Selling the value and contribution of the in-house team

As a generalisation, in-house lawyers aren’t keen on self-publicity.

We gain satisfaction from knowing that our work makes a real contribution to the organisation, that we can bring our professional skills to bear and see the effect of our endeavours in practice.

We may also feel that one of the advantages of working in-house is that we no longer have to be involved in the marketing and promotional activities of a law firm. 

The intense workload in-house may also mean that there is little time to think about anything other than dealing with the day-to-day work which comes across the desk.

As a result, though, there can be a risk that the value and contribution of the in-house team to the organisation isn’t immediately visible. Colleagues – even at the senior-most level – may well not understand what the in-house team does. They may even see the in-house function as a pure cost centre, brought in-house only because it carries out transactional work more cheaply than external lawyers.

Worse still, the in-house team may feel that it is doing a great job well under great pressure, but the organisation disagrees, and focuses on process issues such as response times.

Can you get to the bottom of such disconnects, and help colleagues to understand the true position?

Those of us privileged to work in-house will know that what they do goes far beyond the simple carrying out of transactions or management of disputes - but how can you sell the value and contribution of the team?

Measuring value and contribution

To sell the team’s value and contribution, consider how they might first be measured.

Most organisations measure the performance of the organisation, and of their operational and functional teams. Sometimes, legal teams are reticent to engage in such exercises, feeling that they have left time-costing behind in their law firm – but as a result, there is a risk that value and contribution are reduced to a consideration of time and cost and that the real value that the team brings isn’t understood.

Ideally, you will know why the organisation has an in-house team, what it is intended to achieve, and how best success can be demonstrated. If you have formulated a legal strategy for the team, you should have a clear understanding of what you are trying to do and how. You can also look at what the organisation itself measures – its own key performance indicators, for example, and how it expresses those measures in the language of the organisation.

Even though you want to sell value and contribution above and beyond cost, though, it is important to demonstrate that you understand what the organisation measures. Like it or not, most organisations will see legal costs as something they’d rather spend elsewhere. They want to know what “law“ costs – the in-house team, the external lawyers, and other legal resources – and what those costs achieve.

You can begin by demonstrating how much you cost, how that relates to time spent, and how it compares to the likely cost if bought in by other routes, such as external lawyers. There is no reason for reticence in these areas – you should want to know them intimately for your own management purposes and to be clear about them.

Beyond that, though, you will want to identify some measures which show the real value and the unique contribution that the in-house team makes. You must think about what these are for your organisation, but just some might include:

  • What legal work are you doing, for whom, and why?
  • What new projects, products or initiatives are you supporting?
  • What compliance risks, penalties and costs are you reducing or mitigating?
  • What legal trends and developments are you monitoring and factoring into the organisation’s risk profile or future strategy?
  • How are you integrated with the organisation?
    Perhaps providing training, working on cross-group projects, seconding lawyers to major projects, and working with sectoral or trade organisations to influence customers, regulators or government.

Having an idea of value is one thing, but how might you go about selling value and contribution?

Selling value and contribution

Selling value and contribution is about three things:

  • A consideration of what you see as your key selling points,
  • How you then bring (and keep them) before your chosen audiences; and
  • The creation of a framework to build two-way relationships across the organisation.

In other words – what are the critical things you do, and how do you make sure that the right people know about them, understand them, and help you to develop the team’s value and contribution further?

Think about who you see as the audience(s) for selling value and contribution to the organisation – bearing in mind that the audience for each may be different. While you may hope that your Board and Chief Executive are interested in both value and contribution, it may be that the financial and operational audiences are most focused on value, whereas your strategic audiences may be more interested in your contribution.

One key tool is the preparation of a legal exposure plan – effectively mirroring the business development plan of a law firm or legal service provider.

This will map internal relationships and systematically identify how they are used to sell your value and contribution. It is intended to expose the roles and responsibilities of the in-house team to the organisation by creating a framework to build relationships across the organisation, allowing you to tell people what you do – and why it’s relevant.

