"General counsel: Drive innovative relationships with your law firms - before your FD does..."

At a recent meeting of the LexisNexis In-house Advisory Board, Josh Box (Managing Director, Ocean House Professionals) led a discussion around innovative ways of working with law firms.

Set against an economic climate that is creating more pressure for efficiency and effectiveness, the Board looked at several examples of successful innovation between companies and their firms; and also discussed why these examples are so notable in their rarity.

Successful innovative approaches
Four main strands of innovation emerged from the discussion:

• Incremental improvements in service levels.

• Using technology.

• Process re-engineering.

• New resourcing models (for example, Eversheds Agile, Axiom or Lawyers on Demand).

(A full list of the examples discussed at the meeting is included in this briefing note.)

The benefits of these initiatives include a reduction in costs, improved efficiency and greater business alignment. But why aren’t more in-house teams taking innovative approaches to law firm partnering?

Barriers to innovation

It may be tempting to point the finger of blame to law firms themselves, who as a group are sometimes deemed not to truly understand their clients’ business needs. Firms are also often seen as too comfortable with the inefficiencies of the status quo to take a lead in driving change.

However, the Board agreed that the onus is equally (if not more) on in-house lawyers to drive the innovation agenda. As one Board member put it “If you don’t drive innovation, you may well find that your Finance Director does instead!”

Common barriers to innovation are a shortage of time, skills, support from the business, and a culture that is not conducive to creativity. The Board members shared some practical tips on how to overcome these difficulties, including:

• Lack of time: Make the time – this is too important. Make use of any internal resource that can help you. Go offsite for a period of time. Get business backing for the project.

• Lack of skills: Consider offering core skills training (for example, project management) to your team. If you can, consider hiring people with diverse, non-legal backgrounds into the legal team.

• Lack of business support: A basic metrics programme can help communicate and demystify the value of the legal team. Critically analyse the extent to which the legal function is aligned with the business’ overall goals.

• A stifling culture: Be brave and take control of the culture and the raw intellectual ability within your team. Encourage an environment where failure is seen as a stepping stone on the route to success, and reward creative thinking and truly original ideas.

A full briefing note on the Advisory Board’s discussion is available here.

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Filed Under: Practice of Law

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