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The Art of Leading Legal Teams: Best Practices for Newly Appointed GCs
Joshua Schiefelbein |
August 8, 2023 |

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Eight ways to improve legal and compliance risk management

Starting a new position can be overwhelming, especially when you’re tasked with managing a department. Leading a legal department is particularly challenging, as it involves various roles and obligations, including financial, strategic, and risk management operations.

In addition to offering your legal expertise, you are now expected to act as a strategic business partner. To this end, you must promote greater collaboration with other corporate departments while improving your own operations. Meanwhile, the legal industry is pressured to keep up with technological advancements to provide a better experience for both internal and external clients. So we’ve prepared a few guidelines to help you navigate your new role.

 

Where to start

So, you’ve just taken on a new job role and entered a highly demanding position that revolves around legal processes and project management.

It might be hard to admit, but few people will have continuous empathy for the fact that you just took a new position with new employees and new responsibilities. They may be patient for the first weeks until you adjust, but the company will continue to operate as usual – and expect you to deliver. So you need to get up to speed and start acting as soon as possible. Remember these axioms for a faster transition:

  • Reality bites: Now you’re in charge, which means you have to carefully plan workflows and procedures. But plans don’t always translate to the same results in real life, and sometimes deviations can make you lose control. Communicate with colleagues to stay informed. This will help you maintain control, address problems, and achieve valuable results.
  • Change is hard but necessary: As a new GC, you’ll receive countless requests and issues that your colleagues expect you to resolve. You will also start recognizing areas of improvement. Expect to encounter resistance, but never hesitate to initiate changes. Take a systematic approach – gather data, look for patterns and insights, then create multiple frameworks that can lead to improved outcomes. Choose the improvement that offers the most value.
  • Execution is everything: To achieve your improvement goals, make sure you are correctly implementing your strategic framework. Allow technology to support you wherever possible. Automating workflows and processes will help you prevent deviations that create problems. CLM software, for one, can provide custom workflows, automate documents, and expedite routine work.

When it comes to your legal department’s operations, it’s not just about contract management. You should also try to optimize other areas and see how technology can cover most operations. Explore ways to streamline and automate tasks, such as collecting data on employees’ performance and compliance monitoring, to make the department more efficient.

 

Legal project management: structuring your work to improve customer experience

Growing client expectations have forced legal professionals to adopt tools that help them provide services more efficiently. A recent development, legal project management (LPM), pushes legal professionals out of their comfort zone, turning them into more proactive and cost-efficient players.

How project management can help Legal better serve internal clients:

  • 43% better communication & collaboration
  • 22% streamlined processes
  • 13% accelerating deliverable due dates

Here’s how to start with legal project management.

 

Set SMART goals

SMART is an abbreviation in which each letter stands for a certain goal’s characteristic, such as:

S — Specific

The goal should be clear and specific so that everyone understands what exactly you’re trying to achieve. For example, “We’ll decrease cost per legal matter and average time to resolve a legal matter” instead of “I’d like you to be more efficient and productive.”

M — Measurable

You should be able to measure the progress of achieving goals. “The cost per legal matter should be cut by 20%” is an excellent example of a measurable goal.

A — Achievable

People are more motivated to achieve a goal when they believe it’s possible. That’s why breaking down the steps needed to accomplish it is essential. So even if, according to your calculation, it’s possible to cut the cost per matter in half in three years, it’s better to choose a closer deadline and a smaller decrease in cost.

R — Relevant

Make sure your goals align with your company’s mission and contribute to its financial success. Otherwise, no one will be motivated enough to achieve it.

T — Time-bound

We all know how this works — if a goal doesn’t bind you to a deadline, you are tempted to put it aside for later. So, you should clearly determine and articulate the deadline for each goal, regardless of its urgency.

 

Incorporate values

One of the most critical factors in setting and achieving goals is their value. Changes must carry meanings consistent with the values of the company, customers, and employees who will try to achieve these goals, or you’ll fail. We have a couple of tips on how to ensure this consistency.

Define the company’s values

Assess the company’s image and internal processes to determine its core values, such as eco-friendliness or exceptional customer service. While the values conveyed to the public may differ slightly from internal values, they should still align. For example, customers may not consider employee well-being in the workplace, but satisfied and loyal employees are crucial for providing excellent service.

Outline your employees’ values

Consult your team to identify crucial values for their work and the company’s image. If their values align, great. If not, communicate differences and suggest changes to management. For example, if employees don’t appreciate sustainability, explain its impact on the company’s image, teamwork, and personal benefits.

Incorporate these values into organizational processes

Practicing values is crucial to demonstrate their importance. For instance, if a company values sustainability, they can digitize paperwork to minimize paper waste. This action aligns with another value, work efficiency, as digital contract management can be automated, saving time and office expenses.

 

Establish work standards

Create detailed documentation of the most efficient method for each work process, breaking it down into sequences and components. This will help your employees better understand the processes and execute them consistently. Let’s consider a few tried-and-tested ways of establishing work standards.

