One of the main areas they collaborate on is finding new lawyers, especially when they need to instruct a lawyer in a country where they don’t have an existing law firm relationship. Recent research shows that an in-house lawyer is eight times more likely to ask a colleague or friend to recommend a new lawyer than to use traditional legal directories.

As well as finding new lawyers, in-house legal teams are also collaborating with each other by creating their team sheets of the lawyers they use and recommend around the world. In addition to the obvious advantages of sharing knowledge, it enables them to better manage external lawyers through more consistent use of their preferred lawyers. It can also realise consequent fee deal benefits – for example, volume discounts and perhaps a stronger bargaining position if and when they ask a law firm to provide a secondee.

The degree of sophistication with which in-house legal teams compile their team sheets and share their views on external lawyers varies hugely. Any system, though, needs to be readily accessible to all team members and dynamic. It also needs to be comprehensive, recognising that teams of associates will be the ones doing the actual work and - importantly - engaging with your own team. What do you know about those associates? Have you captured data about which ones worked well with your team on the previous matter? And, if you have, have you shared it with the rest of your team?

But in-house counsel increasingly spend a lot of time reviewing providers of related legal services such as artificial intelligence contract review systems, automated contract generation platforms, flexible resource providers, etc. Collaboration with their colleagues and peers in other companies is equally vital for these areas as well – especially when it comes to technology-based solutions which are difficult to differentiate.  

The more in-house counsel can build up their list of trusted advisors, and share this across their team / business, the easier it is to decide who to instruct on future requirements and to ensure that they receive the advice they need while securing value for money for their external legal spend.

Similarly, in-house lawyers regularly ask their peers at other corporates to recommend lawyers or other service providers. This makes sense as more and more providers enter the various markets although information from these sources is often not formally recorded or logged.

Legal teams can share all this knowledge using Word or Excel lists but they’ll struggle to keep  it up to date and ensure all stakeholders enjoy access to it.

A better way, perhaps, is to use a bespoke app specifically configured to create and share profiles of external lawyers. This would enable in-house team members to search and access up-to-date information on all lawyers that their organisations work with, supplemented with notes specific to those relationships.

Gareth Stephenson is a Co-Founder of Top 3 Legal, a recommendations-based legal directory that helps in-house legal departments manage their relationships with external providers.