One goal set out in my sample legal department goals for 2015 was to increase efficiency (and reduce costs) in the legal department. One of the easiest ways to do this is through the use of technology. This can mean anything from apps for your smartphone to sophisticated software programs running on servers at your company. For some, using technology can be daunting and frustrating. For others, it is as easy as falling off of a log. But, to be a successful in-house lawyer or general counsel you need to embrace technology and make sure your team does as well. So, if you are afraid of technology, you need to get past that.
One issue with using technology is that the choices are almost endless and it can be difficult to distill things down into a useful list. This edition of “Ten Things” takes on the task of listing some key technology that can help you increase your own efficiency as well as the efficiency of your team or the department overall. I am going to assume you know how to use Microsoft Office products (free and pay) and Google products (free), so those tools — certainly very useful — are not included. That said, if someone asked me to list my ten key technology tools for an in-house lawyer, here they are:
Whether you run a small team of seven or you are in charge of a sprawling international-based 200+ legal department, you will need to have regular staff meetings. Unfortunately, staff meetings have an inherent tension. On one hand, people in the legal department want to know what’s going on in the department, the company and the industry you operate in. On the other hand, people want another meeting about as much as they want a root canal. The tricky part is balancing these opposing views and running a staff meeting that is both informative and interesting (i.e., one that people actually look forward to attending).
Continuing with the theme of goal setting for the in-house legal department and my sample goals (see January 8 post), this week I will focus on this goal: “Meet Budget Target for 2015.” No in-house department is immune to cost pressure. After taking care of your team, nothing is more important than being able to successfully manage your outside counsel spend. As I have said before, the legal department is a cost center and the business is always looking to cut costs. That’s why it is important for you to be on top of what you spend with outside counsel (or vendors). Being able to demonstrate that you are paying close attention to costs and that you are thoughtful in what you are spending and why, will make conversations with Finance (and the CEO) go much easier. In-house lawyers who run their matters, teams, or department like a business have more credibility at budget time –- and during those really tough times when the business is looking for more difficult cost-cutting measures.
As I mentioned in my last post (January 8), over the next few weeks I will dive deeper into some of the sample department “goals” I set out in that article. Today I will focus on this goal: “Build and retain extraordinary team with exceptional people.” I always put my “people goal” first because I truly believe that nothing gets done in legal unless you have top talent that is motivated and happy in their jobs. How do you keep and reward people so they stick around? The obvious answer is to pay them well, have a good performance bonus program in place, and let them share in equity plans. The problem is, for many reasons, it usually is not fully in your control to make any of these three things happen. For purposes of this article, I am going to assume that you are doing what you can for your team around salary, bonuses and equity and, instead, focus on some low-cost ways you can reward/recognize employees.