Adapting your team to create efficiencies
Following discussion at last week’s PLC GC Leadership Series conference on ‘adapting your team to create efficiencies’ panellist Denise Nurse writes about the three principles she believes you need to be guided by to build, train and retain an efficient legal team.
Are legal teams efficient?
When you think about a legal team do you automatically think of them as efficient or do you think of long hours spent working on never ending deals, piles of documents and paper, lots of words to convey complex ideas and an ever increasing budget?
Unfortunately the latter is often the perception, but one of the key things that you learn very quickly when you move in-house is how to deliver your advice more succinctly, more purposefully and more swiftly. When a business colleague needs to close a deal to hit their quarter end target, you need to get quicker at assessing risk, prioritising and making decisions.
So you immediately become more efficient when you move in-house because you are forced to. You are no longer working to fulfil monthly billing targets. You are not judged by how many hours you have billed, how many clients you have attracted. You are a support unit to the core business purpose, you either add value or you don’t have a job. It’s a great motivator.
Let’s assume you as an individual have done that well, you have the confidence of the management team and your colleagues and they now see the value of having a lawyer on the team. You have the ability to build a team. What do you do first and how?
I think it is easy to go off kilter at this point, hiring reactively to problems that have arisen within the business or to preserve your own position. I need a junior to assist me.
What does being efficient for an in-house lawyer mean? The current mantra is can you do more for less, but in addition I think it requires you to add value and be focussed on long-term continual improvement rather than only short-term wins.
Building an efficient legal team
With this in mind, building, training and retaining an efficient legal team requires you to take a step back and I would suggest to be guided by three principles.
- Knowledge – What do you do? You need some analysis of what you and/or your existing team do on a daily basis and what you think you should be doing but aren’t. Then and only then can you look at organising your team to ensure that the right people are delivering the various elements and assess where you need to bring in assistance. You need data.
- Purpose – Why do you do what you do? What is the purpose of the business you serve and how do you best serve your internal customers? Without purpose we are left motivated only by carrot or stick. Studies have shown that for anything over basic rudimentary tasks people perform less well when paid more which is surprising. It’s not the money it’s the purpose.
- Empowerment – When you hire lawyers you are hiring motivated, driven, ambitious people. You will get the best out of them if you empower them. Don’t be afraid to hire people with better skills than you in some areas and be willing to let them shine. Ask them how things can be improved and then if they have good ideas let them implement them, supporting them and giving them time to make the changes.
To deliver those three things you need tools to help you. These tools are the “Three T’s”: Time, Technology and Teamwork.
TIME: One of the problems we face is never having enough time to do everything that needs to be done. How do you even find the time to gather the data to let you know what you need to change. You may literally need to buy yourselves some time. Getting in interim help to take the pressure off whilst you focus on these issues can help. The interim support can either run the efficiency project or take on some of your day to day to free you up. You will of course need a business case for your Board or CFO to justify the necessary budget to buy that time. If you can show that current spend on legal is X but there are three touch points where improved processes would save money overall then you have created a business case for spending Y over a set time scale to provide the time to develop and implement the improved processes. There will be a clear way of tracking your return on investment.
TECHNOLOGY: If a process can be systemised then it should be. We should embrace software which can create workflows and standard contracts. This is not doing us out of a job this is dealing more efficiently with the elements of our job that do not need our superior brains to implement. There will always be a need for human ingenuity and creativity. By freeing up time by automating and systemising processes, you can focus on adding real value to the business.
TEAMWORK: It’s imperative that you act as a team and have a common purpose. This is not just for your internal team but it’s essential that you create such relationships with your external providers too. This will allow you to focus on being more effective without the politics. If being more efficient means I am doing myself out of a job what is the incentive to do that. There has to be an understanding that you value ingenuity and creativity and that there is a place in your team for anyone who contributes to those efficiencies – or at least there should be.
Instead of jumping straight into recruiting lawyers to build a legal team take a step back and be guided by the three principles of knowledge, purpose and empowerment to really assess what you and the business need.
Contact Denise: 020 7127 2500