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Structuring and resourcing your legal team

Our 2021 series of six webinars for in-house lawyers in association with Thomson Reuters continued this month, looking at ways to build and structure an in-house legal team.

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.

Joining chair, Anthony Inglese and moderator, Paul Bentall, both of CLL, were two prominent in-house lawyers with a wealth of experience to share.

Mel Nebhrajani CB, Director of Litigation for the Government Legal Department leads a team of 600 people. While currently leading the UK’s largest caseload in the Supreme Court, Mel’s work while legal director for DHSC included navigating Brexit and the legal implications of the government’s response to COVID-19.

Richard Tapp is a solicitor and Chartered Governance Professional. He has held General Counsel and Company Secretary roles in FTSE-100 and -250 companies for more than 20 years, building integrated legal teams internationally. Richard is the architect of a multi-award-winning legal services business which now forms part of a Magic Circle law firm.

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 team speaks. Then, set out that purpose in the tone of voice of your organisation to help your internal clients 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 police the boundary between legal advice and other types of work.

Cultivate the ‘intelligent client’

The intelligent client is the individual within your organisation who takes ownership of the services you provide. They’ll usually be the person outside legal who gets 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. This allows you to see things coming before your colleagues do. And when you combine this with deep insights into your organisation’s 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 its biggest risks lie. For example, you may find that 90% of risk lies in competition law or in environmental disciplines. Knowing where most of your workload will come from will help you recruit, train and deploy your team to the greatest effect.

Develop a business plan for legal

There’s no substitute for rigorous 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.

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 learning platforms that empower existing talent to progress in their careers. Data, people analytics and psychometric assessment can help you decide who to select for which training. 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 someone in who can hit the ground running. Key to this is to have a strong employee value proposition and an attractive culture in place well before the need to recruit arises.


Ideal for acute, yet urgent, skills gaps, ‘borrow’ relates to the hiring of temporary talent – 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 an alternative career path.

Next up in this webinar series for in-house lawyers is Developing your career in-house on 30 June at 2.00pm. Find out more and register here.