Another successful residential skills development programme by LBCambridge

Another successful residential skills development programme by LBCambridge

Define your purpose to the business to really add value

Paul Gilbert, Chief Executive from LBC Wise Counsel summarises the 19th LBCambridge programme, supported by LexisNexis that took place last month, involving nearly 60 people, delegates, mentors and presenters. This acclaimed initiative was established in 2006 by LBC Wise Counsel as a residential skills development programme for in-house lawyers to debate, challenge and share in a highly interactive environment. Here is an overview from the three day course.

What was fascinating to me was just how much the conversation was focussed on understanding our value. However unlike other conversations this was not about benchmarked metrics or what makes a good lawyer; it was about seeing value as a product of having a clearly defined purpose.

In essence, if our purpose is understood, agreed and wanted, then if we deliver against that purpose we will be valuable.

The in-house legal functions in most organisations reveal a number of consistent traits; they are typically hardworking, empathetic, thoughtful, problem solving and very willing to be involved and to help. Obviously none of this is bad, but it comes with a price to pay.

If legal teams behave like work sponges, soaking up activity and appearing willing to do everything or anything if asked, then it is obvious that before too long the team will become overloaded. In effect teams fill up to the point when they struggle to cope, and are then left with only two safety valves – either to recruit or to outsource. In this context neither solution can be seen as a strategic move; there are steps that operationally expedient, but only because of a failure to address the root causes.

It is why I believe many teams struggle to get their voice heard on their resourcing needs. All executive managers tend to see is a willing, hardworking team that is struggling with volume, they do not see a well planned, well balanced or strategic approach.

Fundamentally the issue goes back to our training in law firms.

Managing your time

The key difference between a lawyer in a law firm and a lawyer in an in-house team is that the former is successful when they manage legal risk and in doing so create demand for their time; the in-house lawyer is only truly successful when they can manage legal risk and in doing so they reduce demand for their time.

This stark contrast is key to understanding the solutions that are needed.

The investment in infrastructure therefore becomes critical. Knowledge management, contracting processes, workflow management, policy development, training and self-help tools etc are the ways teams can get control of their time and focus on the things that only they can influence.

Which brings us back to purpose and knowing this is what the business wants too.

I am not interested in mission statements or clever straplines. That is not what I mean by purpose. In this context I am describing purpose has a deeper and far more detailed construct.

For example “What is the purpose of the team in relation to contracts”

Prioritizing work

The place to start is to ask the following questions:

  1. How many contracts do we typically have to work on?
  2. What is the value of those contracts?
  3. What are the contracts that matter most and to whom?
  4. Where is the risk?

The next question to ask is, what resource do we have? So, given the resources at our disposal (no more and no less) the issues are:

  1. What (and how much) work should be done by our lawyers (in-house and/or external)?
  2. What work could/should be undertaken without lawyers (policy, process, self-help etc)?
  3. What contracts do not need any oversight at all?

In this way we start to see that the true purpose is to guide the business on what types of contract the function should support and what support it should expect. The purpose is to manage the activity and to demonstrate that it is being done.

The legal team should therefore report on whether the infrastructure is working to deliver against that expectation and to ensure that where possible, work is managed ever more efficiently with data, to support the claims of improvement.

Demonstrate your value to the business

Our purpose is emphatically not to please the business, not to rush around digging colleagues out of holes and not to obsess about the pursuit of some perfect construct that until it is built, only individual attention by a fully qualified (and stressed out) lawyer will do. All of this in fact indicates little more than various levels of dysfunction.

Our purpose is also to bargain with the business; to show what the business can expect for its investment. Then it is to build a resilient infrastructure that manages risk in a transparent way, pushes lower risk and lower priority work into process and self-help remedies, while freeing the lawyers to commit to a smaller number of important interventions that only they can undertake.

The challenge for nearly every team is that if they do not make time to invest in their infrastructure and therefore their purpose, they are almost certainly doomed to be overrun by work.

The LBCambridge programme sets out not just to raise these issues, but also to debate them and to learn from each other. With nearly 60 lawyers in the room including Lexis Nexis, all willing to share their ideas, the solutions are almost certainly close at hand. As the American writer William Gibson said so perfectly “The future is already here, it is just not evenly distributed”.

The insights shared at LBCambridge are not intended to change the world. However I do want in-house teams to fulfil their potential and I particularly want in-house lawyers not to make the same behavioural mistakes that have been made for a generation. So, let’s not waste time planning to make something so amazing that it can solve all our problems while in the meantime we flog ourselves to the point of exasperated exhaustion. The approach should be to plan for incremental improvements that read across to our purpose. In this way we can take some pressure off ourselves, but still make good progress and always keeping our purpose at the forefront of all that we do.


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