Structuring and resourcing a legal team

‘You’ll never have enough resource to do everything, so you need to innovate’

At some point in your career you may have to restructure your legal team, either in part or as a whole.

The triggers for a restructure are many and varied. You may, for example, face challenges arising from a crisis, a merger, an acquisition, expansion or budgetary cuts. Or you may find an existing structure that has served you well in the recent past is not right for the future.

Relationships and culture eat structure and resourcing for breakfast.

If the relationships and culture across your organisation aren’t right, no amount of restructuring or resourcing will improve your team’s performance. For this reason, it’s vital to know your colleagues well, their strengths and weaknesses. It’s important to build capability and empower teams to make sure work is done at the right level in the organisation and in the right way – working smartly; no gold-plating. 

It’s also important to know your clients well and build relationships there. What is their risk appetite, who are the key players, do you need to build client capability to manage your resources better?

Define the purpose of the legal team

Most organisations speak the language of strategy. They talk and write using the vocabulary of business planning and finance. Most lawyers, however, don't. So it can help to define why the legal team exists in the language your organisation speaks, and agree that purpose with the organisation.

Then, set out that purpose in the tone of voice of your organisation to help your internal colleagues understand why you’re there and what you can – and can’t – do for them.

Draw a line

Look out for signs that a client may be becoming over-reliant on you. We in-house lawyers are a helpful bunch and will generally say yes, even where a task falls outside our remit. This could lead to your team being pulled away from its core work. So while keeping your can-do approach, it’s a good idea to understand the boundary between legal advice and other types of work.

Cultivate the ‘intelligent client’

The intelligent clients are the individuals within your organisation who take ownership of the services you provide. They’ll usually be the people outside legal who get most involved with your team.

A good relationship with the intelligent client pays dividends when you need to discuss any difficulties and challenges that arise. Similarly it can help you secure representation – or at least a voice – in the boardroom.

Use your 360° view

As an in-house lawyer, you have something unique – full view across your organisation and beyond. This can help you to see external developments coming before your colleagues do. And when you combine this with deep insights into your organisation’s strategy and risk appetite, you’ll be in a great position to advise clients about the legal implications of all their options before they make decisions. In turn, this 360° view will help you structure your team and manage your resources. 

Know your organisation’s risks

When you understand your organisation’s goals, you’ll be able to identify where some of its biggest risks may lie, and in turn, how they inform your likely future workload, and where you can recruit, train and deploy your team to the greatest effect.

Develop a strategy and business plan for legal

There’s no substitute for rigorous strategic and business planning, particularly if your organisation is going through change. A solid plan will help you navigate your organisation’s priorities and align the legal team to the wider strategic goals. For more on this subject see our article, Planning for success: six steps in developing a business plan for legal and Framework for an in-house legal strategy.

Build, buy, borrow or bridge?

In dynamic business and political environments, the need for specialist skills changes frequently – and legal is no exception. The build, buy, borrow or bridge approach is a set of four pillars that can help you fill skills gaps without disrupting the structure of your team.


This refers to recruiting new talent, or developing existing talent to progress in their careers. Data, people analytics and psychometric assessment can help you decide who to select for which roles and development. Benefits include developing your team to meet the legal function’s needs while enhancing employee retention.


When the need is urgent and you don’t have the time to upskill existing talent, you’ll need to bring in external resource from outside providers who can hit the ground running. 


Ideal for acute, yet urgent, skills gaps, ‘borrow’ relates to the hiring of temporary talent, or secondment or placement of people from elsewhere in the organisation or from outside providers – often for a specific assignment.

Prepare for this eventuality by cultivating communities of people who can supplement your team for fixed periods. Contractors, secondees and possibly people already in other departments in your organisation could all fit the bill.


Bridging refers to preparing talent for new roles where the evolution of your organisation makes their current job redundant. Horizon scanning will help you plan for this and where, possible, enable you to offer talent with transferable skills and an  alternative career path.