Function of a legal team

In this article, we explore the most common issues facing modern legal departments. We look at some of the challenges you’ll face, what your organisation will expect and how you can meet those expectations.

If you’re new to in-house or are leading a team or department for the first time, this article will help you plan your approach. 

The role of your legal team

Business, regulatory and political environments are changing rapidly. As a result, legal departments face diverse challenges. These vary from sector to sector, however the most common are:
  • Increased competition;
  • Uncertainty around longer term planning and investment following Brexit;
  • Increasing regulation and/or corporate governance controls;
  • The need to protect your business’s brand and reputation;
  • Globalisation, including professional services;
  • Rapid changes in technology;
  • Tightening budgets; and
  • Rising customer and client expectations.

Many of these factors will define the role of your legal team. Organisations today increasingly want their lawyers at the heart of strategic business planning. As well as ensuring compliance, lawyers have a big role to play in achieving business goals and protecting property, brands and reputation.

At its heart the in-house legal team is there to:

1:  Ensure that accountable decisions are taken at the right level and function in the organisation which are informed about the level of legal risk that is inherent in those decisions; and

2:  Seek to ensure, Contracts, Advice and Training are used to keep those legal Risks At Tolerance ("CAT"s to control "RAT"s).

What the legal team does

In all probability, your legal team’s work will be a combination of:

  • Transaction support, including in relation to contracting and compliance;
  • Helping the business to understand legislative and regulatory change that may impact its business model and operations;
  • Helping the business to understand the legislative and regulatory implications of its new projects, product's, services and country expansion plans;
  • Litigation. Claim and defence work, risk assessment and managing down the legal consequences of business failures;
  • Intellectual property; and
  • Managing external counsel and controlling costs.

You may also manage risk and help your organisation improve efficiency by providing early warning and intelligence. Expect too, to be involved in formulating strategy. Good business planning should factor in legal, regulatory and compliance risks and associated spending.

Exceeding your organisation’s expectations

As the leader of an in-house legal team, aim proactively and consistently to achieve these three key objectives:

 1.  To be at the heart of your organisation

  • Align your goals with the organisation’s aims and focus on what’s most important at the expense of unstructured and/or lower priority activity.
  • Know your organisation, the sector you’re working in and the competitive, regulatory and political factors that affect it.
  • Understand what the board, senior management and key internal clients and external stakeholders (customers, suppliers, regulators etc.) expect of you.

 2.  Make your contribution measurable

  • Set out what you will do – and what value it will deliver.
  • Adopt performance management measures that tell your team and the wider organisation what you’re doing, how much it costs and how it contributes to the organisation’s success.
  • Use metrics that demonstrate this contribution, including in financial terms.

 3.  Demonstrate your value to the organisation

  • Control spending. Manage your own resources and those that affect external partners.
  • Share knowledge to improve planning, risk management, operational efficiency and self-reliance among clients.
  • Be innovative. Look at ways to improve your service and increase value.
  • Manage relationships with partners, regulators and stakeholders.

Articulate your value in areas difficult to measure, such as trust and integrity.


The modern legal team should be at the heart of the organisation and be seen as a key resource and valued business partner. To achieve this, ensure your team talks the same language as its clients, understands the business and demonstrates the value of its contribution to the organisation.

Please see commentary below from Anthony Inglese.

This is a helpful note, if I may say so. I especially like the advice to be at the heart of your organisation.  Also, near the end the reference to “trust and integrity”.  I see the in-house role as one where a relationship of trust is crucial.

I want to emphasise  the importance of not just calling the team a team but also of developing its members so that they act as a team. 

What are some of the features of a team in that respect?  In no sort of order:

The members all understand the role of the Head of Legal and work together to support him/her (and are supported in turn);

Team members support each other by helping each other with their work, educating each other, coaching each other where appropriate, speaking respectfully of each other to others in the organisation;

The team works to a strategy and a business plan into which all new members are properly inducted; 

Team members do not let their competitive instincts prevent them from being supportive to each other.
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