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Stop serving your clients

By Andrew Mellett For Australian Corporate Lawyer

31 March 2014

Originally published in Australian Corporate Lawyer
View source

Thinking of your business as ‘clients’ could be breeding detrimental behaviors and destroying your function’s value.

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The simple answer is that legal should be better at saying “no”. However, solutions are rarely as simple as the problems that create them. We believe every legal function should define their core competency, then set
and communicate a legal strategy.

Although our research suggests that 77% of legal functions have a ‘legal strategy’, most are tactical
extensions of their budgets which don’t address the key questions of what we will do, what we won’t do and why.

Here are the five things every legal function should do:

  1. Define your mission
    This can’t be some nebulous statement about ‘adding client value’, or ‘providing high quality legal advice’. It has to be tangible, link to the organisation’s strategic plan and be measurable.
  2. Define what is core (and what is not)
    Too few legal functions have a clear vision of how they add optimal value. They prioritise business support by urgency. The best functions have a clear definition of what they will do, and what they won’t. Plotting tasks on a simple risk/value matrix is a good starting point for this plan. For those in competitive industry the core should be defined by high-risk activities that generate competitive advantage.
  3. Get the other stuff done
    An increasing number of Australian companies are using alternate legal providers to perform routine legal tasks (such as: property leasing, procurement & sales agreements and marketing approvals) to ‘unclog the arteries’ of internal teams in a very cost effective way.
  4. Define the ‘guardrails’ (and gain business support)
    Lawyers find it incredibly difficult to say ‘no’ to a ‘client’ request. The best legal functions set clear guardrails or risk thresholds about what they will and wont do, and gain executive support for this mandate. These thresholds should balance the financial, operational and reputational risk, and the probability of occurrence, with the resource consumption required to reduce the risk to within acceptable tolerances.
  5. Set department objectives
    These are the key goals that clearly support organisational strategy. Critically it shouldn’t stop there, top legal functions list: individual initiatives, owners of these initiatives, and timeline and success measures.

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