In-house Advisory Board: Creating a compelling strategy for the in-house legal team

In-house Advisory Board: Creating a compelling strategy for the in-house legal team

Creating an in-house legal strategyHow can an in-house legal team ensure their strategy is aligned with the vision and culture of the wider business? On 14 May 2015, the LexisNexis In-house Advisory Board met to share their insights and to discuss the tools and techniques needed to create a compelling strategy for the legal team.

Being a good lawyer providing skilled legal advice is only part of the role of an in-house lawyer. They also need to understand the business and how to align the legal team with it to create value. Successfully defining the legal team’s value proposition requires a comprehensive insight into the business’ overall value proposition and culture.

The LexisNexis In-house Advisory Board’s discussion, facilitated by Paul Hughes, Executive Development Director at the Centre for Customised Executive Development, Cranfield School of Management, explored the strong link between the culture of a business and its value proposition. Understanding this link is fundamental to developing a compelling legal strategy. Delivering sound advice is a given, but if the way it is delivered is counter to the culture of the business then it will not be effective.

When formulating legal strategy, the first step is to investigate the culture of the business. The Board members’ suggestions for how to approach this included commissioning consultants to conduct a culture survey, understanding how each part of the value chain connects to produce outcomes in line with business strategy, leveraging company intelligence such as accounts and annual reports, and receiving training in non-legal business and finance skills.

The challenge for the legal team is to translate the business vision into its own meaningful value proposition. What does the legal team’s purpose and direction need to be in order to support the business? The Board discussed various techniques, central to which was an analysis of what the legal team does (for example, services delivered, external legal spend, law firm relationships) and what stakeholders expect from them.

The in-house legal team has the benefit of being exposed to all the cultures that exist in the business. Talking to people is essential to fully map the interests and concerns of all stakeholders. The Board identified a number of challenges when approaching business colleagues, but agreed that if you meet people and truly listen, you will start to ask the right questions and understand how legal can deliver services to best support the business. It is acceptable to ask what might seem like ‘dumb’ questions if you uncover value that can then be used.

Being able to identify the value of legal is an essential part of communicating it. The Board recommended that internal marketing should be integral to any legal team’s strategy. Every new project is an opportunity to reiterate how legal adds value to the wider business. The legal team cannot work in isolation – their purpose is to support the business and in doing so they directly affect key areas such as revenue, profitability, cash-flow, and return on investment. It is this impact which makes it so crucial that legal’s strategy complements the business.

Using metrics to measure value can be extremely beneficial for the team in terms of profile. The Board agreed that which metrics to use is different for every business and that the process of analysing how legal connects to the business can actually be more useful than the metrics themselves. The most important thing is to focus on ‘joining the dots’ for the business by constantly communicating where legal has made a contribution.

The Board meeting concluded with a discussion about how to build a high performing legal team to successfully deliver the strategy. Topics covered included:

  • Assessing the team’s competency, not just as lawyers, but as business people
  • Ensuring that resource and talent isn’t being wasted on non-legal work
  • Building the right external brand to attract the right candidates
  • When recruiting, a technically competent lawyer is not necessarily preferable, should consider whom would fit better culturally too

It was clear from the Board’s discussion that a compelling legal strategy centres on an in-depth understanding of the wider culture and vision of the business. With the right strategy that aligns with the business, legal can focus on the activities that deliver real commercial value and in doing so ultimately demonstrate their value and effectiveness as a department.

Read a full summary of the LexisNexis In-house Advisory Board meeting here.

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About the author:

Sophie is Head of Learning & Development at F-LEX Legal - an award winning legal tech startup helping law firms and organisations manage a flexible work force and supporting lawyers to make smarter life/work choices. 

As part of her portfolio career Sophie runs various learning and development and networking forums for in-house lawyers and mentors junior lawyers.  These include Flying Solo for small and solo legal teams and Aspire for junior in-house lawyers which she runs for LexisNexis UK.  She also works with schools and organisations to promote social mobility within the legal profession, working with The Social Mobility Business Partnership and Aspiring Solicitors. 

She trained as a lawyer in the City and worked as an in-house lawyer for 10 years including as Head of Legal for Virgin Radio and Ginger Media Group.  

Outside of work she is happily married with three sons and enjoys morning walks along the beach with her two dogs.