It’s widely accepted that in-house lawyers can, and should, play an integral role in the business. So what practical steps can you take to achieve this?
Defining your role
As an in-house lawyer, you’re aligning your vision, mission and key objectives with those of the wider business. You're working in harmony with:
- Corporate plans and the strategic priorities for any given period;
- The CEO’s objectives;
- The objectives of the key business units; and
- Potentially, those of external stakeholders such as regulators and strategic business partners.
This means you need to be involved when the business is formulating and reviewing its plans. You need to understand the business landscape and be in a position to contribute with advice on relevant legal issues in relation to compliance, protection, risk and other considerations.
Ideally, your CEO and senior management will recognise the value of your early involvement in business planning. However, you may need to make a compelling case for this. If so, be ready to demonstrate expertise in these five key areas:
1. Business knowledge and acumen. You'll need to understand your organisation, its industry sector and the markets it operates in. In particular, you must be well informed about how the legislative, regulatory and political environment affects the organisation.
2. Financial acumen. You won’t need to know as much as the finance director, but understanding how money works in the organisation is a great help. It will also strengthen your hand when you’re seeking budgetary resource for a business or departmental initiative.
3. Legal and business risk. When you understand your organisation, you know what the risks are. So, when formulating business plans and strategy, your role is to communicate these risks and challenge your colleagues to articulate their appetite for risk in executing a particular strategy. Be clear too about where your red lines are. There may be times when you need to advise strongly against a particular course of action or even escalate your concerns.
4. Performance and service delivery. With your organisation’s plans and strategy now in place, your next challenge is for you and your team to deliver the necessary service. As you prepare for this phase, ask yourself these questions:
- Are your processes, including on the ground advice, consistent with the strategy?
- Have you got the right expertise and sufficient resource to handle every aspect of the strategy, for example, to support business expansion or an IP policy?
- Are any external advisers fully appraised and on board?
- Are you wired into business processes, projects and meetings to ensure you can support and influence ongoing delivery?
5. Metrics, reporting and business intelligence. A good understanding of what your organisation expects from you will enable you to facilitate the ongoing business review and planning cycle. It will help you determine what information and inputs are appropriate for different audiences. Remember also to document what you learn throughout the process. This could be vital in reviewing and re-calibrating processes and fine-tuning future plans.
To contribute to business strategy, you need to:
- Be at the table and add business value, particularly in relation to legal and associated business risk;
- Have the expertise and resource to deliver a service consistent with the agreed strategy;
- Be sufficiently involved in the business and be able, where appropriate, to influence plans and strategy; and
- Provide intelligence and data useful to your colleagues in delivery and setting future strategy.
Janice More has provided the commentary below:
Successful in-house teams will do two fundamental things: they will be seen as true business partners/trusted advisors and value adding.
The key to achieving this is to ensure that the focus of the in-house team is on the business objectives – and relentlessly ensuring that not only are the goals and objectives aligned to business goals and objectives, but that they are tracked and measured in a way that resonates with the business.
Legal leaders and teams that are viewed as trusted advisers will inevitably be included in strategy development or at least be asked to provide views and opinions.