What CEOs Want from In House Legal Departments

It’s important to know what your executives and boards value most and how to leverage legal operations to bolster your most important work relationships.

Legal operations is based on the honorable goal of optimizing legal services delivery. Some of the more left-brained among us may be passionate about efficiency for efficiency’s sake. But there are more human reasons to pursue it: It can increase your corporate Legal Department's visibility, credibility and compensation.

Simply put, legal operations can make your boss happy.

Whether you are among the 61 percent of U.S. law departments that report directly to the CEO, or whether your relationship is more dotted-line, it’s important to know what executives and boards value most – and how you can leverage legal operations to bolster your most important work relationships.

What CEOs want from their legal departments

In a 2017 survey of U.S. chief legal officers, Altman Weil asked what their CEOs and/or boards valued most in corporate in-house law department performance. Respondents ranked these as their top concerns:

  • Advising company leaders – 70.2 percent
  • Supporting business objectives – 67.8 percent
  • Managing legal risk – 56.4 percent
  • Availability and responsiveness – 51.2 percent
  • Controlling legal spend – 28.9 percent
  • Managing compliance – 29.6 percent

A New York Stock Exchange survey identified similar wants. When asked where general counsel could add the most value to the board in 2020, corporate directors and executives said:

  • Act as an adviser to the board – 79 percent
  • Act as an adviser to the CEO – 73 percent
  • Promote best governance practices – 65 percent
  • Offer risk analysis expertise – 37 percent
  • Contribute to business strategy discussion – 24 percent
  • Support the execution of the business plan – 17 percent

Supporting their claims to want the GC to be a true adviser, 96 percent predicted that general counsel would be members of the management team by 2020.

Xakia matter management - CEOs want General Counsel to be strategic business partners

Where legal departments stumble

Most in-house legal departments aren’t failing to do these things – they fail to track and report them.

44 percent of global law departments say they don’t have a high profile within their companies, according to The GC350: Benchmarking Study for the In-House Community. The most popular way they share their accomplishments? “Attending other team’s meetings,” a passive tactic adopted by 73 percent. (Fewer than half produce regular updates.)

When asked straightforwardly whether they measured the value delivered to the business by the legal department, 77 percent of global companies said no.

This bears repeating: More than three-quarters of in-house legal teams do not measure their value whatsoever – despite their strategic importance and despite the fact that performance bonuses can account for up to 67 percent of in-house counsel compensation in the U.S.

Perhaps this disconnect helps explain why 40 percent of in-house counsel would consider leaving because of pay issues, as reported by BarkerGilmore’s compensation report.

two women in office using laptop

How legal department data can help

It’s time to advocate for your department – to collect your evidence, to make your case, and then to make it easy for your time-crunched supervisors to understand. Business Intelligence summarizes what legal operations can do for your relationship with the C-suite:

  • Improving employee performance
  • Monitoring progress toward goals
  • Saving time and money
  • Removing human error
  • Making data more useful

We designed the Xakia legal analytics dashboard to address the value drivers that matter most to your stakeholders – the C-suite and the board. Our in house legal software helps you define value several ways – through legal spend, matter risk and monetary significance, and strategic importance. Trend compilations help you advise company leaders; deadline trackers keep you compliant; automated reports increase your responsiveness and quickly provide powerful illustrations of your department’s contributions.

We agree with KPMG’s Through the Looking Glass report, which compiled corporate leaders’ opinions about the general counsel function: “Great GCs know what is happening within the business, they understand the strategic vision and the regulatory and legal climate, and they can see the risks and opportunities around the corner. No one else on the board has this legal and business perspective.”

As in-house counsel, you have tremendous value. We want to help you prove it.

It's time to show the value of your Legal Department

Would you like to learn what legal operations can do for your department? Download our legal operations white paper for ten key benefits and see how four simple steps can improve legal operations for teams of any size. To learn more about our legal matter management solutions, speak to the Xakia team today about a demo.

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