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Organisational design, support and management: creating an empowered legal team

This is one of 13 chapters from our eBook, 'Legal operations: how to do it and why it matters'. Download the full eBook or explore the other competencies below.

Foreword | Introduction | Financial management | Cross-functional alignment | Technology & process support | Service delivery & alternative support models | Organisational design, support & management | Communications | Data analytics | Litigation support | IP management | Knowledge management | Information governance & records management | Strategic planning

Natalie Salunke, VP and Head of Legal for Fleetcor Europe, shares her insights on organisational design, support and management in this chapter from our eBook on legal operations. The views in this article are the author's own, and do not represent the views of Juro nor those of CLOC.

The scope and variety of in-house roles has never been greater than it is today, bringing with it a huge challenge in terms of designing and managing our legal functions. Globalised, distributed teams are increasingly the norm, collaborating through tech platforms that may or may not speak to each other, with acquisitions adding layers of complexity to the picture. It’s our role as in-house lawyers not just to advise on matters of black letter law, but to look holistically at the way the business experiences legal - not as a blocker, but as a service that solves problems.

This won’t happen by accident, and through my career I’ve found that I needed to take deliberate steps to make sure legal was fit for purpose, and empowered to add real value. Here are 8 practical steps to get started with organisational design, support and management.

Take stock

The first step in organisational design is to take stock of what you’ve got, rather than trying to replicate what was there before, or what worked at your last company. I’ve worked at SaaS startups, FCA-regulated businesses and S&P100 constituents, and all businesses are different, with different cultures. I’ve arrived at companies to find they’d never had a lawyer before, or their only lawyer was on a different continent. It’s crucial to understand what has been working well, and not just those things you want to change, in order to genuinely understand the business’ needs - and get buy-in for any changes you want to make.

"Take stock of what you’ve got, rather than trying to replicate what worked at your last company"

Matchmake for the short term

Rather than jumping to hiring new talent, work out where and how you can fit in with what’s already there. Understanding the skillsets and personalities you currently have, and how to map them against the business’ needs, is always going to be faster and less painful in the short-term. In doing so, you’ll identify gaps that you can fill in the medium and long term with new resources. Legal teams need detail-minded people and sales-minded people to deliver a rounded service - marrying those skills in your team, and showing the business that their lawyers can and will listen to them, is a quick win that can go a long way in terms of how legal is perceived.

Face-time for real

"My job would be impossible without technology, but never underestimate the value of actual face-time"

For a company like Fleetcor, on several continents and with operational businesses all over the world, my job would be impossible without technology, but never underestimate the value of actual face-time. To run a function that really collaborates, you must make the effort to physically get the team together - whether that’s monthly, quarterly or annually - and foster that real-world connection with your colleagues. Agile working is a step forward for a profession that’s often been too desk-based, but remote ways of working can lead to isolation and dis-connection. Even moving to video from voice calls can make a big difference. Those moments of human contact create goodwill that ripples out through your work.

Adapt to internal clients’ way of working

Similarly with your internal clients, site visits are priceless if you want to know how your colleagues actually work and interact with each other. This lets you adapt your culture and ways of working to theirs, rather than trying to impose an artificial uniformity that’s always doomed to fail. It’s a common criticism, for example, that US parent companies don’t understand their European subsidiaries; similarly, a French or Italian office might feel disconnected if it receives highhanded, impersonal legal advice from its London office. Ask yourself if you’ve honestly made the effort to go and experience the culture and ways of working around the business first-hand; if not, can you really expect to add value where it counts?

Make your metrics support theirs

Once your ways of working are aligned, do the same for your objectives. Aligning legal’s goals with the company’s growth targets is always a challenge, but it’s important to focus on measurable, transparent metrics. The business wants growth, but how it defines that growth will change your areas of focus as a lawyer. For example, if it’s through higher revenues, then are your sales contract processes as robust and frictionless as they need to be? If it’s through adding new markets and geographies, should regulatory issues be your focus? If it’s through acquisition, are you set up for due diligence? By identifying the right metrics to focus on together, you can speak the same language and show the business how you can help to drive that growth.

Be more human

For better or for worse, lawyers often have a perception problem: we’re smart and haughty, distant and stern, high-handed and didactic. These stereotypes are often unfair, but sometimes they’re not - and it’s up to us to change that. Getting into the habit of providing and asking for feedback is really effective in making the legal function come across as accessible and collaborative. Many people don’t deal with legal often, and don’t really understand what you do - being more conversational, and opening up about the challenges you face in your role, can improve both the interactions and the outcomes when you work with colleagues around the business.

Accountability is key

A robust framework for accountability can be a massive help, particularly for a legal function serving multiple jurisdictions and business units. I capture several data points to help me to be accountable to the business. I record my time; I record the kind of requests coming in; I record the business units they come from, and the volumes driven by each team. Legal is often perceived as a blocker because this information is hidden. Stakeholders might think a request is unanswered because we’re slow, or we’ve prioritised poorly; but what if it’s because another team is flooding legal with NDAs, or the kind of low-value document assembly that could easily be outsourced? Sharing this with the business empowers them to rank your priorities, and see where your time and resources are too stretched, or deployed against matters that aren’t commercially important. True accountability means you can bust all the old myths about legal - and direct your team to the big-ticket items where you’re most needed.

Invest in development

All your good work in organisational design will be wasted if your team isn’t stable. A revolving door of departures and onboarding has a huge time cost. While exits are inevitable, they can at least be reduced and predicted, with careful people management. To do this, employee development can’t be a footnote in performance reviews. It’s only by regularly asking where team members want to go with their career, and what they’d like to do, that you can spot flight risks early enough to mitigate them. Not every employee wants to progress to managing a team; conversely, for some, it’s a key milestone in their career that may drive them to look elsewhere. If there isn’t a natural progression to lead them to their goal, how else can you move their career forward? Could they manage the vacation scheme students, or a project team? Unless you have honest, open, regular conversations, they’ll make career decisions without you.

I believe that by taking these practical steps, the legal function can grow closer even as it globalises: closer to each other, and closer to the business. Through an open culture that encourages dialogue, learning and curiosity, we can create an atmosphere of continual improvement, that keeps lawyers at the centre of business growth - where we belong.

Explore the other legal ops competencies covered in our eBookLegal operations: how to do it and why it matters:

Foreword | Introduction | Financial management | Cross-functional alignment | Technology & process support | Service delivery & alternative support models | Organisational design, support & management | Communications | Data analytics | Litigation support | IP management | Knowledge management | Information governance & records management | Strategic planning

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