What should in-house teams be doing between now and 2025?
Our research suggests there are three headline areas that in-house teams should be focussing on:
- Purpose and positioning
- Team management
- Service delivery.
In-house legal teams need to be clear about:
- Their purpose within the organisation
- Their position within the organisation
- Where the legal team needs a voice to fulfil its purpose.
This is essential for the legal team to implement other changes, and it needs defining early on.
But the extent of change anticipated means any such purpose needs to be regularly reviewed, as understanding of the business and its long-term requirements develop.
In-house teams should have a clearly defined purpose setting out what they want to accomplish.
This needn’t be long, and could be expressed in terms of the outcomes it wishes to achieve for the organisation.
This should be shared with the whole team, with the team’s key stakeholders, and ideally with the wider organisation, to ensure everyone is clear on what the legal team is trying to achieve.
Based on responses, for many organisations the purpose of the in-house team is to join the dots between various parts of the organisation.
The team is tasked with providing a holistic view of risk, and being a strategic partner to the business – not only spotting risk but also opportunity.
Positioning within the business
The legal team should identify its key stakeholders within the business, and others who may be valuable to fulfilling the legal teams’ purpose. They may be a useful source of information, or you might need resource or co-operation from them in the future to achieve your purpose.
For example, someone in IT might be useful in getting technology implemented, or someone in internal audit could monitor compliance against your contract governance policy.
The legal team should also decide how frequently, and on what basis, it needs to engage with each of those persons. This may differ from stakeholder to stakeholder.
Several of the participants’ comments highlighted struggles to get a voice where they needed it within their organisation.
The first step to getting that voice is to identify the key committees on which legal needs a voice to support its purpose.
Some of this may be for visibility and information gathering, and others on which you expect to take a more proactive role.
This will likely require you to be pragmatic about what’s a ‘must’, what’s a ‘should’, and what’s a ‘nice to have’, not least as your team is unlikely to have time for them all.
The purpose should be continually considered. Does what you’re being asked to do, or what you’re thinking of doing, align with that purpose? Is there anything else you can be doing to drive that purpose forward?
intellectual property expert
Team scope, structure and succession planning
The scope of the in-house team should be considered in light of its purpose.
What work will the team accept now, what additional work will it accept in the future, and what work will it stop doing?
You may need to put in place processes to ensure any scope is stuck to, by both the business and the legal team.
Once you’ve established your team’s scope and structure, consider putting together a people plan covering issues such as:
- What levels of seniority and what specialities will the team need over the next few years to deliver that scope of work?
- Will that capability be developed using the people you already have, or will you need to go out to market for those capabilities?
People plans should also consider succession planning:
- What are your team’s longer-term career aspirations?
- Which roles do they line up well for?
- What coaching or upskilling might they need to get there?
In doing this, you’ll need to balance short-term effectiveness with your long-term strategy.
Our research has suggested that whilst knowledge of your business and sector is most important, in-house teams need to develop their influencing skills and understanding of tech more than anything.
But this is only useful as a benchmarking tool – in-house teams should take time to understand their own skill gaps, as the needs of every team will be different.
In-house teams should allocate a member of the team to each key relationship, with regular reviews of successful engagement and plans for future engagement as a team.
KPIs will be hard to put in place without well-defined processes (so like can be compared with like) and technology. So you’ll probably need to make progress with service delivery before you can make significant progress with KPIs.
There may be some KPIs you can put in place sooner rather than later, though. You might be able to implement client satisfaction surveys, which are completed by your stakeholders at the conclusion of matters.
This feedback will provide insight into what you’re doing well or not, and also enable you to track and report on a Net Promoter Score.
Culture, ethos, and values
In-house leaders should consider what culture, ethos and values the in-house team needs to work by to deliver, and encourage others to get on board with the team’s purpose.
