70 questions to keep you on top of your game

Here we pose 70 questions to keep you at the very top of your game as a senior in-house lawyer with responsibility for a team and departmental strategy. Have you got a convincing answer to all of them?

Leading an in-house legal function is a multi-skilled, multi-disciplined role.

As well as being a lawyer, you need to be a leader, a strategist a budget controller and a relationship builder. Use these questions to keep track of your progress in all these aspects of the role. (You can also view the introduction to the 70 questions.)

70 questions to put you on top of your game

Keeping on top of every aspect of your role as a senior in-house lawyer is no easy task. That’s why we put together these 70 questions to ask yourself from time to time. The list is not exhaustive and there may be extra or different questions specific to your organisation’s individual circumstances. However, getting to grips with these will give you a great start.

So, have you:

  1. Defined your personal and team roles in the context of the organisation’s business plan and strategy?

  2. Agreed reporting lines, roles and responsibility documents, personal objectives and development plans?

  3. Created strategies to develop team spirit, cooperative working and knowledge sharing within your team and within project teams that you work on with other business departments without imposing unrealistic commitments on smaller teams?

  4. Implemented a bottom-up ideas generation culture and a structure that encourages safe allocation of work to the most junior competent level?

  5. Put in place a development and promotion structure and incentives aligned to proper legal behaviour? 
       
  6. Thought about how you’ll manage any situation where junior lawyers are put under inappropriate pressure by non-legal colleagues?

  7. Planned and budgeted for temporary and long-term absences such as those arising from pat/maternity or sick leave or sabbaticals?

  8. Identified if there are any special requirements for the legal team with regards to flexible or home working?

  9. Anticipated your temporary and permanent recruitment needs for lawyers and non-lawyers in your team based on current staff levels and the organisation’s business plan?

  10. Established recruitment processes and identified a preferred recruitment firm?

  11. Prepared a skills and behaviours competency-based interview pack?

  12. Prepared induction packs, mentoring processes and a cultural adaptation programme for people joining from private practice?

  13. Designed assessment tests and criteria for end of probation periods, end of "no redundancy rights" periods and for people reaching new grades, taking on new responsibilities or new geographies?

  14. Created a function rotation policy within your team to help develop team members' competencies, fill skills gaps, improve team morale and effect smooth handovers of roles and client relationships?

  15. Agreed legal escalation policies with business unit heads and other internal clients?

  16. Prepared whistleblowing policies for/about the legal department?

  17. Defined how the legal department will engage with corporate whistleblowing arrangements?

  18. Gained a good working knowledge of cultural and legal norms in different territories in which your business operates/with which it has major buy or sell relationships?

  19. Considered dotted line and matrix reporting opportunities and obligations?

  20. Agreed your own career development path and succession planning and that of your deputies with senior management?

  21. Agreed reasoned and properly estimated internal spend budgets for staff, IT, travel and expenses, development and team events for your legal team and put in place tracking and tracing systems?

  22. Agreed reasoned and properly estimated external spend budgets for external counsel, work commissioning processes and managing supplier relationships (including with finance and procurement) and put in place reporting structures?

  23. Built a system for controlling costs and allocating expenditure to appropriate cost centres and set a clear view on what is paid for centrally, divisionally or by the "polluter" (i.e. why should the budget to provide legal support to well behaved client departments be "robbed" to fix problems with poorly behaved ones that cause litigation, regulatory interaction etc.)?

  24. Agreed methodologies for allocating budgets and actuals to appropriate cost centres?

  25. Devised a methodology for agreeing and allocating costs for non-planned business and the resulting legal costs and attributing these ("poor planners" are like "polluters" - see above)?

  26. Established effective ways of sharing knowledge and storing archived content in an accessible format?

  27. Set up effective project planning, IT and financial support resource for the legal team?

  28. Produced an internal communications strategy to ensure key stakeholders understand your department’s role and have clear communication channels back to you?

  29. Made a plan for reviewing and continually improving internal client interactions?

  30. Created a system to manage knowledge, training opportunities and, if applicable, test and accreditation resources?

  31. Agreed an effective litigation management policy with associated processes, decision-making matrices, reporting and management systems?

  32. Developed ways to report to the financial reporting and internal audit functions on litigation and pre-litigious disputes and regulatory interventions against the company?

  33. Agreed an effective operational interface between litigation management, investigation management, internal IT, risk management, corporate and audit reporting (and for managing larger disputes, the project management function)?

  34. Agreed an alternative dispute resolution process, including approvals, costings, settlement accounting and team management?

  35. Set clear processes for disclosure and legal and litigation advice privilege management?

  36. Established an reporting process (trigger thresholds, agreed approvers/notifiers etc.) between litigation management and investigation management, risk management, corporate and audit reporting and any statutory reporting processes such as The Bribery Act, Proceeds of Crime Act, the FCA/PRA and stock market laws. This should include understanding/anticipating key supplier and customer approaches so that you can contemplate what they might do and when (e.g notification under their domestic stock market rules/ at a different level of materiality due to their different size etc.) in the event?

