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Four tips for maximising the value of legal secondees

By Sam Burrett,

07 October 2020

Increasing General Counsel Influence

Flexible legal talent is now a fixture in the toolkit of top performing General Counsel.

But what differentiates the best legal leaders from the rest is their ability to get maximum value from their service partners - whether that is law firms or from NewLaw providers.

GC’s can maximise the impact of secondees by taking a few extra steps to prepare the function for incoming flexible counsel. In doing so, they will enhance the success of legal secondments, creating happier clients and legal teams.

In this article, we will outline how implementing a flexible talent strategy can help drive successful outcomes for your business (reducing costs and maximising value) while creating resilient, happy legal teams.

Step 1: Get buy-in from your team

The decision to incorporate flexible counsel into your resourcing strategy might draw some initial skepticism from the legal team. But getting your people on board is crucial to the success of secondments.

Here are three ways you can get buy-in from your team:

(1) Involve your lawyers in the process of creating your resourcing strategy. If your legal team members understand how your function plans to tackle different work streams, and where flexible counsel fits into that overall plan, they will see the big picture and thus be more willing to invest in the success of secondees.

(2) Involve your lawyers in the process of selecting a flexible talent firm and enrolling particular secondees. This is a great way to simultaneously minimise the perceived threat of secondees, and upskill Senior Legal Counsel to understand how to make great resourcing decisions. By assigning ownership over particular secondments or workload solutions to up-and-coming lawyers on your team, you will minimize dissatisfaction while helping your top performers develop valuable leadership skills for the future.

(3) Clearly communicate the value. It is erroneous to assume that your team will immediately understand the value of flexible counsel. Instead, it is on legal leaders to communicate the vision that is being realised through innovative resourcing strategies. Focus on:

  • The high quality of support flexible counsel can provide;
  • The amazing value proposition of NewLaw firms (especially in contrast with traditional law firms) and;
  • The benefits of being able to adjust capability and capacity up and down, on demand, to accommodate shifting work streams.

Engaging flexible legal talent presents an opportunity to empower your legal team and further progress your overall legal function strategy. By setting the foundation and involving your lawyers early, you can overcome skepticism and create empowered senior lawyers who actively participate in the realisation of your legal function’s overall strategy.

Step 2: Define your needs

It might sound obvious, but you’ll need to ensure that you’ve engaged a great lawyer who is the right fit for your team to make the secondment successful.

A good NewLaw firm should help guide you through the process of engaging the right talent, but as a rule of thumb, it’s worthwhile understanding the types of soft skills you’ll need for the role.

We’ve found that the following soft skills make for great flexible counsel:

  • Willing to learn and can be thrown into anything;
  • Able to work independently, without much guidance;
  • Sufficient seniority, perhaps slightly higher than you might expect;
  • Minimal ego;
  • Broad-based experience;
  • High level of emotional intelligence;
  • Ability to interact with business users;
  • Great cultural fit for your team.

You can’t have a successful engagement without defining your needs. To ensure you’re making the most of your secondee, it’s worthwhile taking the time to consider exactly what you’re looking for before onboarding anyone to your team.

Step 3: Create an environment of success

While you can expect the flexible talent provided by your NewLaw partner to be great quality, there are some inherent difficulties to secondments.

Flexible legal counsel aren’t an external provider, but not an employee. They must engage with the business, but their scope is generally limited. With these challenges in mind, GC’s can create onboarding procedures that drastically improve the effectiveness of flexible counsel with a few simple changes.

Here are some practical ways that GC’s can set up flexible counsel for success. Note that many of these initiatives are also relevant for permanent staff, and are therefore worthwhile processes to implement regardless of the presence of secondees.

  • Provide insight into the current strategic focus areas of the business and legal function. For example, invite your new counsel to weekly business update meetings or set aside time for one of your more senior team members to provide a quick business update session in their first week.
  • Prepare an overview of key stakeholders and relationships. This could be in the form of a pre-prepared mind map with comments, or a recorded video provided to your flex counsel on day one. It might be worth highlighting reporting lines and even emphasising the key relationships legal is currently trying to build with business clients.
  • Clearly scope the boundaries of responsibility for the secondee role. This may be as simple as a job description, or as detailed as a presentation outlining ‘what success looks like’ in this role.
  • Create a ‘new hire’ training plan or onboarding pack. Again, the more detail you provide in the onboarding plan or pack, the more likely your flexible counsel will be.

Building an environment of success goes beyond the initial onboarding period. It’s also important to ensure that your flexible counsel is engaged in the team and the broader business by creating a team atmosphere. Some examples of post-onboarding community building include:

  • Providing regular updates on developments within company;
  • Holding regular check in meetings and coaching sessions;
  • Discussing career paths and skill sets;
  • Inviting your secondee to team meetings and company updates.

The more you build out these systems and processes, the more your team and future flexible counsel will benefit in the long run. As always, a bit of extra work in the short term can pay huge dividends in the long run and maximise the effectiveness of legal counsel, while reducing ramp time.

Step 4: Review and reflect

Maximising the impact of any service requires regular reflection on what worked, what didn’t work, and what can be done better next time. This is especially the case for General Counsel who are moving toward an Agile Talent Model, as regular reflections can improve the foundations for future secondees to thrive in.

At a high level, GC will ask: Did the secondee meet the needs of the business to the standard expected of our legal team? In addition, high performing legal leaders will often involve their team members in the process of reviewing flexible legal counsel. GC’s might ask their team to score the flexible counsel along the following questions:

  • Did the Secondee help relieve workloads?
  • Did they upgrade our team’s knowledge or capabilities?
  • Did they fit in with the rest of the legal team?
  • Did their work meet the team’s standard consistently?
  • How long did it take them to onboard? Should they have ramped quicker? If so, what was the cause of the increased ramp time?
  • Were they responsive to business user requests?
  • Did business users feel supported?
  • (If they worked on a project) Did they manage the project well? Did they deliver on the project objectives?
  • (If they took over business-as-usual while one of your team members worked on a project) Did they effectively replace our team member? Were there any gaps or overflow?

Collecting information on the above data points can help you more quickly onboard and ramp future flexible counsel, as well as full-time-employees.

While it’s difficult to capture quantitative data (rather than qualitative data) about the performance of legal counsel, the true test of the value of flexible counsel is whether it was more valuable (in terms of time, money and quality of output) than a full time hire or outsourcing the work to a law firm. Indeed, the above questions can also be directed towards a full time employee or a traditional law firm partner to analyse the efficacy of those approaches to overflow or project work.

Over to you

The market for flexible legal counsel is expanding rapidly and GCs are increasingly reserving space in their budget for secondees. Whether it is to plug gaps in capability/capacity, or tackle a major project, flexible counsel present the opportunity to quickly scale your team to meet the needs of your business.

High performing General Counsel take the time to prepare their function for secondments. By involving your team and creating a foundation for success, you can reduce the ramp time of the engagement. From there, taking the time to review and reflect will maximise the impact of the service, and institutionalise learnings so that the business can improve with each new engagement.

Interested in legal secondments? Learn how GCs are adopting agile resourcing to fill capacity gaps and build more effective Legal functions.

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