Kanban boards

A project management tool widely used by technology and service teams, Kanban boards can help legal departments handle everyday or routine tasks much more efficiently. The tool visually depicts various stages of a task or project. The cards represent work items, while the columns show each step of the process. For example, you can label columns as “to-do,” “in-progress,” and “completed.” Team members can quickly move cards from left to right to show their progress.

Jobs-To-Be-Done

JTBD is a methodological framework that helps you better understand customer behavior. Focusing on motivation and context, it captures, defines, and organizes the needs of the customers.

To put things into perspective, the framework may show you that e-signature software can help your employees avoid spending hours of travel time to meet with a client just to sign a contract. It shows that you are not buying the software for the signature per se but paying for the time and energy it saves for your employees.

Legal operations impact customer experience, even though they are mainly hidden from clients. Regarding the JTBD framework, stakeholders, C-level executives, and the company are the clients that the legal department serves. Legal operations must enable the legal department to run like a business.

People-process-technology framework

The People-Process-Technology (PPT) framework emphasizes the importance of balancing investments in employees, processes, and technologies for efficient work. By treating other departments as customers, the legal department can address their needs. This involves understanding the underlying problems, adjusting processes, and leveraging technology for improved efficiency.

It’s crucial to follow the specific order of people-process-technology to avoid triggering new issues that may arise from changing priorities without involving employees or providing adequate training.

By building efficient workflows, the company can address these bottlenecks and determine which points can be improved with technology. For example, if a sales manager struggles with finding contract templates, the company should seek employee input on process bottlenecks. With a clear understanding of the processes and issues, the team can select the most suitable tech solution that addresses their needs. In this case it would be CLM software with contract repository, updated templates and workflows, requiring legal assistance only for non-standard cases.

 

Making sure your team delivers: building efficient contracting operations

Contracting is crucial for any organization as it governs all major business operations. So, efficient contracting should be your team’s priority. The first step toward it is taking full control over the contract portfolio and ensuring quality contract lifecycle management.

Non-legal departments often consider some stages of the contract lifecycle to be less important, which can lead to problems down the line. It’s crucial to focus on the aspects that impact the quality of the contract portfolio and require your team’s oversight.

Contract drafting

To ensure high-quality and efficient contract management, start early and utilize automation. Automation systems provide pre-approved templates, auto-completion, and error detection, reducing drafting time and maintaining accuracy. Automatic storage of key entries eliminates the need for further editing.

For tracking contract changes, avoid email exchanges and use software with real-time editing capabilities. This allows parties to make or approve changes without multiple document versions, saving time and reducing errors.

Storage

Ensure contracts are easily accessible and actively managed for evaluation, analysis, and timely renewal or termination. Manual methods may work for a small portfolio, but with numerous contracts, missed renewal deadlines and financial losses are likely. Software can help by notifying employees of approaching contract review deadlines and identifying unprofitable or unfulfilled obligations.

 

Tracking contractual obligations

To mitigate damage and promote healthy cooperation, you should track obligations under a particular contract. How to do it efficiently?

Contract matrix

A practical and easy-to-implement approach, a contract or operational matrix means dividing the contract into understandable sections. This provides insights that clarify key contract points and explain vague clauses. You can make the contract understandable by combining technology, legal background, and analytics.

A well-functioning matrix includes the following parameters:

  • Responsible persons/third parties
  • Scope of services/deliverables
  • Reporting date
  • Due date
  • Format of operation
  • Actual delivery date
  • Key contact people
  • Specific performance requirements

When creating a contract matrix, use details sparingly so that it does not become just a copy of the actual contract. However, the information should not be so minimal that it does not provide enough detail for your team members. Strive for balance.

Contract review

Simply feed a signed contract into the CLM software, and the software will read it and look for actionable information that can be broken down or parsed into key terms. Other teams can use this information without the help of the legal department. Leveraging automation, you can more successfully fulfill and track contract obligations.

 

Maintaining the quality of work

The second point that ensures efficient work and interaction with customers is the quality of the contracts themselves. When evaluating the quality of the contracts your department creates, pay attention to the following main elements.

Visual appeal

Yes, the visual aspect of your contract matters. Make sure it is stylistically refined, branded, and identifiable. After all, your contracts are a visual representation of how much you value the partnership with your clients and vendors. Well-prepared contracts build trust while sloppy ones ruin reputations.

Readability

What’s readable for lawyers may not be as easy to comprehend for non-lawyer clients. To ensure readability, structure your contracts logically. Dividing the content into cohesive sections is also helpful. In addition, an AI-based contract management system can ‘translate’ legalese into simpler, easy-to-understand language.

Flexibility

When reviewing and renewing contracts, you make changes frequently. Make sure your system is flexible enough to support this. The software should allow you to modify the contract quickly while ensuring consistency across all duplicates.

 

Conclusion

The role of a Head of Legal presents both exciting opportunities and unique challenges. As you navigate this new position, it is crucial to address the complexities of managing a legal department effectively. As you step into this position, you will face the task of balancing legal expertise with effective leadership and management skills. Effective communication, collaboration, and delegation are essential to ensure that everyone is aligned with the department’s objectives and working together toward common goals.

Author: Joshua Schiefelbein

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