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4 tips for maximising the value of legal secondees

By Sam Burrett,

07 October 2020

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 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:

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:

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.

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:

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:

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.

Conclusion

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.

To learn more about working with Flexible Legal Counsel, check out our explanation of the difference between Fixed and Agile Legal Functions.

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