This will be my last post of 2017. The year has certainly flown by! Thank you all once again for continuing to read the blog (going on four years now!), for sharing it with your friends and colleagues, and for your great notes and suggestions. I wanted to end the year with a discussion about an issue I think is of critical importance to any in-house Legal Department: getting rid of the perception of Legal as the place where deals go to die. Almost all in-house lawyers have heard this joke and almost all agree that it is generally an unfair label. That said, I have been doing this a long time and I have had many conversations with folks on the business side of the house and sometimes the concerns that they raise about Legal “blocking” deals are valid. Let’s face it, there are times when the Legal Department stumbles on this front. Sometimes we even fall on our faces. I have stumbled, fallen, and crashed to earth too many times to count. And, no matter how hard I try, I will stumble again. But, I always try to learn something from each lesson. Most importantly, I try to remind myself that I and the Legal Department are here to serve the business. As in-house lawyers, we have two goals: value creation (“Yes”) and limiting value destruction (“No”). The hard part is balancing these two goals, especially when it comes to things the business really wants to do or contracts they want to sign. A good friend of mine once told me that the hardest negotiation you will have as an in-house lawyer is usually internal. Over time, however, I have developed some guidelines that help me get to “Yes” far more than I get to “No.” This edition of “Ten Things” will share my list of things you can do to make Legal the Department of Yes.
[Note: this is a summary version of a four-part series I wrote for Thomson Reuters earlier this year with some key updates and new sections. You can find the full series by clicking here]
Some of the best scenes in the television show Star Trek (the original version) involve the crew members asking the computer a question and the computer spitting out the answer in the form of a conversation. I was utterly amazed by this and, of course, wanted my own computer that would “answer” my questions. Alas, I was ahead of my time. But, I was recently reading an article comparing the Google Home with the Amazon Echo, two devices that allow you to ask questions and get an answer. From a computer. Just like Star Trek! This brought back two important memories from the TV show: 1) intelligent computers that can talk and answer questions; and 2) never be the crewman in the red shirt. I always lived by the latter and now, it dawned on me, I could start to live by the former too.
Managing a legal project is not an easy task. Not for in-house counsel or for outside counsel. There are simply too many ways for a project to “come off the rails” and turn into a disaster. Usually, the disaster has to do with cost/budget. While blowing the budget is definitely not good, a worse scenario is when the disaster results in the project failing, be it a contract, and merger or acquisition, or a piece of litigation where the stakes are high. A project “fail” can mean big problems for in-house lawyers, all the way up to being shown the door. This is why it’s so important for in-house counsel and outside counsel to be on the same page any time there is a project of material size or risk. The key for in-house counsel is understanding that you cannot simply turn the project over to outside counsel and “hope for the best.” Successful legal projects require the involvement and input of in-house lawyers every step of the way.
Over the past decade or so, “Legal Project Management” has grown into an accepted (and in-demand) way to manage legal work sent to outside counsel. However, it can be a rather involved process and while I am a big believer that it does pay off not all in-house lawyers are ready to step up to the level of commitment required to really do “LPM” right. That’s okay. I think any in-house lawyer can apply the basic concepts of LPM and even a cursory application of the basics will lead to better project management and better results. This edition of “Ten Things” discusses the basics of Legal Project Management and how you can utilize them as a “beginner” to the process:
In January, one of my posts dealt with setting yearly goals for the legal department (click here to read). One of the goals was sending out a client satisfaction survey, i.e., asking those in the business to weigh in on questions related to their satisfaction with the services provided by Legal. There are a number of reasons why you would want to send out such a survey, primarily to gather helpful data and comments about how the legal department is performing and how it is perceived throughout the organization; the second being to use the survey as a tool to market and promote Legal by reminding people that the department is there, that it provides valuable services to the company, and that you are directly seeking their input into improving the quality and value of the services the legal department provides.
This edition of “Ten Things” will walk you through the process of creating, distributing, and analyzing the results of a client satisfaction survey. Though the discussion deals with in-house counsel sending a survey to their internal business clients, the “why” and “how” apply equally to the relationship between outside/in-house counsel and outside attorneys can easily use this post to create a satisfaction survey to distribute to their in-house counsel clients. If you intend to put out a survey this calendar year, now is the time to get start creating it for distribution after the summer holidays.