Summer 2020 reflections for a General Counsel

This article was first published on LinkedIn - July 2020

Victoria Swedjemark on 21/07/20

The past four months have been turbulent to say the least. The world has been upside down and most of us have worked from home. We have dealt with new types of issues and have needed to revisit our priorities. We have had to rethink how we carry out our daily work. It has been difficult many times, but also rewarding because we have learnt new things and have gained new insights. The situation the pandemic threw us into has also given us opportunity to get some perspective to a lot of the things we used to consider "normal". We got a chance to look at our previous work self and work situation through a new lens.

This is interesting. There may be a unique opportunity now, when we return to some form of post-corona world, to create something new, and better. We hear many people speak of this. That this is a pivotal moment where we should ask ourselves – when we ”restart” again, what do I really want to take with me going forward and what would I rather leave behind?

Digitalisation is the most obvious thing of course, and remote working. Some digital behaviors and new ideas around flexible working that we have now adopted will obviously be a natural part of a new normal. But now that we are opening up to that type of change we can also embrace change in many other areas too. The past months have shown us how quickly we can adapt and change if we are motivated to do so.

With these opportunities on the table, and summer holidays coming up, this could be your most important summer ever as General Counsel / Chief Legal Officer - to get perspective and to reflect. What is your "normal state" and what potential changes are up for grabs going forward?

How can you sort this out? Below are some questions you can ask yourself to identify the most relevant improvement areas for you.

1. Are we doing the right things...?

The first question to ask is if you put your time and energy into the right things. Is it channelled to the fundamental risk exposures and the things that create most business value and really moves the needle, and to things that makes best use of Legal’s skillset, experience and insights?

Everyone who works in business supporting roles knows how easy it is to become reactive and focus mainly on being service minded, on doing as much as possible given available resources rather than the rights things, the stuff that really make a difference.

The legal function is a limited, and quite expensive, resource and there are good reasons to prioritize that resource responsibly. Is the role of the corporate law function clear, to the legal team and to the rest of the company? Does everyone understand what Legal's key focus areas and priorities are and why? When this is clear you can manage expectations a lot better. Everyone knows that with a clear focus (and limited resources) you need to defocus from some other things - because that's how all other functions in the company works.

As a General Counsel, do you even know how Legal's time and resources are distributed today? Do you have that data, those insights? Which tasks and typical issues consumes most time and effort, and why? Which people in the organization and which projects and initiatives drive most work, and why? If you don't know this, what is your plan to get a better understanding of this?

Are you strategic, proactive and intentional enough? Which key projects and initiatives should Legal play a key role in? Are you involved enough there? Which forums and information flows should Legal be a natural part of? Are you there? Which internal customers and stakeholders are most important and why? Do those relationships get your key attention?

2. Do we have the right operating model...?

The second question to ask is if you are making best use of all available resources. Corporate law can be a sophisticated machinery that consists of many additional components than just lawyers giving legal advice in a manual, case-by-case approach, in the dualistic form of either in-house counsel or outside law firms. Now there is a full tool box available that also consists of;

1.    having complementary competencies in the legal team,

2.    tagging into complementary competencies elsewhere in the company,

3.    business empowerment / self-service (powered by tech),

4.    technology that supports the work in the legal team,

5.    other types of service providers and suppliers than law firms, such as Legal Managed Services providers, Legal Process Outsourcing partners and Legal Management Consultants, powered by tech and/or complementary competencies.

How far have you come with rolling out business self-service, powered by tech? Just look at how HR, IT and Finance have moved forward in this area over the past ten years. Survey after survey shows that lawyers spend a large part of their time on work that does not require any advanced legal skills. That is a waste.

Instead, we can find ways to equip the business to be able to move forward quickly and smoothly with common, recurring legal issues, without our direct involvement, such as through contract/document automation. Do you have your own digital strategy with a step-by-step roadmap? And are you tapping into other digital transformation initiatives within the company?

Are you making use of new types of providers? Going forward we can even choose to outsource whole subsets of standardised work that lawyers do today, e.g. entity management and other corporate housekeeping, bulk document review and IP management.

