In-house legal counsel are often perceived by other business functions as both a guardian and a safety net. Which is fine, but when those other functions are readily embracing KPIs and tying their work to tangible impacts on the business, this perception can make it near impossible for counsel to articulate their value.
The solution to this issue could well be legal attribution, which may be the long-desired answer to the question, “What do lawyers do all day?”
Asim Khan, Senior Legal Counsel and Legal Operations leader, is a firm believer in the implementation of legal attribution. “It's another notion of equal value, and it's showing what the impact of the legal team is," he says. "How did you add value? How did you make an impact to the people team? How did you make an impact on the sales team? How are you helping that life cycle turn around?”
At its most simple, legal attribution is the act of tracking legal’s contribution to value-add activities, akin to a sales bonus - with a bit more nuance due to the ambiguity legal exists within.
Legal attribution would provide a way to meaningfully extract data and generate KPIs for legal. Better illustrating the value legal adds not only to a company’s overall revenue, but their internal processes as well.
Khan says the lack of comparability between legal and other business functions, which tend to operate with much less ambiguity, results in a lack of recognition for the hard work done by legal. “If you have company objectives, when you have these updates – quarterly, half year, end of year - it feels like every other team is clear on how they’re contributing to those objectives. You sit back and think, how am I contributing to those objectives?
"If you have this model where you can demonstrate the impact of what you’re doing, it will motivate individuals because you see a result, you have recognition and you see achievements in some elements. It's something that’s missed a lot within legal teams.”
Legal’s most valuable work is not always immediately recognizable. As an example, in a sales context the sales team would likely receive a bonus for over performance or landing a unicorn client. While legal undoubtedly played a role in this process there would likely be little external recognition. Even if they added a number of favorable terms which represent a significant future windfall.
Of course, this is all made more difficult by the immense variability of legal’s work. Shifting often and rapidly between context and teams making it difficult to pin down exact parameters with which to track legal’s performance.
It's a problem Asim recognizes only too well. “I think that’s what the next step is, to understand what model of KPIs is relevant for a legal team, what purpose are they for, and how do they fit in with the rest of the organization.”
A good initial step could be to consider legal’s footprint and engagement with work from other business functions. Or, even something as simple as asking has legal helped other functions to understand the complex legalese which defines risk in their areas of operation?
Form aside, being able to illustrate your value with key insights and data is becoming a hallmark of an effective business unit.
“We’re working in an environment where every other team is able to show key data and has an eagerness to get into that space and demonstrate the same thing, which means those questions will eventually get asked,” says Asim.
Maybe this new paradigm of business calls for a change of tack. Instead of working from the shadows and enjoying wins with quiet satisfaction, it may be time counsel-implemented legal attribution so everyone in the business can see them for the value-add they are.