Our recent poll found that the Covid-19 pandemic has legal leaders at businesses of all sizes looking for new ways to build agility and resilience into their teams. Unsurprisingly, respondents highlighted a new impetus to demonstrate how the legal function adds value to the rest of the business. Both are areas that legal operations can help with but not every team has the budget for someone to focus on operations full-time. So what can you take from legal ops thinking to make a big impact through some small changes?
Ask “Does this matter?”
Search for a guide to strategy and Amazon will offer you more than 10,000 books to read. What setting strategy essentially boils down to is working out where you want to get to and what you need to do to get there. In other words, what really matters? Define how you and any legal colleagues contribute to achieving your business’s goals. Establish how you can help your business do things better or differently to your competitors. Look at the work you and any legal colleagues are handling and sort it into one of three buckets: work that’s truly important to the future of your business, work that isn’t, but has to happen, and work that doesn’t really make a difference at all.
Start saying “no”
Generally people like to say “yes” (especially to calls and meetings), and so workload expands without direction. Before you take on work, check where it falls in your three buckets. If it’s in bucket number three, start to say “no”, and encourage your colleagues to do the same. “No” can be helpful, you can offer alternatives or explain why your priorities lie elsewhere. Be fair and consistent, support your team in doing the same and put yourself back in control.
Track your time
Yes, we know – no-one wants to do it. However, understanding where time is being spent, and more importantly what you and the business are getting in return, is crucial to optimising your team. It doesn’t need to be fancy – set up a spreadsheet for each team member with the following columns: Task, Task Type, Date, Business Area, Level of Business Knowledge Required (High/Medium/Low), Time spent (minutes), Revenue impact (£). If you’ve got more than a couple of people in your team, set up some categories to choose from in Task Type, such as Advice, Negotiation, Drafting, Networking, Admin. This will let you make comparisons across the team. If you wanted to be more sophisticated, there are time management apps you can download that are not very expensive. Or you could go the other way and just keep a chart on a piece of paper next to your computer. Try it for six weeks and see what you learn about where your time is going and what your organisation gets in return.
Dealing with work that isn’t strategic but has to happen
You are always going to have work that has to get done but isn’t strictly strategic. This is work that you should delegate or outsource. Examples of tasks that fit into this bucket include:
- Repeatable tasks, such as commercial contract or NDA reviews
- Project management and supporting tasks such as setting up data rooms for corporate transactions
- Compliance projects, such as policy review and roll-out/communication
- One-off remediation projects, such as contract analysis and re-negotiation
Once you have a clear understanding of how much of this work you have, you can find a better way of doing it. If it’s work that doesn’t require a high level of legal knowledge and experience, then find a way to help business owners self-serve, look for technology and processes that can help you automate it or bring in extra non-legal or seconded staff. If it’s work that needs experienced lawyers, look at outsourcing to a flexible legal service provider like Obelisk, who can deliver using remote-based lawyers, without the costs associated with moving work to a law firm.
Create safe experiments
When Farfetch first came to work with Obelisk, just one of our lawyers supported them with overflow commercial work. At last count, a team of 11 lawyers now provide services to support their in-house team across commercial, financial, IP and corporate work, within and outside the UK. Identify a task or project that is relatively low risk, and use it to pilot working in a different way. This way you’ll learn what works and what doesn’t, without investing large amounts of time or money. Make sure you communicate what you are trying to achieve with your team and any business stakeholders, and ask for feedback along the way.
Find your magic number(s)
Understand what you are judged on and find a way to demonstrate progress in priority areas. If it’s cost, then show how you plan to reduce costs and report monthly spend. If it’s your contribution to delivering revenue, record the impact you have on commercial contracting/negotiations. If you feel your contribution to innovation isn’t recognised, report on the new services you have enabled. Focus on the one or two most important measures of what you do and share these around the business. Once you start collecting data, you can show the impact of changes you make and build the case for doing more.
As the world learns to live alongside coronavirus, the months ahead are going to require huge amounts of energy and ingenuity. Different conditions require different thinking, so start thinking “three buckets”, put your focus on work that matters and communicate how the legal team contributes to your wider business success.