Closing the gap between legal and the rest of the organization.

The saying goes that behind every great leader, is a great woman. In this day and age we submit that a great ‘partner’ is a more appropriate term, a partner providing support, advice and strategy from behind the scenes, allowing their significant other to thrive. Think Barack and Michelle Obama, Jacinda Ardern and Clarke Gayford or even Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip.


The relationship between General Counsel and their organization is in many ways the same. Every thriving organization, from a burgeoning start up to a multinational organization is spearheaded by a team of executives, but guided by a savvy and strategic in-house legal team that are commercial, agile and prepared in their response to legal challenges.  


Yet, despite the importance of this relationship, in-house legal teams are often siloed within an organization. Their reach touches every facet of the business, but they are debatably the least understood and appreciated business unit of the organization. How can we close this gap?


To find a solution, we must first look at the problem: What has caused this rift?


The market for legal services has changed, pushed by increasing client demand for innovative and timely services – as technology has changed the pace at which business operates. Most significantly, senior management has demanded that the legal business unit increases its efficiency, transparency, and access to data whilst cutting costs and improving user experience, essentially asking legal to do more with less. 


In comparison to the legal function of an organization, other business units have adapted to and adopted new technologies that have facilitated a more fast paced technology-centric working environment. Sales departments harness Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems such as Salesforce, and Finance utilise Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems to create efficiencies and have a clear picture of their pipelines. Legal has fallen behind other business units: legal’s reliance on dated technologies and the lack of a single, centralised platform has seen it operating in a reactive manner: the internal “legal silo”.


The solution to create an integrated in-house legal department is simple in theory; legal needs to reposition itself to be proactive rather than reactive. The application of this is perhaps not so simple, as it involves multiple stakeholders, technological changes and executive support. 


An infrastructure update is the most important. In-house legal teams need to move onto one technology platform that manages their pipeline and data, giving legal a place within the organizational playing field.  If there is one thing that Covid-19 and subsequent lockdowns have taught us over the past year, it is that modern, agile technology can support a business and its people to function remotely, breaking the traditional “bums on seats” narrative.


The legal profession is one steeped in tradition, perhaps causes a reluctance to adopt technologies, as many legal firms and professionals still prefer bound files and paper shredders. In order for legal teams to be on an even footing to other business units, especially in technology savvy firms such as the Big Four, adopting a fit-for-purpose technology platform is essential. Tasks such as knowledge, matter, spend, and contract management can be accessed on the same web platform that provides dashboards and reporting, creating an efficient, proactive system.


Implementing this system will require executive and board sign off, and a complimentary legal strategy, structure, and talent management plan that has business wide integration as a key pillar. The logistics of developing and implementing this plan will require time, cooperation and a healthy amount of back and forth between management – no mean feat.


Business-wide integration of the legal team will of course require some reciprocal leg-work from the legal staff themselves. This might involve the introduction of training that gives legal staff a broader and deeper understanding of what their colleagues do, and of their companies’ core offerings. In all industries, from consulting to construction, this context empowers legal to respond more efficiently to inbound requests and gives the business the relationship-level trust to break down the walls of the “legal silo.”

As every lawyer knows, change is never simple, especially within the legal profession, where every decision is meticulously analysed for risk and potential reward. Yet change is essential to close the gap between legal teams and their organization. Like any other relationship, legal needs to create a strong, transparent relationship with its business partners to facilitate world-class teamwork and to support the business in achieving its potential.