Prioritising and planning legal needs

This article looks into the detail of planning a legal support service for a specific business unit. We discuss how to assess a unit’s risks and create a package of services to manage them. We also consider communication channels between the legal team and the business unit and consider who should pay for what.

Providing bespoke services to business units in the organisation is the nitty gritty of an in-house legal role.

You’ll need to know how to assess specific risks, plan for them and build a team that works with multiple units across the organisation. You’ll also need to be clear about exactly what comes out of your budget and what costs the units themselves will cover.

Supporting specific business units

Aligning itself with the organisation’s goals is a core objective of the in-house legal department. And once you’ve analysed the business needs the next stage is to plan how you’ll work with the business units that need your support.

For each unit you’ll be working with, set out:

Your risk rating for the unit based on:

  • Its size;
  • The nature and frequency of any planned changes;
  • How many unpredictable things happen to the unit;
  • How much prior warning the department gets of change; and
  • The types of function in the unit.

The key areas of law affecting that unit. Assess:

  • Why they matter;
  • Which teams within the unit will be most affected; and
  • How much risk these areas involve, and why.

From here, determine the level of CAT support (see link for more details on what is in the CAT) you feel the unit will need. This means deciding what to offer in terms of:

  • Contracts;
  • Advice; and
  • Training.

Decide too, how urgent each CAT element is and how regularly you’ll need to provide support in each category. For example, decide whether the need is:

  • A one-off;
  • Periodic;
  • Determined by specific but infrequent events - such as a change of law or business strategy;
  • Ongoing.

Assess your capability

Next, assess how well your team is equipped to meet the unit’s needs. Consider:

  • Your resources,
  • Your budget;
  • Your other priorities.

If you feel any of these are insufficient or there are gaps, you may need to make a case for more resources.

And don't forget to factor in and budget for external resources if these form part of your agreed delivery plan. You'll also need to agree selection, contact, and approval processes for using external lawyers.

Establish your contacts in the business unit

To ensure good communications with your internal clients, work with them to establish key contacts. For example, you could design a process comprising:

  • An executive sponsor, who agrees to your programme and acts as an escalation point;
  • The day-to-day lead, for routine queries, decisions on conflicting areas of work and budget authority; and
  • A liaison lead, for information gathering and roll out of CAT.

Stress the importance of close involvement. Ideally, attend the unit’s departmental meetings to understand what it’s doing and planning. This will help you identify the legal implications and advise in good time.

Nominate your team for the business unit

Likewise, let the business unit know who their legal contacts are. Give them the names of:

  • Your department lead (business partner), who will attend the unit’s senior management meetings, hold quarterly meetings to ensure continued alignment and act as the legal department’s escalation point;
  • Any subject matter expert required for the unit if it has a particularly high level of legal subject specific content and so, it is not sensible to channel this advice solely via the business partner lawyer for consistency (e.g. DP or IP for a software development division); and
  • A training contact.

Agree the action plan

With the unit’s needs agreed and teams in place to work together, restate the objectives and get the unit head to sign off on:

  • Its legal research and CAT needs;
  • Its commitment to your work plan;
  • Its agreement to nominate a person responsible for budget approvals on unexpected items; and
  • Reviewing processes.

Budget and resource

Finally, agree who will pay for what. For example, the legal department may pay for:

  • The resources and knowledge necessary to execute the agreed work;
  • Quarterly guidance and briefings on big legal changes as they happen;
  • An agreed number of hours weekly to review contracts and templates; and
  • Management of litigation and regulatory processes up to an agreed maximum number of hours.

The business unit, meanwhile, may pay for:

  • Unplanned work;
  • Any external counsel or extra time it needs from your department;
  • Any unscheduled work or new projects outside the scope of your agreement; and
  • Support for exceptional issues, such as litigation.


Providing a quality service to internal clients calls for analytical skills and using these to make an annual service contract (with change control provisions) with each client division. You’ll need to identify the specific risks each business unit needs to manage and determine how much CAT (contracts, advice and training) you need to provide that unit. This also means putting a team in place to manage communication at multiple levels with the business unit and agreeing budgetary responsibilities.

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