  37. Agreed mechanisms for identifying, triggering and managing statutory reporting processes (including fall back channels in case the trigger is caused by a person/team which would be in the "ordinary" reporting line)?

  38. Agreed crisis management policies - both for managing the initial crisis and managing the day to day business while resource is diverted to managing the crisis for foreseeable risks such as dawn raids, product safety failures and data privacy breaches. And also set and maintained a review/update cycle for these policies which is reflective of the rate of role churn in your organisation?

  39. Nominated your crisis management team contacts and decided who can access what system to get which data in a given emergency - and established what the fall back position is if the crisis is caused by the person/team/outsource provider that you would ordinarily turn to in the crisis (e.g. data breach caused by the outsourced IT team/cloud data storage provider)?

  40. Created a crisis early warning mechanism? Have you asked: ‘Who could do what to us? Why? How? How can we head the issue off?

  41. Agreed boundaries and reporting lines/relationships with compliance, company secretarial, internal audit, accounting, whistle-blowing and investigations teams?
  42. Established relationships with accountability matrices at all levels with other divisions?

  43. Developed working relationships with the back office functions of both sales and procurement?

  44. Allocated authority and accountability across the business divisions that own the underlying business policy, process, requirement or delivery activity to which the contract provisions relate for contract provisions determination, review, case by case and permanent amendment, contract monitoring and contract enforcement - for both sales and purchasing and with a proper structure for managing "back to back change control" when supplier product or service supply is incorporated into your onward sales provisioning?

  45. Set pre-agreed negotiating parameters and sign-offs on regular activity with all relevant internal stakeholders?

  46. Set the organisation’s reasoned standard legal position for all key business operational areas (explained in the context of the business risk appetite and strategy and any client, stakeholder or regulatory requirements) - such as Treating Customers Fairly provisions in Financial Services Regulation, along with reasons for any significant exceptions?

  47. Set up a register of who is accountable for what, why and how?

  48. Created a system for identifying and mitigating irreconcilable international compliance obligations, controlling the organisation’s exposures and monitoring changes in those processes?

  49. Created a system for identifying conflicts between internal obligations and managing an agreed corporate risk approach to them?

  50. Established how your department will contribute to business processes and produce evidence of its effectiveness?

  51. Decided on issues such as timing, nature and seniority of contact for the escalation of the legal contribution to material business processes, including agreement of where no escalation is needed?

  52. Agreed “bypass” processes, including budget and PO authority, to use when investigating issues such as employee fraud affecting senior staff?

  53. Established processes for ensuring contracts, company secretarial and other core corporate records are compliant?

  54. Set up destruction, legal hold and records management processes and means of checking that they are actually being adhered to?

  55. Identified the specific knowledge and skills development needs for key roles in the legal department?

  56. Created a structure for identifying training needs, providing training and measuring its effectiveness?

  57. Put in place a policy for managing and reconciling conflicting legal tasks within the legal department?

  58. Created matrices for the legal department to assess legal and operational risk probability, severity, mitigations and control accountabilities?

  59. Created matrices for the business units to assess risks, gaps, role overlaps and discrepancies between reporting obligations?

  60. Found the right balance between training, investigation and compliance advice to minimise conflicts, whether actual or perceived?

  61. Identified and scheduled all the organisation’s national reporting requirements?

  62. Appointed accountable and knowledgeable owners within your department to comply with all national reporting requirements?

  63. Set up a method for understanding and staying updated with compliance requirements which directly affect your department, such as training, CPD, supervision and privilege, in alignment with the organisation’s strategic outlook?

  64. Established a method for considering the impact of changes in the law on your department’s budget, staffing, roles, strategy and use of external counsel?

  65. Put in place legal update resources so your team are always up to date on current law and able to translate changes into timely, usable advice for affected business units?

  66. Provided a tenable work life balance for your staff and ensured they can develop personally in line with the strategic goals of the department and the wider organisation?

  67. Worked with HR to agree and implement personal development and work life balance objectives for your department?

  68. Incorporated internal to team compliance, investigation management and other functions that might be needed in a larger legal team?

  69. Set up an ongoing project with a management accountant to calculate the value of your department in financial terms?

  70. Agreed with the internal communications team how you’ll communicate this value throughout the wider organisation?

If you’ve answered ‘yes’ to all (or most) of these questions, congratulations - you’re at the top of your game. If you have got extra or different things on your list please tell us what and why - perhaps we can get to 100 questions! Revisit this page regularly to help you stay that way!

Conclusion

Get on top of your brief and stay there with this comprehensive list of questions for senior in-house lawyers. Think strategy, team leadership and business outcomes. Always look to know what’s round the next corner from a legal perspective – and have your processes ready to meet all types of challenge.