Key factors in providing a first class in-house legal service

The benefits of an in-house legal team include the fact that you’re close and accessible with a good understanding of the legal and regulatory framework in which the organisation operates and the attendant risks.

Your influence will be enhanced by having a strong network of relationships within (and probably also outside) the organisation.

All General Counsel want their legal function to be seen as valued by the organisation’s board and management and be seen as important to the organisation’s success and development.

Yet, as any General Counsel and senior in-house lawyer will know, it’s vital also that the legal team provides a first class, efficient service to its various in-house ‘clients’. If this is lacking the reputation and perceived value of the team will suffer.

Providing an efficient service is usually not straightforward and the larger the size and scope of the legal team the more complex it becomes. But one thing is certain – any in-house lawyer in a senior in-house role, or aspiring to carry out such a role, requires a good grasp of what it takes to deliver an efficient service.

In this article we look at some of the key areas and highlight related CLL content that you may find useful.

A service delivery model 

                    Key Factors Diagram

A quick tour of each aspect

1. Purpose and strategy

Devoting time and energy to strategic thinking and planning can seem like a real luxury amidst the hurly burly of daily activity as legal teams work to meet client demand and expectations. But General Counsel will be very aware of the need to ensure that the core work of the legal team is focused on those areas of greatest importance to the organisation and of the need to also ensure that the in-house lawyers are in a position to give advice, including where the need for legal advice may not be recognised by others or may be unwelcome. Clarifying the purpose of the legal team and then identifying a strategy to deliver it is therefore a critical factor in developing a first class, efficient in-house legal service.

Here are some articles that you may find useful in this area:

The purpose of the in-house legal team

How to build a legal team strategy

From strategy to effectiveness to efficiency

2. Structure

Having scoped and written the legal team’s purpose and operating strategy, how the team is structured is clearly of key importance in delivering the legal service. The structure will clearly be influenced by a number of factors, including the legal team’s key areas of activity, the structure of the organisation itself and the location of key clients and perhaps also the culture of the organisation. Structures are not static, of course, as they must respond to changing business needs and, importantly, also support staff movement and development.

Related articles:

Structuring and restructuring a legal team

Running a de-centralised team

Managing teams across jurisdictions and cultures

3. Tasks

Clearly, the legal team needs to be clear about what legal services it is providing to the organisation and why. The strategic planning exercise should, with prioritisation, be that the team’s work is closely aligned to the areas of greatest business need and legal risk. Thereafter it is useful to categorise activity into appropriate areas based on such organisational factors as location, core business, project work, one off activities etc.

Related articles:

Prioritising and planning legal needs

Mapping legal support for business needs

Planning for success - six steps in developing a business plan for legal

4. People

Good systems and processes get you so far but without good, motivated, well managed people in the right roles, you cannot hope to provide a first class legal service. How you get there covers a lot of ground from recruitment, induction and retention to skills, training, development and career progression. The point being that any service is only as good as the people behind it and that time, energy and resources devoted to these areas are a critical success factor.

Related articles:

Building a legal teams people function

Recruiting and retaining in-house lawyers

People and team management, development succession and managing out

5. Process

This is about the channels you use to provide the legal service. A major advantage of an in-house function is its accessibility but how the lawyers are engaged, by whom, when and on what terms are all matters that an efficient model should clarify. There may well be distinctions to be made between the business type, location, volume, importance and urgency of client demands which may determine how requests for legal work are made and responded to.

Related articles:

Fitting legal into business strategy plans and budgets

Where can legal teams innovate?

Lean law - lean methodology and legal teams

6. Knowledge

An important currency of the in-house team is its acquired knowledge, including the legal and regulatory framework; the legal risk map of the organisation; the organisation’s processes and personnel and the impact of change in these areas. The team needs to be able to call on this expertise in a way that enables it to deal quickly with requests for legal advice both where the request is familiar and where it is unusual. The in-house team will wish to find ways in which its knowledge base can be appropriately shared across the organisation other than just by targeted advice – for example using training and online updates. Good knowledge management processes, including possible access to bought-in systems, are an important enabler for an efficient in-house team.

Related articles:

Knowledge management tools and processes

Delivering contracts advice and training into the business

7. Resources

Meaning here the people and systems you have to deliver the service. For General Counsel the issue was traditionally to gauge the number of permanent lawyers required to deliver the legal service and to balance that with any necessary external legal resources needed. Now the choices are wider given the development of flexible resourcing models, for example. Developments in technology also provide choice and the challenge is often to determine how to best use technology to increase efficiency bearing in mind any need for compatibility with company systems and the need to justify purchase or development costs.

Related articles:

Making the case for extra resource

The impact of legal tech

Eight things to think about when appointing a law firm

8. Management information and reporting

Data about what work the legal team is engaged in, for whom, and at what cost is now fairly easy for General Counsel to have access to through standard technology systems. More challenging is identifying what information is critical and should be reported on to demonstrate not simply activity but also contribution and value. There is a clear link here to the underlying purpose and strategy of the legal team as that will be aligned to the need to deliver particular organisational goals and objectives agreed with senior management and key client areas, which may well be embodied in KPIs and service level agreements.

Related articles:

KPIs and value added measurements