Overworked and underrated? Take time out to reflect on your true value.

On 20 November, 40 in-house lawyers came together for the inaugural Lexis In-house World Café event, hosted at Wragge & Co’s London offices.

The topic of discussion was measuring value; always a thorny challenge, but particularly acute in the current era of tightened belts and heightened scrutiny of return on investment.

The World Café methodology is based on a huge amount of in-depth research. Participants are encouraged to think creatively, share perspectives and encounter challenging ideas in a relaxed, informal environment. In this case, flowers, a gramophone, vintage tea-cups and delectable cakes provided an unusual backdrop for a serious and lively exchange of insights.

The scene was set by Ian Leedham (National Grid) and Iain Larkins (Mercedes), who have both seen the benefits of building a metrics programme within the in-house legal function. The room then divided and moved around tables, exploring the following questions and drawing and jotting down notes on tablecloths:

• What are the key ways in which your legal department adds value to your business, and how can these be measured?
• What are the barriers to measuring legal department performance? How can they be overcome?
• What would be the benefits to your department of measuring and communicating its value more effectively?

At the end of the session, each table reported back on the insights that had been captured; while a graphic artist put the final touches to a visual record of the core themes.

Delegates were clear about the ways in which they add value to their businesses (though some felt that it was worth gathering a different perspective from business colleagues). Tangible value (such as cost vs external counsel, fixing problems or improving response times) tends to be reactive in nature. It is relatively easy to measure compared with intangible, proactive value (such as the ability to understand the whole business, to contribute to commercial strategy and prevent problems).

Perhaps unsurprisingly, there was no shortage of comments on the barriers to measuring performance. A lack of time was frequently cited; as was a lack of clarity on what good performance really looks like. Crucially, some delegates felt unable to translate legal value into a report that business colleagues will understand – how can legal complexities be reduced to a pie chart?

Some practical solutions emerged; for example, make time to reflect on value – block time in your diary as you would for any other task. Shadow business colleagues to get under the skin of challenges from their perspective, and survey them to understand how they perceive the value of the legal department. Enlist the help of finance, procurement, or corporate communications to help you measure and articulate your value more effectively.

An uplifting picture was painted of the benefits of measuring value. Delegates drew pictures of the “super-commercial” lawyer – not just reacting to legal problems, but proactively taking a role in the development of commercial strategy. Also among the scrawlings on the tablecloths was a vision of a legal department that attracts respect, investment and status at board level; working at the frontier of efficiency and effectiveness as a driver of business growth.

Meanwhile, elsewhere a more menacing image emerged – a troupe of management consultants, drafted in by an irate FD to build a case for externalising the legal function.

This was the stark message echoing the room at the end of the World Café; measure, or be measured. Communicate value and reap the benefits, or fail and risk extinction.

A full report on the World Café discussion is available here.

Keep up to date and join the conversation on Twitter using the #inhousevalue hashtag

Filed Under: Practice of Law

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