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Three Steps to Executing Your Legal Department Strategy

December 17 2018 by Jodie Baker

You put in the work. You talked to your stakeholders, met with your team and completed a Legal Department Strategic Plan.

The hard part’s done, right? Not necessarily. According to Harvard Business Review, two-thirds to three-quarters of large organizations struggle to implement their strategies. Meanwhile, in a survey of more than 400 global CEOs, respondents ranked “executional excellence” as their No. 1 challenge, surpassing innovation, top-line growth and more.

To take your Legal Department strategy from wish list to reality, it must take priority – even while up to 75 percent of in-house lawyers’ time is consumed with day-to-day matters, low-level legal processes and specialist queries, according to the GC350 Benchmarking Study.

It’s a challenge that’s coupled with exhilaration, writes Susan Diehl in the International In-House Counsel Journal: “Why exhilaration? Because it is at this stage you can transform the department from something that acts like a profit center, to something that is a profit center.”

Diehl, who held in-house positions at LafargeHolcim Ltd., The Bartech Group Inc. and NSK Ltd., shared three steps Legal Departments can use to execute their strategies.

  1. Communicate the initiatives.

Articulate the plan – from big picture to tactics – early and often. Diehl recommends both written and verbal communication to ensure maximum comprehension: “Keep, the messages simple and uncomplicated, and use the language of the business.” For example, she writes, when discussing cost reduction targets, tie them to the company’s overall objectives and standard financial measures, like return on investment. This shows the link between the Legal Department and the organization at large.

To keep the team accountable, meet regularly to revisit the plan and track progress to date – this will help “mitigate the risk that initiatives fall victim to the daily routine,” Diehl advises.

  1. Develop business processes to support strategic execution.

It’s essential that your team has the infrastructure in place to complete their objectives. What kind of communication, protocols or technology do you need to start working on your goals?

Diehl shared an example from her Legal Department. Working toward a goal of reducing overall outside counsel spending, the team decided one tactic would be to reduce the number of pending cases by 10 percent. They felt litigation numbers tended to creep up when the Legal Department inadvertently drifted into “out of sight, out of mind” territory.

To take a more proactive approach toward litigation management, the Legal Department started to meet bi-monthly to review all pending matters and to track statistics that could be predictive of costs, such as a case’s life span. Every case was assigned an owner who was accountable for its resolution. The result, according to Diehl: Within three years, the number of pending cases was cut in half.

If your strategic initiatives call for technology support, Xakia’s Legal Technology Roadmap can help you plan for maximum ROI.

  1. Track your progress.

Review your metrics, and track your progress at regular intervals – monthly or at least quarterly. “This step reinforces the importance of the initiatives to the organization and confirms their relevance to the company’s objectives,” Diehl writes. “Communication is the key to creating buy-in to the value creation concepts and creates a sense the department is committed to helping the business.”

When things go right, celebrate your wins and commend all of the team members who helped. When things go wrong, seek ideas for what could be improved, and adjust the plan accordingly.

For Diehl and her team, commitment to executing a strategic plan paid big dividends: Over five years, their initiatives contributed more than U.S. $30 million in EBITDA and an additional U.S. $50 million in cash flow.

Moreover, she writes, “The department defined and demonstrated value equal to or better than the amounts the company has spent on legal services, which in business terms equates to a solid return on the investment of the department. Maybe, just maybe, the concept of lawyer as overhead can be a thing of the past.”

Are you ready to start 2019 with some strategic direction? Download Xakia’s ready-to-use Legal Department Strategic Plan Template today.

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