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From ideation to implementation: 4 key factors to make your legal department strategy a success

14 September 2023

Rachita Maker shares important considerations for General Counsels when designing their organizational approach.

Legal operations teams have become truly integral parts of legal departments, adding more specialists to the roster beyond traditional lawyers. As a result, departments are becoming more efficient, tech-savvy and willing to be influenced by legal operations leaders.

With more influence comes trust, and an increasing number of General Counsels are leaning on their Legal Ops leaders to not only participate in developing the legal department's strategy, but to fully own it.  

Owning the organizational legal strategy can be a daunting task, especially for legal operations leaders at early stages of their journey in an evolving industry. I personally have written several in my career, each one getting better with more experience and lessons learned. While many factors go into writing a successful strategy, the key I have learned is to have a comprehensive understanding of your organization’s needs and be able to articulate it well. When you have the history and ease of access on your side, it’s much easier to bring your key stakeholders along for the ride. 

Here are some of the key lessons I have learned when writing legal strategies and where I have found success. 

1. Truly know your organization’s strategy inside and out before writing  legal department's strategy

Your department's strategy is only a small part of overall  corporate strategy and has to flow through from organization's strategy.  Understand the key themes and identify what can legal do to support that strategy.  For example, if one aspect of the corporate strategy is around revenue growth, then legal department’s role would be to ensure speed of contracting.  Which means that you must have good contract templates with provisions that will be negotiated quickly and do not require too much back and forth.  It also means that you need to have a strong contracting process and possibly a good contract lifecycle management tool.  All of this depends on where you are in your maturity level as a function. 

2. Don’t just write your strategy: proclaim it

It is very important to clearly write your strategy, but even more important is articulating your ideas early and often. Socialize key themes and ideas with your colleagues and ensure you have buy in from the entire legal department.  Legal Operations teams are generally tightly-run ships – we cannot do it all by ourselves and we don’t have to.  You should start with a high-level strategy paper. It doesn’t need to be more two or three pages.  Identify your key themes and build from those. Depending on your organizational strategy, one of the themes could relate to automation, artificial intelligence and AI or broadly digitization. Another theme could  relate to compliance, which can essentially mean so many things in any organization. 

3. Break your high-level themes into key strategic initiatives

From design to workshops to timelines, you need to make sure your strategy is implemented in the proper way.  This is the time  to move from abstract themes to tangible projects that will deliver on the strategy.  If one of the themes relates to ESG or sustainability, legal could run a strategic initiative to work with the supply chain to ensure all vendor contracts need to be aligned with ESG clauses and are truly complying with it. Ensure that you limit the number of strategic initiatives to 8-10 in a year. This number is dependent on the size of the department and organization. You don’t want to inundate the entire team with key projects or they won’t be able to focus on business-as-usual work.  

4. Set up a governance model

This is possibly the most important part. Once you have everyone agreed to the strategic initiatives, ensure you focus on tracking the progress. Each initiative should have a project owner. This doesn’t have to be the Legal Ops team but someone who is best suited within the function. The Legal Ops team should ensure there is regular cadence and reporting to the General Counsel and ultimately the CEO’s office.  

I know it is easy for me to write this down, but having done a few of these, I can say that with organized thought process and strong governance model, you can define a strong strategy for the legal function which will help take the function forward from where it is today, regardless of department maturity.

If you would like to learn how we can help your organization define, design and implement a comprehensive legal strategy, contact me here  

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