Run Your In-House Legal Team Like a Business
If you are an attorney that is new to the general counsel world, you may have been surprised by just how many non-legal decisions you would have to make.
You likely walked into the job ready to discuss recent legislative changes but were instead called upon to explain how your legal department will help meet organizational goals and KPIs.
If you often find yourself thinking:
“I never learned any of this in law school or at my old firm,” or, “Did I miss the memo about needing an MBA on top of my JD?”
You aren’t alone. The transition from “firm attorney” to in-house attorney is often rocky. Learning how to protect your organization from risk while also moving it forward isn’t easy or intuitive. Some days (let’s be real, most) you probably wish there was a guidebook that would shepherd you through.
Or maybe you’ve already been through the trenches of new GC-hood – if so, congratulations on making it out the other side. You’ve mastered the attorney-businessperson balancing act and are as comfortable advising on litigation strategy as you are analyzing profit and loss statements. You’re ready to sink your teeth even further into strategic business development but aren’t sure where to start.
While the perfect playbook will likely never exist (you know how mercurial the role can be), there are ways you can hone your ability to run legal like a business – whether you’ve been on the job for two weeks or two decades.
The Role of In-House Legal Teams
You don’t need us to explain your job to you. But indulge us for a moment as we take a look at the big picture and outline just how impressive you need to be to run an in-house legal team.
The role demands excellence, flexibility and intelligence. To excel, you essentially need the knowledge and expertise of multiple, highly skilled professionals (we don’t envy you).
Deborah Solmor, a general counsel and the founder of Ready Set GC, describes GCs as part lawyer, part C-suite advisor, part company psychologist, part diplomat, and part accountant. In her words, GCs are “never just a lawyer.”
The multi-hyphenate nature of the role isn’t just anecdotal – it’s reinforced by some pretty staggering numbers. The Blickstein Group’s 15th annual Legal Department Operations Survey, found that 86.2% of law department operations (LDO) professional respondents were “involved in strategic initiatives outside of legal” in 2022.
That means, for an overwhelming majority of GCs, knowing the business – and understanding how to move it toward its goals – is just as important as knowing the law.
How to Run a Successful In-House Legal Team
According to Solmor, success in an in-house role “depends on your ability to transform yourself from practicing law to thinking strategically and creatively as a businessperson.”
And, while that advice may seem easy enough to heed, it can be challenging to put into practice. A recent Gartner report found that “57% of legal departments fail to tie legal metrics to business goals.”
There’s a reason why over half of departments falter: being a businessperson and manager – while still being a lawyer! – is no easy feat. Juggling so many (often opposing) objectives is challenging – plain and simple.
If you need to right your legal department’s ship and want to steer it in the direction of your organization’s overarching goals, start by tackling these basics:
Don’t Be a Cost Center
Legal departments have been denounced as “cost centers” by corporate leaders across sectors for far too long.
It’s time to change that stereotype. You know how much value legal adds to your organization.
But, to prove your department’s value, you will need to don your “business hat.” Think of ways you can reduce legal expenditures and drive revenue. Now, we know you are being asked to do increasingly more with quickly diminishing resources, so that ask may feel Sisyphean – but it’s not. More on that below.
Your department has its fingers in a lot of pies. It likely also deals with mountains of documentation. Combined… it can be a lot to keep straight.
For your department to work as it should, top notch organization and clearly defined workflows are nonnegotiable. Poorly conceived and executed processes beget risk. If that risk actualizes, it can shine an unflattering light on you and/or your team.
Plan with Business Continuity in Mind
You may love your job – if you do, that’s fantastic! But even if you, personally, love your job, that doesn’t mean turnover isn’t rampant within in-house legal departments. Axiom’s 2022 In-House Counsel Industry Report found that a whopping 57% of in-house counsel “are open to new positions.”
Hold that statistic in your head when making strategic decisions.
While personnel changes are unavoidable, they are also unpredictable. That means a long view must be taken when new policies or processes are implemented. Adopting a “business continuity mindset” will not only make the day-to-day functioning of your department smoother – it will also align it with broader organizational goals.
How Automation Can Help In-House Legal Teams Achieve Strategic Goals
As a concept, “automation” has taken on a confusing life of its own in recent years. It’s a “buzzword.” It’s a “boogeyman.” It’s a “harbinger of the end times.”
In truth, thoughtful, intelligently deployed automation is none of those things. It is a tool that can be leveraged to help you achieve the objectives outlined above – and is one leading legal experts recommend in-house teams adopt.
Corporate Legal Operations Consortium (CLOC) is a global network of industry experts. Per CLOC’s findings, businesses expect their in-house teams to be “innovators” within the organization, meaning they are, in part, expected to deploy the “strategic use of automation… to drive efficiency and lower costs.”
“Sounds great – sign me up!” you may think. But where to start? With industry-specific automation solutions? Contract automation? Matter management? Cap table management? Board management? Once you dig in, the list of automation solutions may seem endless.
Here’s something to consider: 80% of CLO respondents to the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC) 2022 Chief Legal Officer Survey oversee compliance and 40% handle business risk.
Because compliance and risk management are such a universal and outsized facet of the work done by in-house teams, doesn’t that sound like a good place to start?
Properly implemented, entity management automation software can get you one (giant) step closer to meeting your organization’s goals. By reducing the grunt work associated with annual report filings, license renewals, and more, entity management software can automate some of the most notoriously dull – but critically important – tasks on your plate.
The right platform with neutralize entity-related risks, cut costs (goodbye, fines and fees!), free up your stretched-thin time, and bake consistency and continuity into your compliance processes. It’s an easy win.
Best yet? The right platform and provider can serve as an out-of-the box legal compliance program for your entire organization.
If that isn’t music to your CEO’s ears, we aren’t sure what would be.
Filejet Is Driving Change
With a unique combination of service and software that automates U.S. and international annual report, business registration, and DBA filings, Filejet is the entity management solution you don’t have to think about – unless you want to.
Filejet has helped countless GCs, CLOs and other legal ops professionals automate one of the most tedious (and risk-prone) responsibilities off their to-do lists – and has saved them money and time in the process.
Read about the latest advances in entity management automation in our new Filejet 3.0 guide.