marketing the legal department

Ten Things: How to Make Your In-House Clients Love You (and the Legal Department)

One of the great benefits of being an in-house lawyer is that you do not have to spend time chasing clients and developing business.  All the work you will ever need is typically right in front of you – 24/7.  And you don’t have to worry about collections, your client always pays on time.  One the downsides of being an in-house lawyer is that you only have one client – the company – and you need to keep them happy – 24/7.  Actually, while the company is your official client, the reality is you have many in-house masters.  Practically every employee of the company may need to come to you and the Legal Department for assistance and it is your job to help them.  The more challenging task is keeping them happy.  Just like clients of outside law firms, in-house clients present many challenges beyond simply expecting you to do good legal work.  Having sat on both sides of the in-house/outside counsel table, I feel in-house clients can be more challenging to manage because they usually expect more from you than just legal advice, i.e., they want you to be “part of the business” as well.  And the meaning of being “part of the business” varies by individual.  Learning how to manage all of these expectations and demands is a key part of being a successful in-house lawyer.

I have had my share of in-house clients who thought I walked on water, as well as those who wanted to tie a boulder to my neck so I sunk into the water – all the way to the bottom.  Fortunately, I had more of the former than the latter.  But, it did not come out that way without some work on my part.  Over the 20+ years I spent in-house I learned a lot about managing clients and things to do (and not do) to keep them happy.  While a lot of this is fairly basic, even the basic stuff is not always readily apparent. With that in mind, this edition of “Ten Things” will discuss things you can do to get your in-house clients to love you and the Legal Department.

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Ten Things: How to Market the Legal Department to the Business

It sucks being a cost center.  While a good General Counsel can argue all day long about how much value the legal department is adding to the company, at the end of the day her legal department is still a cost center to the business.  And if the business only sees you as just a cost center, then you will line up with the rest of the cost centers when the budget axe comes falling or the layoff machine gets cranked up.  This means all in-house lawyers should be focused on how to constantly market the department to the business.  This is important because while Legal is a cost center, it is – hopefully- an extremely valuable cost center and one the business believes delivers high value to the company (especially when compared to the cost of engaging outside counsel).  Moreover, if the legal department can show that it is responsible for money coming into the company or significant savings vs. forecast, then you have an even better story to tell.  Legal departments with a good story to tell occasionally get additional resources (as rare as that may be).

Unfortunately, the only experience most in-house lawyers have with the marketing of legal services are the “pitch” materials from Law Firm A or Law Firm B.  Those materials don’t really work for in-house lawyers trying to show the importance and value added by the legal department.  This edition of “Ten Things” will discuss some basic and straight-forward ways you can “market” the legal department to the business in order to help them understand what the department does, the value it brings to the company, along with developing friends and allies throughout the entire company – never a bad thing for a “cost center” to have in its pocket:

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