Legal departments can be as diverse as the companies that encompass them. Some are small and effective, others resemble large law firms, and many of them tend to grow organically as the business evolves over time as well. But regardless of their type or size, all legal teams should be productive and efficient in order to ensure success.
There are a number of attributes that can make a legal department great, but some might be more suited to the corporate environment than others. To that end, here are the essential qualities modern companies should look for in their in-house legal teams:
Delivering high-value work
An excellent legal department should maintain a strict focus on the aspects that have the highest impact on companies. Being mindful of the business’s biggest risks, main priorities, and new opportunities, the team should constantly reassess their work and see whether it actually adds real value.
Continuing with the same process simply to stay busy or because it’s “what they’ve always done” can only prevent professionals from identifying low-value work. An effective team should also have an understanding of how the talents and experiences of team members are being leveraged. Their top priorities should be strategic thinking and being conscious of the big picture, to the extent possible.
Managing resources well
The advice of specific legal teams can cause significant costs for organizations. Efficiently tracking and managing these costs becomes paramount. Implementing a legal e-billing system, for example, can provide a streamlined approach to invoicing, ensuring transparency and accuracy in financial transactions. Beyond that, your in-house department must be disciplined and thoughtful when considering department structure, size, and discretionary spending, informing clients on possible strategic options, managing outside counsel and other service providers, and choosing and purchasing necessary software.
Assumptions might have to be tested often as well. Spending what is reasonable in a specific context may not be the ideal solution in another situation or at a different time. The most effective legal teams should aim to solve common problems, and not create additional roadblocks.
Representing a diverse team
In many cases, diversity leads to more collaborative work environments and higher-functioning and stronger teams, and your in-house legal team is no different. However, the biggest benefit of diversity is that it enables you to build a skilled and knowledgeable team with extensive experience in a wide range of subjects. Australian companies, for instance, are well aware of this fact, which is why they often include a property lawyer from Sydney in their in-house teams.
A property lawyer can be a great addition to traditional team members such as corporate and financial lawyers, helping to resolve property disputes and ensure seamless transactions, which can be especially beneficial to businesses planning expansions.
Offering constant innovation
Across US states, on the other hand, the most efficient legal departments don’t only provide good legal advice to companies. Instead, they aim to construct and implement certain initiatives that can improve the delivery and overall outcomes of services, likely due to often scarce resources and complex bureaucracy.
This can include simplifying processes to drive the creation and negotiation of standard contracts with reduced attorney involvement, using sophisticated technologies to minimize low-value work, creating operations that enhance engagement between legal teams and business leaders, and generating and implementing new procedures to capitalize on company technology, creating training programs for company personnel to develop a stronger compliance culture, etc.
Empowering and inspiring
The best legal departments are led by great leaders. Your in-house legal team should also be managed by one professional who possesses important attributes such as thought leadership, vision, emotional intelligence, effective communication skills, and the capability to solve complex problems and execute initiatives.
They must be able to set clear objectives and grant their team members the necessary autonomy to complete their tasks and responsibilities. The team leader should also strive to create a meritocratic, inclusive legal department that motivates team members to work effectively with each other and aim for excellence. This type of work enables personal and collective success within a company.
Seeking continuous feedback
In a collaborative and successful legal department, team members and their managers never shy away from being scrutinized. They should be willing to critically analyze their team and individual performance, and make larger changes or minor tweaks wherever necessary. In addition, they should feel free to seek independent input and constructive feedback from the company, their clients, and any external parties.
Feedback enables legal teams to grow and improve, fixing any issues that might have affected their work along the way. In turn, they can bring more value to businesses and be more productive when it comes to reaching shared goals and objectives.
For modern companies to build the most effective legal departments, the qualities mentioned above will be vital. When legal teams are capable, focused, cohesive, and efficient, they will be an invaluable asset to a business, leading to new growth and success opportunities.