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What do internal clients want from their lawyers?

Our friends at Juro have produced some interesting findings on what the business really wants and needs from legal. Juro’s CEO, Richard Mabey, is here to share their learnings…

We’re passionate at Juro about the fact that many, if not most, of the people affected by legal process aren’t lawyers. It might be lawyers who draft and negotiate contracts, but for the most part they affect people who aren’t lawyers. 

When we look at the in-house teams we work with every day, they really go the extra mile for their colleagues in sales, HR, finance, procurement, and the executive team.

And while the roles are all different, there are points of feedback that are common across all personas – from sales ops and people teams through to CEOs and investors. We interviewed them in a recent eBook, and what was fascinating was the degree to which they agreed on certain key themes. Here’s what we learned from talking to legal’s internal clients.

1. Stereotypes are stubborn, but known to be wrong

Before working directly with lawyers, internal clients often have exactly the perceptions of legal that the profession has worked so hard to overcome: “serious”, “analytical”, “grown-up”, “incredibly intellectual”, “risk-averse”, “the people who say ‘no’”. These stereotypes follow lawyers around, and it’s no wonder that relationships between legal and other teams don’t always get off to the best start.

The good news is that these preconceptions evaporate when internal clients actually start to work with their legal colleagues. Stakeholders who’ve worked with legal teams for a while are more likely to use phrases like ‘solution-oriented’, ‘pragmatic’, ‘comforting’, ‘proactive’, and in one case, ‘magicians’.

Although historically in-house lawyers might be the people who say “no”, it’s clear that internal clients need lawyers to achieve their commercial objectives. And if legal teams enable rather than block those efforts, then sentiment can swing decisively in a positive direction.

2. Contracts: the great unifier

Nobody we interviewed failed to mention, unprompted, how crucial lawyers are to achieving their personal objectives when contracts are involved. Whether it’s sales ops looking for self-serve NDAs, chief HR officers wanting jurisdictional know-how on employment contracts, CEOs wanting a seamless sales contract workflow from top to bottom, or investors expecting sales cycles to be shortened, it’s a key value-add right across the business.

The difficulty is making sure that legal’s time is spent on the right contracts. Sales teams feel that legal should “track with complexity and deal value,” and be aware that “they can’t be involved every time”. Right up to the CEO and board level, the desire is to escalate only when necessary – to ensure that “discussions happen at the right stage, with the right people,” to make sure the process will scale.

That’s what people want. But as any in-house lawyer knows, as they dig out an NDA template for the fifth time that day, the reality can be very different. Our annual tech GC report found that 67 per cent of legal leaders at high-growth companies feel “buried in low-value work” – and that the overwhelming majority of that work was made up of routine contracts and the process around them.

This explains in part the growth of contract automation, particularly within high-growth companies, and why it’s desired by lots of different people across the business:

All of this adoption of technology is designed to automate low-value work, leaving legal teams free to spend their time on the contracts that matter the most.

3. Legal casts a big shadow

Key stakeholders realise that the universe of topics where legal firepower is invaluable extends way beyond contracts. Internal clients look to legal teams for obvious issues like employment, establishing subsidiaries, intellectual property and pricing. But, unprompted, they also called out key company objectives like commercial strategy, product design, investor and board relations, and of course venture capital fundraising.

Legal teams will know that they’re “enabling the business” in the way that it actually wants to be enabled when they can look at their calendar for the week and see time allocated to these business-critical activities and not just legal documents. Making space to actually do that isn’t easy, but the prospect of doing more high-quality and high-value work is tantalizing.

4. Areas for improvement

Our interviewees generally wanted to highlight the great work their legal teams do every day. But this research, and our previous findings, reveal certain areas in which legal teams might benefit from focusing their efforts.

Warmth: It’s not easy to play the role of bad cop or to be the “grown-up in the room” and still radiate warmth and empathy. It might seem a minor concern – certainly compared to the bet-the-company strategic objectives that legal teams work towards – but the difference it can make to teams like sales shouldn’t be underestimated. Dr Larry (‘Lawyer Brain’) Richard’s research shows that lawyers score below average for “sociability” compared to other professions. Working to overcome this would be a good start.

Invest in face-time: Different teams from around the business noted the value of deep discovery from lawyers into their internal clients when they first start to work together – and of having regular catch-ups from then on. Similarly, when external parties are involved, lawyers are encouraged to get out of tracked changes and into calls or meetings earlier in the process to make it easier to accelerate things further down the line. Talking face-to-face is a little harder in the post-COVID working environment, but certainly not impossible.

Be entrepreneurial: Too often, this word is thrown around with little thought. But it carries real resonance when it comes to in-house lawyers trying to enable their businesses. Most colleagues have almost no idea of the training, experience and insight that the best in-house lawyers can offer. And in a fast-paced environment, they’re unlikely to have the time to find out. Lawyers need to make sure that their colleagues feel comfortable coming to them with new issues, but they also need to promote and communicate the skills they have.

By recognising these improvement areas and investing the time to develop better relationships with key internal clients, in-house lawyers can make sure their version of enabling the business matches that of the business itself. That should make for better outcomes for the business, and better job satisfaction for the time-crunched counsel doing their best to make a difference.

To find out more, read the eBook, ‘What the business actually wants from legal’.

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