New year & new you: In-house lawyer as in-house innovator

Here’s a quick checklist to see how you’re doing with streamlining internal processes to make in-house work more productive

How are you doing on those New Years’ resolutions? As an in-house lawyer, you might consider adding a few new skills to that list, like process engineer, project manager and innovator. Let’s face it: Legal departments are cost centers, and inside counsel face increasing pressure to do more with less. To succeed this year — and beyond — savvy legal business partners will be looking at new ways to optimize.

Even simple solutions, some already in your hands, can allow your legal team, with a modest investment of time and creativity, to customize and configure existing tools and processes to better serve your internal clients. Here’s a quick checklist to see how you’re doing. If you find yourself nodding at any of these questions, it might be time for a change.

Do you find yourself doing the same thing over and over? Are you constantly being asked to approve things or to answer questions?

Being the gatekeeper can become exhausting. Whether it’s approving activities and expenditures for compliance reasons, or giving legal sign-off for a product launch (think export requirements), inside counsel are often inundated by a repetitive barrage of questions.

Consider investing some time in creating an internal form through which these kinds of requests can be quickly sorted, answered and resolved. At McAfee, the solution was to design an internal form underpinned by a simple decision tree logic that allows its lawyers to submit commonly-asked legal questions. These are then routed to the right person in the organization for follow-up. Looking to automate simple approvals? Specify which requests can automatically go through by meeting certain thresholds. Not only is this kind of tool very efficient, it’s a smart move from a compliance standpoint. When regulators come knocking, you can have the centralized data and systems in place to defend your business and legal processes.

Is your budget for tools and technology tight?

Many inside counsel don’t have the budget to implement expensive technology and software. Fear not – you have more resources than you think you do. Instead of sourcing new technology, it’s time to reach for the low-hanging productivity fruit and to take a look at the tools you’re already using. Popular, widely available tools have surprisingly useful and underutilized features.

We’re assuming you use Outlook. Looking to design an internal survey but don’t have the budget to hire someone to design it or to use a third party software? Use Outlook’s Voting feature to create internal polls. Send an email, have people vote, and let Outlook automatically count them. You can also improve the effectiveness of a litigation hold email notification by including survey questions that require the recipient to provide basic information you’ll need to preserve potentially relevant data.

Want to design a global training program? Try Adobe Captivate, an easy-to-use e-learning software. Record a voice-over, connect it to a PowerPoint presentation, and you’ve got an easy way to train team members around the world. Add quizzes, demos and videos if you like.

In addition, there is a wide variety of cloud-based services that can help streamline typically tedious processes. ContractRoom, for example, allows its users to create, track, and negotiate contracts over the web, making it easier to reach consensus and to facilitate clear, transparent dialogue all for a low monthly fee.

Is your institutional knowledge scattered? Do you struggle to find new knowledge resources?

Inside counsel often consume precious time chasing down information and identifying and bridging gaps in knowledge. More often than not, internal knowledge and data goes unrecorded and under-analyzed. Why not begin building an internal repository of vital business and legal information?

To share resources internally, McAfee has built an internal legal portal to store playbooks, contract templates, legal memos, training decks and other shared resources the whole team can access. (Hint: Sharepoint can be enormously helpful in this regard.) For the broader organization, even small things, like putting ISO certifications, consortium memberships, corporate responsibility information and policies together on an intranet page, can go a long way in improving contract negotiations, RFP responses, and general awareness of company rules.

Redundancy can be a productivity killer. In a department with hundreds of in-house lawyers, many are going to independently go to outside counsel for the exact same guidance and information. Why spend money on information and advice you’ve already received? It’s becoming essential for organizations to create central, internal knowledge repositories that are easily searchable, fully categorized, and accessible to all internal stakeholders.

Is staffing tight? Headcount freeze? Cyclical workload?

Say you’ve reached capacity and adding to your team is no longer an option. Better make do with what you have, right?

Wrong. As inside counsel work to make their teams and processes more efficient, they should also look for unconventional ways to supplement their staff during busy seasons. Bring on law firm secondments. (The UK has a fantastic tradition of outside counsel providing their clients with long-term secondees. It’s a win-win situation for both organizations: The secondee learns about the business and provides better value and advice and is an extra pair of hands on-site for the client.) Hire summer interns. Look to alternative legal providers to lower costs and to tackle excess work.

What it comes down to is this: inside counsel need to broaden their own understanding of what they see in the mirror. Do you find yourself wearing more than one hat? Welcome to the new you. You’re the compliance officer, legal gatekeeper, negotiator and firefighter. So be sure you’re using all the tools at your disposal to develop innovate ways to do more with less.

That’s a resolution worth keeping.

Contributing Author

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Ron Wills

Ron Wills is the senior director of legal affairs and head of governance, risk & compliance at McAfee, a global network security company.

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Contributing Author

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Varun Mehta

Varun Mehta is the Vice President of Legal & Compliance Solutions at Clutch Group, a global provider of litigation, investigation, compliance, and other legal services...

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