automation of an activity reduce costs over the longer term? Is there an activity carried out by the legal team that could be easily carried out in a business unit at reduced cost and/or improved speed, perhaps with some training input ("safe empowerment of self-service")? Is there a business initiative where you can add real value by switching resources from a less valuable activity with little real impact? Can you improve your delivery by cutting out unnecessary process or unblocking roadblocks?
Demonstrating a willingness to help the organisation manage and reduce its cost base will add value to your own business case.
Stage 2: Gather perspectives
Having gathered the information, next get feedback from the wider organisation and review it from the perspective of both the legal team and the wider business.
The legal department perspective
Assess the impact of the resource shortage on the team. Consider whether:
- Productivity, quality of work and staff morale are suffering;
- You risk losing key staff - through overwork and or lack of clear personal development and growth opportunities. Remember you can only take on challenging new work if you can find acceptable ways of handing off the time consuming, lower value aspects of the work that you already do;
- There’s adequate time for training and development projects and activities;
- You’re merely fire-fighting, and
- You’re equipped to respond effectively to a crisis.
Speak with senior management, department heads and key customers. Find out:
- What impact your current resource has on their ability to meet their targets;
- If money is being spent on external counsel that you don’t know about;
- If unacceptable or unquantified business risks are being taken due to lack of legal resource; and
- If they need more training or better processes for getting legal support.
Stage 3: Assess your priorities and options
You should now be a strong position to draw conclusions. When assessing your options, be sure to align your case with the greatest risks and opportunities the organisation faces. Your options could include:
- External counsel: if you need additional lawyers, particularly for a fixed period, this could be the most effective option. Be wary of using external counsel to plug a gap in core business support. Instead, use them for non-core matters, so your team can focus on core business. External counsel need not always mean a law firm, it might also include junior counsel (barristers) who you can 'second' in, self-employed lawyers or a flexible resourcing provider;
- Permanent hire: opt for this if you’re looking for stability and continuity of support (including the option of a fixed term hire to do a particular project). The cost, other than for a senior lawyer, is likely to be lower than external counsel, but you’ll still need to state what value a permanent hire will add. This may be a more attractive case if it's to enable you to focus your work on strategic or higher risk matters or to develop better processes. Of course, recruiting takes time and carries some risk and add-on cost. Permanent hire need not mean a qualified lawyer. Many legal teams now use paralegals to undertake more routine tasks and specialists, such as project managers and knowledge management specialists, to do specific tasks, releasing the lawyers for complex matters. Paralegals can also be a source of future lawyers for your team;
- Interim lawyer: for variable demands or one-off matters, an interim lawyer is a good option. Day-rates may be high compared to a permanent hire, however you’ll only pay for days worked, not holidays or sick leave. There are no overheads, which can be as much as 30 to 40 per cent of an employee’s salary. You can also negotiate a short notice period;
- LPO: legal process outsourcing might be an option if you're looking to reduce the cost of carrying out a necessary legal function of some scale. Depending on the scale and location, you may consider a UK or overseas LPO;
- In-house outsourcing: you may be able to transfer an activity from the legal team to another department. For example, some contract work could be done in the business units or the IP team. But you may need to factor in training and referrals - either to you or an external provider. Also look at filtering - is the legal team too accessible and would filters improve efficiency and allow you to focus on more complex work?
- Business partners for legal: getting good business partners from HR, IT, finance, procurement, learning and development etc. to work with the legal team on matters related to the legal team itself can greatly reduce the burden on the legal team in working on these "back office" areas of the team's workload and improve the quality of the outputs; and
- Technology: improving process for efficiency and to reduce cost may come through using new or better technology, particularly for low grade tasks and matter/case and knowledge management. This can be a challenging option for smaller teams who lack clout in bidding for IT resource and bespoke legal solutions may not be attractive to the organisation. But if you demonstrate value in releasing resource for work higher up the value ladder, you should have a good case. Technology can also be scaled up quickly and reduce the risk of oversight or inconsistency.
It is also important to assess first what "off the shelf" software and IT solutions exist within your company's existing licenced software suite. If you approach these tools with an open mind and an "80% right is good enough to make a big difference" mentality then it is often possible to get a lot of benefits from software and tools that the business already uses for other purposes without having to incur extra costs or get new IT approvals.
Resourcing options, cost and benefits
You may not need to present all of this data in your case. However, if you’ve have made a cost-benefit analysis of each option, it’ll show you’ve done your homework. Also remember to factor in the cost of time and resource (perhaps a project manager) in carrying out your analysis and any interim resource while you or team members are gathering data.
Stage 4: Presenting your case
To make an impact, use visual aids and diagrams to make your case. Think carefully about how your audience like to receive data and requests and why what you are telling them will meet their needs - think "What Is In It For Them In Their Language" ("WIIIFTITL") - you are selling to them after all!
You'll want to show:
- The current situation;
- Where your team's work is focused and the data;
- Your analysis of challenges, risks and opportunities;
- The benefits and value the new resource will make possible;
- The costs - direct, indirect and contingent;
- Comparison with alternative options;
- Benefit - how your proposal will support the organisation's goals and objectives and add value, including to the bottom line; control risks (at the agreed level rather than eliminate them); and
- Your new organisation chart, if applicable.
Stage 5: If you don't get approval
All is not lost. If you’ve presented a strong case, you will have set a clear expectation within the business. Continue to track the data and ask for a meeting to represent your case in a few months’ time.
When that time comes, there may be an even more compelling business need. In the meantime, seek interim support to manage the workload your data has evidenced. Ultimately, you’ll succeed if you can demonstrate that the benefits of your case outweigh the cost of the resource.
By gathering data, analysing your needs and presenting a clear and compelling case, you’ll give your department the best chance of securing the resources it needs. The key, however, is to align your department’s needs to the goals of the organisation. Show how your case minimises risk and supports business growth. And if at first you don’t succeed, keep at it. You will succeed by demonstrating that your case costs less than the value you’ll deliver.
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