Building Bridges: 6 Ways to Make Your In-House Clients #LoveLegal

As an in-house lawyer, it’s your job to meet the legal needs of your company, advise Boards, and mitigate risk. However, in-house attorneys often get a bad rap for being over-cautious, delaying deals, and focusing on what people CAN’T do.

While it’s not your job to be popular, it’s much easier to achieve everyone’s goals when there’s love between departments. It’s win-win. With all the hard work you do, wouldn’t it be nice to be loved for a change? Here are some simple ideas to make in-house clients #lovelegal, and you!

Business First

As Marla Persky, former senior vice president, general counsel, and corporate secretary of Boehringher Ingelheim USA, says in The Generalist Counsel: How Leading General Counsel are Shaping Tomorrow’s Companies,

A general counsel needs to be a business person first and a lawyer second—not a lawyer that understands the business, but a business person that happens to be a lawyer.

Everyone in the legal department thus needs to understand the company’s business goals and the legal department’s place in achieving them.

When your internal clients see that you’re on their side, they will be more open to working closer with you.

 

Prioritize

Some lawyers tend to prioritize based on:

  • What’s been on their desk the longest (which they feel guiltiest about)
  • What’s just arrived in their email in-box
  • Which in-house client they like best (and want to please)
  • Which in-house client they like least (and want to placate)
  • Which client is nagging the most
  • Whatever’s most complicated (and should be tackled with a fresh mind)
  • Whatever’s easiest (and can be crossed off the to-do list fastest)

However, those considerations have very little to do with what’s most important.

Lawyers can make their internal clients happier by learning:

  • What’s important to THEM?
  • What monthly, quarterly, and yearly targets and deadlines do they need to meet?
  • What turnaround time do they need/expect for routine matters? (And what counts as a routine matter?)

 

Playbooks

As the CEB Compliance & Legal Blog notes,

the most effective legal departments “pre-delivering” legal advice by writing down standing guidance in certain areas….  Are there certain contract terms that we never accept?  Why do we never accept them?

Every year the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC) recognizes in-house lawyers as “Value Champions.” These Champions often create value by creating smarter ways to work with other departments.

Several of the Champions use templates and “playbooks” like the ones created by AXALTA COATING SYSTEMS.  The Axalta law department, with help from an outside law firm,

created a cohesive suite of 13 new templates, each tailored to reflect Axalta’s distinctive commercial practices, and customized for local language, practice, and legal requirements.

As a result, the Axalta procurement department now processes 62% of contracts – more than 500 annually — without needing legal help, and is approaching a goal of 80%.

In-house clients were happy they didn’t have to wait for legal, and senior management was happy to be spending less on legal fees, having cut spending for contract review by outside counsel by 80%.

 

Keep It Simple

In some cases, a detailed manual or playbook may be appropriate. But in other cases it’s better to keep things short and simple — a one-page checklist, if possible.

Some companies even put antitrust guidelines for salespeople (for example, “no resale price maintenance”) on laminated wallet-sized cards. These little cards may not seem like a big deal, but they can really help sales teams feel more in control and empowered.

It helps the legal team educate the sales team, and it helps sales teams to do their work better. A big achievement from a little card.

 

Face Time and Donuts

Especially in big companies, lawyers and their in-house clients may never actually meet. It’s hard to love someone who’s just a voice on the phone or an email address.

The CEB Blog notes that some legal departments have “office hours” when lawyers go to where the clients are — bringing donuts — and make themselves available to answer questions and discuss the legal aspects of new initiatives.

This is also an opportunity for client education and mutual problem-solving.

Having a real face-to-face conversation is always a vehicle to improving relationships and helping your clients love legal.

 

Use Technology to Reduce Legal Bottle-Necks

One of the biggest complaints about legal departments is that they create bottle-necks. The best way to improve efficiency is through the use of technology that automates and speeds up some of your work.

Some simple contracts, like NDAs and insertion orders, can easily be automated, allowing “self service” by in-house clients based on parameters and options defined by the legal department.

For drafting contracts, automation software like HotDocs lets companies transform frequently used documents and forms into intelligent templates.

For contract review, LawGeex lets in-house counsel pre-define what terms are acceptable and unacceptable and give in-house clients an automated “thumbs up” (OK to sign) or “thumbs down” (escalate to legal). The result is faster turnaround, no legal bottle-necks, and happy clients.

 

Ready to Make Your In-House Counsel #LoveLegal?

If you’re feeling overdue for some love from your in-house clients, concentrate on four key tactics:

  1. align your goals and priorities with the business,
  2. create face-to-face time (be more human),
  3. create simple documentation to empower your clients, and
  4. embrace technology to automate simpler decision making.

Just remember that these actions take time, and sometimes much persuading. Stay true to the cause and be patient. It’ll be worth it. Transform your relationships and help your business #lovelegal!