The most effective legal teams are those that understand their organisation’s goals, challenges and risks and focus their priorities, resources and services accordingly.
By aligning with the organisation’s strategy and objectives the legal team will be better placed to position itself at the heart of the organisation and play an important role in supporting its success.
Aligning legal to business goals
To contribute effectively to the organisation and be seen as a valued business partner, the legal team needs to align itself to the wider strategic goals. This means finding out which areas of the organisation are:
- Exposed to high risk; and
- Subject to frequent or significant changes in the law; and
- Which are important to the business; and
- Which change frequently.
This will allow you to:
- Prioritise your work and resources by agreement with the business; and
- More easily decide where you might need to increase or focus legal resource perhaps at the expense of other areas of activity.
If there are volatile areas of the law in your market sector, consider how they affect your organisation materially. Score them by assessing:
- How many areas of the business are affected;
- How critical those business areas are; and
- The risk /consequences - such as fines, loss of business licences, government contracts, creating personal liability for directors etc. to the business of not prioritising them.
Score risk from both the business and legal viewpoints to understand the importance of each legal issue in the overall context of the organisation.
Communicate your findings
Once you’ve identified where you can make the greatest contribution, share your insights with senior management and the relevant business unit heads.
Talk them through the big legal issues and explain how you’ll support them in their response to those issues using the core "CAT" services:
- Contracts: acting for your business departments in their negotiations with other organisations in relation to your organisation's 'commercial' arrangements (including standard terms, pre-approved negotiation playbooks and one off negotiations);
- Advice: "one off" advising across a range of activities, which will depend on the nature of the organisation e.g. mergers and acquisitions, advertising and regulation;
- Training and education: any form of repeated educating and training of colleagues in person, for example though intranet FAQ, online training, templates, auto-completion documents, or policies and processes about relevant legal issues, so they can deal with some matters without always consulting your team.
Get the stakeholders on side
Get your stakeholders on your side by tailoring your CAT plan to each business unit. You are helping them but they will have to deliver, implement and audit the use of what you give them as you do not normally have the resources for it to be sensible for you to do these things for them. Show them that you understand their challenges and that you’re translating this understanding into a legal service relevant to them. Two important steps in this process are to produce:
- A document for each business unit. Include a summary of every legal risk and set out the roles and responsibilities of your department’s contacts for that unit. Define with the business unit leader what you both understand the legal risks to be and agree how you’ll work together with an agreed set of priorities - and a change control mechanism for those priorities as things will change! Give people in your team and the business unit, roles in the process, and make the overriding objective to keep risk at a predefined acceptable level, or RAT (risk at tolerance). Note that having risk means that things will go wrong which it has been agreed are too small to worry about and, when they do, there should be no blame, rather a picking up of the pieces and an assessment whether going forwards the risks remain at the right level; and
- A legal knowledge action plan. Prioritise the legal services and business areas the legal team will be focusing on and state why each one matters to the organisation and supports its key objectives. This will enable you to focus your processes and knowledge around your core activities and identify any gaps that you’ll need to fill.
Clarify what the Legal Team won't do
Equally important as communicating what services you will provide to the business units, is being clear about what you won’t provide. This may be because certain activities are 'quasi-legal' and can be better done in the business unit with training and referral options. For example, you might check that the "ground rules" for a new advertising campaign are legally correct but you will not check the grammar of the adverts nor check every advert once the ground rules have been stabilised and tested. Or maybe it's because it's not cost effective for you to recruit a specialist lawyer for a non-core area rather than use external counsel, as required e.g. employment law.
In any event, create and provide a simple document detailing any exclusions. Include:
- The area of law excluded;
- The reason you don’t cover it;
- The department or external counsel who does cover it;
- Contact details for that provider; and
- Any other relevant information or observations.
Assessing risk across the whole organisation is the first step in assessing what support it needs. From here, you’ll need to communicate with stakeholders and, possibly, justify decisions to prioritise some areas over others. From here, you’ll need to work closely with business unit heads to clarify what services you’ll provide, and any that you may not.