Succeeding with all of this will require complementary competencies beyond legal skills. We lawyers can develop such new abilities ourselves. But we must also have respect for the fact that these are separate areas of expertise on their own merits. This is why more and more legal teams add "legal operations" staff to the legal department, often comprising people with other specializations working side by side lawyers. It can be administrators/paralegals but also people skilled in tech, purchasing and project- or change management.

These people can help to operationalize legal problem solving and legal risk management into company processes and behaviors and systematize it into IT solutions. Together with them we can create new solutions for corporate legal that are more integrated into the business and scalable, which is much more powerful than just providing one piece of legal advice in an individual case. Without such people (whether within the legal team or brought in from other parts of the company or externally) there is a risk we will fail to create an updated operating model.

Do you see these opportunities? Are you adding these new tools to your toolbox?

3. Are we showcasing our value and our contribution...?

Like many other support functions, the corporate law department often struggles to show its value. What exactly is the Return on Investment of the legal budget? Do you know as a GC? Do you have tools to measure, and illustrate this to others? For example how you spend your budget wisely and create maximum business value from the work of the legal team and the job you outsource.

What do you do to align the legal work with the business and the goals of Legal with the business goals, to make an easier business case for your efforts? Do you use KPIs that support you in showing your value? Do you have the right tools in place to quantify and qualify risk exposures in a way that produces useful data on the value of legal risk management, such as contractual and compliance risks you have mitigated?

Post Covid-19 for sure we will see an increased focus on cost-effectiveness and RoI. Will you be able to justify your costs and produce a compelling business case for the value you create for your budget? Why should the company even have a corporate law function in-house, and not just outsource all legal work to law firms for example, and why should you get the resources you need?

Are you able to show to the CEO and CFO what tools you use to measure - to be able to improve - your cost-effectiveness and your value creation? How do you follow-up and analyse your law firm costs for example, do you have access to spend analytics? Do you have tools to measure how your team spends time on value-creating activities (in relation to low-value work)?

When will you have your own "dashboard" in place to be able to track and monitor your costs and your value creation, to illustrate the value of law and substantiate your business case for resources? Like most other CXOs have these days.

4. Are we working smart enough...?

The fourth question to ask is if the work is carried out in a way that is smart and efficient. Can we accomplish more in the same (or less) time or with the same (or less) resources? Can processes and working methods be improved? Can we automate more? Implement more tech to speed things up or improve quality?

Can we simplify things, eliminate complexity (e.g. bureaucracy) that drives unnecessary work? Can we lower the ambition level in some areas and take more shortcuts? Can we get more help from others within the company?

Can we package our knowledge and scale it more efficiently, through knowledge management (KM) within the team and through tools like chatbots (smart FAQs) or e-learnings to the rest of the business?

Can we collaborate better with the business people? Can we align better with our peers in HR, Finance and Purchasing?

Are we innovative enough? Are we too busy and stressed out, too much in ’production mode’? Does it kill our ability to think in new and creative ways? Do we have enough time to zoom out, to prioritize right, to be strategic, to develop relationships and to build structural improvements? Do we focus enough on our own learning and development, including in areas beyond law, such as communication, collaboration and change management?


Summer holidays are here, or coming up shortly. We need to allocate time for recovery and to do things that are not work related of course, especially given that the past strange months has taken its toll on us. But as this article wants to illustrate, this is also a great time to zoom out and reflect on our work situation. Doing so can give you a clearer picture of which improvement areas are most important to you, to identify the natural starting point for you.

Hopefully when you reflect, you do so based on a clear understanding of WHY you need that change. Is the goal to reduce stress levels? To increasingly own your time, head space and energy? Feel more empowered? Have more impact? Do more meaningful work? Improve relationships and connect more with others? Get more involved and integrated with the rest of the business? Clarify your value and your contribution? Become more creative? Develop as a person? Step up your game to the next level?

Whatever it is for you, there is your motivation.

What if this will be the year you go back to work after your holiday inspired to create something new and improved? Maybe this autumn you will embark on a journey towards something much better?

Originally published on LinkedIn July 2020. To see the original version of this article please click here

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