The legal exposure plan should allow the legal team as a whole – and the individual lawyers – to gain a profile across the organisation, marketing themselves within the various parts of the organisation, as well as at the most senior levels including the Board and senior executive teams.

It is about positioning the legal team in a way which ensures that there is a clear, ongoing and up-to-date understanding of what the team does, and to influence positively the team’s relationship with its internal clients and beyond.

Some strategies and tools

Essentially, you are seeking to ensure that the key influencers in and around your organisation know what the in-house team does and understand how it contributes. Some of the strategies and tools which might be included in the legal exposure plan could include:

  • Developing a relationship map – to understand who works with whom; where are the key relationships between the in-house team, key influencers in the organisation, customers, regulators, investors and lobbyists.
    Quite often, it can reveal gaps where senior or influential people don’t know what you do or are carrying with them outdated impressions – or even ones from previous roles elsewhere.
  • Induction – not only for new members of your team but for key new members of the organisation. Meetings with key colleagues in the organisation can build natural relationships from which legal conversations flow rather than being forced.
    Most people are more than happy to talk about what they do, and that provides an ideal opportunity to share what the in-house team does too.
  • Regular reviews – if you don’t already schedule regular review meetings with your internal clients, do consider doing so. These can be very useful – to understand what is going on, to learn about new developments, to head off any problems, and to tell colleagues what you are doing and why.
    Colleagues understand that they are a serious commitment on your part to work with the organisation – and the fact you will understand one another on a personal level can be hugely helpful.
  • Cross-organisation projects - one of the aims of an exposure plan is to make your legal team more visible, and at the same time to help the team understand how the organisation operates beyond the legal specialism.
    Many organisations use cross-organisation projects to address a whole range of things from market challenges to cost-saving initiatives, the introduction of new processes or technologies, and the launch of new products or services. If a lawyer can participate – in a legal or non-legal capacity – there can be a real benefit to everyone. It can also often be the case that the lawyer brings a project management capability which can be invaluable.
  • Work on strategy - most organisations of any scale, whether corporate, third sector or public, will have some form of strategy processes which identify what the organisation wants to do in future, what issues affect it both internally and externally, and how it will put that into practice.
  • Developing commercial positions – increasingly, organisations work up a playbook of commercial positions for use in negotiations of one-off and regular transactions.
    The in-house team can bring a great deal of practical and legal know-how to this exercise, and at the same time build excellent working relationships with the commercial teams within the organisation. You can also find that this allows you to refine the negotiation and documentation process to great benefit.
  • Events, workshops, conferences, visits and presentations – these are all opportunities to get lawyers in front of colleagues, to tell them what you do, to understand their world, and to be seen to participate.
    It’s not uncommon to hear that lawyers are considered to be aloof – often not through any intentional distancing at all, but simply because they are juggling conflicting demands on their time, workload issues and the sheer pressure of day-to-day in-house practice.
    There is a reason why law firms attend industry and sectoral events and use marketing and business development teams, and there is no reason why in-house teams can’t use those techniques to their advantage.
  • Participation in organisational schemes – leadership, secondments, job swaps, coaching and mentoring arrangements. All these things provide opportunities for the increase of mutual understanding.
  • Developing a communication plan – deciding how to tell the organisation what is going on, what you can be proud of, and why. Could you issue a legal blog or newsletter? Can you issue a formal schedule of the legal training you provide? Do you even issue an annual report which acts as a brochure setting out what you do, and which you can leave with colleagues at your review meetings?

Some final thoughts

These strategies and tools may well be useful to give you food for thought as a starting point to consider what will work best in your organisation. If you see something that works internally, do feel free to adapt it for your use. If you have a communications team in the organisation, why not ask them what they think might work?

Whether your legal team is small or large – and whatever the scale of your organisation – do capture and measure the value and contribution of your team and decide how you can best communicate it within your organisation. You won’t regret it!

Further reading

How to measure the performance of an in-house team

Legal Exposure Plan

In-House Lawyers’ Toolkit Richard Tapp and Ann Page (Law Society Publishing)

Framework for an In-House Legal Strategy