In a three-part series, HBR Consulting has been sharing perspectives and strategies around better aligning your law department with the strategic goals and objectives of your company. The first article focused on the “why,” touching on the importance of strategic alignment and some of the key drivers behind an increased interest from both inside and outside the legal department on getting this right. The second article addressed the “what” of alignment, citing key areas that law departments should focus on to become trusted business advisors and achieve “Top Gun” status. This final article answers the “how” of alignment, providing practical tips to establish and improve your client alignment.

The approach to successful client alignment requires three foundational steps: assessing the current state, planning for alignment and implementing for success.

Assess your current state

Achieving effective client alignment starts with a deep-dive assessment of your law department’s organizational structure, processes and technology. A comprehensive current state assessment develops a baseline understanding of the law department and covers the elements below. It should seek both internal and client views of the gaps that require attention to ensure alignment.

  • Integration with business organization and strategy: This aspect of the assessment looks at how the law department strategy is linked to the company’s overall business strategy. It determines whether the law department is meeting the business needs for legal services. It also considers how well the lawyers are integrated with the business organization.
  • Organization: An evaluation of the organizational structure determines whether the legal function is organized to maximize the effectiveness and efficiency of legal service delivery and management.
  • Staffing: This considers how the lawyers and support staff are assigned effectively to clients and to each other. It evaluates whether the staff roles and responsibilities have been defined, and whether the staff has the appropriate skills for the evolving needs of the business. It also addresses how staffing compares to similarly situated companies.
  • Work processes: This is a view of the current processes that are in place to support the delivery of legal service. It determines whether the department has the appropriate policies and procedures that govern the work and drive efficiency.
  • Performance measurement: This involves a cost analysis for the law department. It evaluates the department’s cost compared to peers in similar sized companies or industry. It also considers the types of measures that should be used to plan, monitor, evaluate and communicate the performance of the legal function.
  • Outside counsel management: This analysis determines whether the company has the optimal mix of inside and outside resources to meet the legal demands of the organization. It also evaluates whether the department has established effective policies and procedures for working with outside counsel.
  • Use of technology: This aspect of the assessment evaluates the tools in place to support the work of the legal function. It determines whether technology is used effectively to support collaboration among lawyers, clients and external service providers.

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Plan for alignment

Based on the assessment, the law department can focus on the areas that require change and develop a plan for how it will align itself with business needs and requirements.

The planning process will involving identifying key activities that need to be undertaken and accomplished to achieve the business’ strategic vision, while managing legal risks and exposures. It will include methods of communication and collaboration between lawyers and clients that maximize the effectiveness of the lawyer/client relationship.

Applying the following steps will help the law department develop a plan to strengthen client alignment.

  • Review the client’s business plan and strategy
  • Evaluate the client’s needs, expectations and motivators
  • Identify whether or not and how the client’s demand for legal services will change
  • Assess the client’s legal risk exposure
  • Establish shared goals and risk tolerance with the client
  • Develop a plan of action in cooperation with other lawyers servicing the client and designated client personnel that addresses how the legal needs will be met from a resource and service delivery perspective

This planning process supports the proactive relationship management to ensure on-going alignment of legal services to business needs.

Implement for success

The assessment and planning process are not the end in themselves, but rather the basis for an implementation plan. A well-developed implementation plan is needed to translate the ideas into measurable steps.

The implementation plan might include the following elements: action items, timing/duration, resource requirements and any associated costs.

  • Action items identify the specific projects and initiatives related to implementing on the plan.
  • The timing/duration determines the short term, mid-range and longer term initiatives and defines the duration for each action item based on priority.
  • The resource requirements indicate the staffing needs to support the implementation. This will include possible roles for the law department and/or external resources.
  • The cost estimate outlines the financial impact associated with the implementation of each action item. This would include the cost of hiring external support or the addition of headcount, if needed.

To ensure continuous success, on-going measurement of performance and accountability will be needed. This involves establishing performance expectations and tracking the effectiveness of the implementation efforts. The goal is to develop a mechanism to track successes and proactively identify opportunities for improvement.

Conclusion

The evolving role of the in-house counsel as a strategic business partner requires strong client alignment that comes from understanding the current state of alignment, assessing the needs, developing a plan to address the needs and executing an implementation and performance measurement plan to support continuous improvement. The intersection of these key elements allows law departments to move from a traditional reactive role to a “Top Gun” status, focused on strategic, proactive and preventive legal advice and services.