Many comments focussed on building a culture of confidence: pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone, not sitting on the fence but giving clear advice one way or the other, being firm with stakeholders when you need to, and being prepared to take risks in a calculated way.
It’s important not to let your target culture, ethos and values be forgotten. The team should be reminded regularly of them, whether that’s through informally highlighting good examples in team meetings, building them into performance management more formally, or through aligning your training (e.g. team away days) to them.
Many of the comments around team culture from participants broadly aligned with the 12 principles behind agile software development.
The more pertinent agile principles are:
• Deliver frequently
• Work collaboratively with cross-functional teams
• Give individuals the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done
• Favour face-to-face engagement
• Simplicity / the art of maximising the amount of work not done is essential
• Regular reflection by the whole team on what has gone well or not so well.
The key to making such an agile culture work is ensuring everyone is crystal clear on the high-level vision or purpose, and then empowering them to get the job done.
Associate solicitor and
As your understanding of what changes are required develops, you’ll need to have a clear idea of who in the team is leading what initiative (assuming you won’t be able to do it all yourself forever).
You’ll also need agreed priorities across the team, and a way of tracking and/or reporting back to the team on progress.
This is about improving the efficiency of the services that the legal team provides to the business.
The reasons for creating efficiencies will vary between legal teams.
Most legal teams will be doing so for more than one reason, whether that’s cost reduction, freeing up time to focus on relationships and more strategic work, or improving job satisfaction (e.g. by allowing in-house lawyers to move away from monotonous tasks).
Where the legal team is dependent on other parts of the organisation and is struggling to get the engagement it needs, it should prioritise the areas it can control.
Areas in which legal teams can’t make meaningful change without input from the wider business include:
- Technology. The legal team will invariably rely on other parts of the business to implement new technology. It will likely need support of the board to get additional budget (or would need to convince IT to cover it from theirs), and will have some dependence on the co-operation of its IT team, who’ll ultimately have to implement the system or at the very least support it.
- Self-service tools and processes. These will only make a difference and be worth the investment of time in developing them if you can persuade the business to change the way they work and use them.
These areas may be easier to address once the legal team has made progress with its purpose and positioning.
Conversely, there are a number of improvements the legal team should be able to make without any external dependencies.
For instance, process improvements to the way in which work is allocated, knowledge sharing initiatives and coaching.
Break problems down into bitesize chunks
Instead of designing a process perfectly from end to end, which could take years to implement, identify the parts of the process that can be implemented independently and which will provide benefit immediately.
Process first, technology later
Even if you’re able to get the buy-in you need to implement new technology, start with the process first, ensuring it addresses the key pain points for both legal team users and business users.
The introduction of tech-led ‘solutions’ without a proper analysis of the end-to-end process and consideration of the needs of end users can lead to an amplification of the problem that you're trying to solve, or else buying expensive products that are never used.
Working together on potential solutions in multidisciplinary teams builds trust and understanding and increases the likelihood of successful adoption.
Simple technology done well is often where you’ll get the best return.
Whilst artificial intelligence (AI) is more glamourous, generally in-house legal teams will get a better return on simple technology used well to address a simple but widespread problem.
Most AI requires a significant upfront investment of time in training and setup, meaning you need significant scale to get a good return on your investment. Most small in-house legal teams are unlikely to have this.
This will of course change as such tools become less complex, better understood and come down in price.
We’d generally recommend:
- Fine tuning (or developing) processes
- Testing them for a while to ensure they work
- Identifying which of those processes would work better if augmented with technology
- Assessing what technology is available, how difficult it would be to implement, and how much it would cost to both buy and implement.
Focus on ways of working first – don’t find a technology and then look for the problem it might fix.
Chief technology officer
Other in-house legal teams are focussing on knowledge management, matter management, matter take-on processes, and self-service toolkits for the business.
Knowledge management and matter management should be relatively easy for the legal team to implement without dependence on other areas of the business (at least until you need new technology).
