in-house legal department

Ten Things: Creating a “SWOT” Analysis of the Legal Department

I remember back in law school making fun of our fellow students who had business degrees.  We called it the “study of the obvious” and mocked them relentlessly.  Of course, I had to run away and hide when they pushed back and asked what my major was – it’s hard to stand tall and claim “political science” as a worthier endeavor.  Still, as always, it’s better to be the mocker than the mock-ee!  Once I went in-house, however, I began to have a much greater and sincere appreciation for all those business majors.  They were paying the bills!  They also had a very analytical and numbers-oriented way of looking at things.  Something that fit nicely with my approach as a lawyer.  Regardless, the first time I heard someone in the business say, “we need to do a SWOT analysis on that,” I thought they were talking about S.W.A.T., a kick-ass police drama from the mid-1970s.[1]  Why we needed to do a special weapons and tactics review of a new product launch escaped me, but I was excited to see how they would pull it off.  Sadly, no hippies or domestic terrorists needed a beating that warm and muggy afternoon in Texas.  Instead, someone started creating a “SWOT” two-by-two box on the whiteboard.  Damn (queue-up glorious choir music).  I quickly saw the beauty in what they were doing.  It was (and is) an elegantly simple way to look at a problem and think through the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats – SWOT.  I knew immediately that I had to steal this SWOT box thing for the legal department as it could easily apply to many things we were doing there.  While some of you likely have experience with SWOT analysis, I am betting that a lot of you have not.  It’s a great tool that I used frequently as general counsel, mostly as a way to strategically look at the legal department as a whole and how best to plan to add value to the business.  This edition of “Ten Things” takes you through how to use a SWOT analysis to analyze the legal department:

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Ten Things: Electronic Signatures (What In-House Counsel Need to Know)

[Since the last “Ten Things” post there are now over 4,000 followers of this blog.  Thank you!!]

Welcome to day 987 of “Shelter-in-Place.”  Brought to you by our good friends at COVID-19 – courtesy of unprepared governments everywhere!  Okay, that’s a little snarky and it’s really only day 17 or so for me (but it sure feels like 987 days).  Like most of you reading this, I have been working from home, practicing social distancing, binging television shows, and reading a lot.  On that last one, more like devouring books and whatever other reading materials I can get my hands on.  In fact, I just finished an amazing two-part series by Dan Jones on English kings: “The Plantagenets” and “The Wars of the Roses.”  I highly recommend both to the history buffs out there.  One thing that stuck in my mind as I was reading these books was the use of seals by kings to “sign” documents (well, parchments actually).  For some reason, that got me thinking about how we sign documents today, especially contracts – the lifeblood of any company and the top priority of the in-house legal department.  That, in turn, got me thinking about all the different ways I have managed contract signings over the course of my in-house career, including the use of electronic signatures (yes, that is how my mind works).  Which made me start to wonder “how in the hell is an electronic signature valid… and have I been screwing this up for years?”  Intuitively, I know they are valid but I have to say I never spent a lot of time thinking about “how” or “why.”  The current pandemic crisis with its discouraged human interaction are the perfect launching pad for thinking about “signing” documents remotely and e-signatures are the perfect solution for that.  This edition of “Ten Things” walks you through what you need to know about electronic signatures:

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Ten Things: Cool Tech for In-House Counsel (2019 Edition)

Well, it’s that time of year again.  Every August for the last several years I have devoted a “Ten Things” blog post to talking about super useful technology for in-house lawyers.  Fortunately, there is always more cool tech to talk about and this year is no different.  That said, if you want to go back and revisit some of the past cool tech blogs click here (2016, 2017, 2018).  The ground rules are the same as always: (1) I receive no compensation for these recommendations, they’re just things I think in-house lawyers (any lawyers really) will find useful and helpful; (2) I try to focus mostly on free or low-cost technology – no breaking the bank for the most part; and (3) generally, everything I discuss should work for in-house lawyers anywhere in the world, not just the USA (if there is an exception, I’ll note it).[1]

With that in mind, this edition of “Ten Things” discusses some of the coolest technology out there for in-house lawyers, things that will make your life a little easier and, hopefully, more productive:

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Ten Things: Making Legal the Department of Yes

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.

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Ten Things: Artificial Intelligence – What Every Legal Department Really Needs to Know

[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.

Artificial Intelligence (“AI”) is just beginning to come into its own in terms of uses by lawyers.  We are on the cusp of a revolution in the practice of law led by the adoption of AI computers – in particular by in-house lawyers.  Much like email changed the way we do business every day, AI will become ubiquitous – an indispensable assistant to practically every lawyer.  This edition of “Ten Things” discusses what you really need to know right now about artificial intelligence:

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Ten Things: Legal Project Management for Beginners

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:

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Ten Things: Creating a Client Satisfaction Survey

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.

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