Framework for an in-house legal strategy

Many in-house legal teams evolve over time, taking on more and more responsibilities on an ad-hoc basis as they arise.

Often, though, this can mean that there is a lack of clarity over what the lawyers are expected to do, with the organisation thinking that the role is different to the one the lawyers are able – and resourced – to do.

This Framework can be used to allow you to define and communicate your role, that of any external lawyers, and the expectations of the organisation. It can also deal with a range of issues which might otherwise lead to misunderstanding, such as cost, charging and response times. Why not use it as in a workshop with your legal colleagues, and then share and discuss it with key colleagues in the organisation? It can be a great tool to integrate the legal team with the organisation and build your reputation too.

Introduction – function and context

  • What are the key legal issues affecting the organisation?

  • What key legal risks arise – now and in relation to the organisation’s future strategy?

  • What is the legal function – how is it structured and what does it do?


In-house law

  • What is the scope of the in-house legal team?

  • What is the ‘make-or-buy’ philosophy – i.e. what legal activities does the in-house team do itself and what does it buy in? Why?

  • How do the senior lawyers fit into the organisation’s structure? Who do they report to? Do they sit on senior management teams (and if not, how do they know what is going on?)

  • How are decisions made about the in-house legal team structure and role – and how are they reviewed from time to time?

  • How do colleagues in the organisation know what the in-house team does and how they should work with it? Have you told them?

  • What happens if there is a problem between someone in the organisation and an in-house lawyer?


Using external lawyers

  • What are external lawyers, law companies or alternative legal providers used for?

  • Who chooses them, manages them, supervises them and pays for them?

  • Who is entitled to instruct them? Can anyone in the organisation choose who they use, or is there a preferred supplier panel?

  • Where are the arrangements with external lawyers etc. documented and by whom? Are they for a set period and then reviewed?

  • If colleagues in the organisation are allowed to instruct lawyers, do you publish guidelines on how to make that work?

  • What happens if there is a problem between someone in the organisation and an external legal provider?


  • Is the in-house legal team a cost centre, or is it expected to generate revenue for the organisation, for example through litigation recovery?

  • How are budgets set and agreed? How are you expected to forecast during the year?

  • Who pays for legal, and how? Are there recharges according to work done, or an annual recharge?

  • Who pays for external legal work, and how? Is it directly charged to the part of the organisation benefiting from it? What happens if payment isn’t made in a timely fashion or if there is a dispute about cost?

  • How do you deal with colleagues who feel the in-house team should do work you want to outsource?

  • Does the organisation understand the comparative cost of in-house work against external advice?

  • What happens if more work is required than there is budget to cover?



  • What are the recruitment arrangements? What if you feel more (or less, or different) in-house lawyers are required?

  • What are your policies about key issues such as diversity and inclusion?

  • How do you deal with vacancies, maternity leave etc?

  • Do you have secondees? Where from? Who pays for them?

  • How are the in-house lawyers expected to manage their professional development?

Standards, measurement and reporting

  • What standards does the in-house legal team work to – Solicitors’ Regulation Authority, Bar Council, Lexcel, ISO 9001? Are they clear?

  • What standards are your external suppliers required to work to? Are they the same?

  • Do your quality standards mirror those of your employing organisation?

  • What service delivery standards apply to legal work – does everyone understand them and know where they can be found? What happens if they’re not met?

  • How do you measure what the legal team and your external lawyers do? What key performance indicators do you have?

  • How do you report on your work, and to whom? Do your colleagues – and your Board – know what you are doing, and how you are performing?


Legal Operations

  • Do you have a legal operations role or team do help with structure, standards, measurement, reporting and technology?

  • If not, have you considered assessing whether such a resource would pay for itself and free up lawyers to do more purely legal work?

  • How are matters dealt with by the in-house team and external lawyers recorded, managed and reported? Is there a matter management system?

  • How is knowledge management dealt with – what is the core legal know-how, how is it captured, how is it used, who is responsible for it?

  • What knowledge management systems exist for the legal team to use? How do you ensure that legal knowhow is available and accessible in future?

  • Can you use external knowhow resources?

  • Who is responsible for keeping legal intranets, portals and other operational tech populated and up-to-date to ensure that members of the team and colleagues in the business have up-to-date information?



  • What technology does the legal team use?

  • Do you use technology to operationalise law in the organisation and to interact with your colleagues?

  • When did you last do a full review of what you use, and what else is available which would help?

  • How do you decide what to try?

  • What IT support resource do you have – and do you need more?

Managing Legal Risk

  • How are legal risks identified, captured, mitigated and recorded?

  • Who owns the legal risk register, map or matrix for the organisation? Is it integrated in the organisation’s legal risk planning?

  • How are legal risks dealt with by the in-house legal team? Is there a legal risk plan?

  • How are legal risks reported?

  • How does the legal team ensure that it can raise legal risk issues at the most senior levels of the organisation?

Ethics and regulation

  • How does the legal team ensure it is operating in accordance with its regulatory environment? Does the legal strategy take account of possible changes to that environment, including direct personal liability for senior lawyers?

  • Is appropriate Directors’ and Officers’, public liability, and any other necessary insurance in place for the legal team?

  • How does the legal team ensure that it is operating ethically?

  • How does the legal team maintain its organisational and ethical independence while remaining integrated with the organisation?

  • How does the legal team ensure that it can raise ethical issues at the most senior levels of the organisation?

  • What is the legal team’s role in dealing with whistleblowing and fraud? Is it integrated into the organisation’s whistleblowing and fraud policies and processes?

Law and the organisation

  • Who is responsible for the legal strategy?

  • How is the legal strategy aligned to the strategy of the overall organisation?

  • How and when is it reviewed?

  • Are the legal function’s priorities clear, and understood?

  • When the organisation’s strategy changes, how does the legal strategy take account of those changes? Where responses, structure and sourcing need to change, how is that achieved?


The future

  • How does the organisation intend to change in the current strategy timeframe – usually three or five years?

  • What external factors may affect the organisation or its markets over that period?

  • How will the legal team ensure that it is contributing to the organisation forward-looking review, and planning to adapt and serve the organisation in its anticipated form?

You may also want to consider attaching relevant documents to the strategy document – for example a structure chart showing the roles in the legal function, the areas of responsibility of particular members, and their contact details. You may also wish to consider attaching the key performance indicators by which you measure the legal team’s activities.