Matter take-on and self-service toolkits may be a little more difficult, because they require the business to get on board.
But if you have buy-in from your business, significant improvements can be made before turning to technology.
Visions for 2025
What are in-house teams’ visions for 2025?
We asked interviewees to describe their vision of the ideal in-house team in 2025.
Key themes were:
A real partner to their business, rather than a cost
Proactive and forward-looking
Improved capacity, capability and flexibility
Wider role, including being ‘consultants’ rather than just ‘lawyers’
Better use of third parties (e.g. law firms and other legal service providers).
In terms of dealing with the challenges to come over the next five years, participants largely fell into three camps:
The People Believer: “Change is getting quicker, the working environment more complex, and life more unpredictable. We need to develop our team’s roles, behaviours, flexibility and influence.”
The Tech Believer: “Change is getting quicker, the working environment more complex, and life more unpredictable. Technology will save us.”
The Live-In-Hoper: “Hopefully things will be largely unchanged. I don’t have time to think about the future.”
The Live-In-Hoper was seen more in smaller in-house teams, where extreme limitations on resource meant they rarely had time to do anything other than firefight.
We expect the reality will fall somewhere between “The People Believer” and “The Tech Believer” – technology can play an important part, but it won’t be the silver bullet to in-house teams’ problems.
In general, participants described a “perception progression” (figure 1), wanting their teams to be as far to the right on this scale as possible.
This is of course no easy task, requiring the in-house legal team to make themselves an approachable asset to the organisation, whilst maintaining the ability to say ‘no’ when the need arises.
A real partner to their business, rather than a cost
- Represented on the board
- Working in a way that works for the business
- Working at the same pace as the business
- Involved earlier
- Providing commercial input, not firefighting
- Providing solutions
- Role in decision-making understood and aligned with business expectations
- Advisory, not transactional
- The head can concentrate on strategy (as efficient processes and sufficient resources are available to deal with day-to-day issues).
I think we’re held in high esteem, but sometimes get the impression that we’re seen as a necessary evil. I’d like us to be perceived as a delight to work with. The sales team don’t resent the engineering team, but occasionally they do resent the legal team.
Proactive and forward-looking
- Spotting future challenges and opportunities, and feeding into the businesses
- Ensuring the legal process doesn’t stifle innovation
- Collaborating in project teams.
The role is increasing in responsibility – more transformation projects. We don’t have the resource to deal with the ones we’d like to. And GC/in-house legal are currently getting involved too late. I’d like the function involved in less firefighting and more transformations, strategy – the forward-looking things.
Improved capacity, capability, flexibility
- Agile working
- Flexible working, harnessing communications technology
- Broader range of legal skills, with knowledge being shared across the team and with the business
- Upskilled team
- Greater depth of experience
- Career plans for younger staff
- Appropriate structure and more admin support
- Expertise in specialist areas.
It’s very important that we develop and provide a career path for the younger members of the team, with them hopefully finding their feet as lawyers themselves.
Wider role, including being ‘consultants’ not ‘lawyers’
- Engaged in a wider role
- Governance, risk management, compliance and others
- Better business understanding
- More accepting of risk
- More numerate
- Better communicators (no more ‘tomes’)
- Owning issues (e.g. Brexit)
- Using knowledge to greater effect (e.g. able to advise on training needs for the company).
Legal will be moving away from just doing transactional work, and more in the direction of risk management and compliance. It might be an environment where either legal needs to rebadge itself and claim that ground, or it’ll end up a subsidiary of a wider and less specialist commercial function.
- Tech supporting routine, providing efficiencies
- Enabling humans to deal with strategic, judgement issues
- Business ‘DIY’ via templates
- Knowledge management
- Matter management
- Online precedents
- More sharing of data
- Staff skilled and comfortable with technology.
Better use of third parties
- Diverse third party models
- Greater transparency in fees
- More commercial advice from third parties, being pragmatic about risk.