A connected legal function is undoubtedly one of the biggest value-adds a company can have. However, it often feels as though the legal team must prove this value before getting buy-in from other business functions as opposed to those other functions helping to enable legal. It takes two to tango, and it is hard to be a cross-functional leader without a dance partner.
Darshana Parekh, Head of Partnership at Cultivate Sponsorship and Legal Counsel with Plexus (now Axiom Global), believes it is up to the organization to define the value they want from the legal team.
"It is incumbent on the organization to have a think about where they want their legal team to sit," she says. "Personally, I don't believe an in-house legal team is one that sits in a corner, no matter how big an organization is.
"Because they can serve as that helicopter view, they have this ability to see many problems other stakeholders in the organization won't, except for the likes of the CEO. Organizations need to think about how they're going to value the legal team, and not necessarily from a monetary perspective."
Whether legal shrugs away from the limelight or embraces it, Parekh says it's imperative to understand that the legal function is a key stakeholder and a key member of the team. "Your advice carries a lot of weight. People will ask 'what does the legal team say,' and at the very least abide by that."
Embodying this status is where legal can take the lead in this dance. Parekh believes in-house counsel have a duty to come to work with "an open mind as well as the acuteness and business savviness that goes into business advice".
"There's also a responsibility with people management and relationships that perhaps many in-house counsel don't realize initially, a lack of understanding about how building those relationships can make you that linchpin.
"You should be aiming to be that linchpin because as the legal leader you should be able to see what's happening in your organization and be able to pull things together when everything is a bit of a jigsaw."
When the legal function and organization are in tune they coalesce in the most elegant way, but if one partner is out of step disharmony can rear its head.
Parekh attributes a misalignment between the expectations on legal and the extent to which legal is being enabled as a key trigger for burnout. "The organization needs to determine where their legal team sits from a cross-functional perspective. They're either going to accept that their legal team is this high-value stakeholder they can utilize or not. In the case of the latter, expecting them to undertake low-value work can lead to burnout."
Ultimately, it is up to both counsel and the wider organization to define the role and expectations of their legal function. At its best, the legal function can be a linchpin for the organization, utilizing a helicopter view to further enable other business functions - which should always be the goal.