What does the future hold for in-house legal teams?

The in-house legal sector has seen consistent growth over the last few years, and this is only set to continue according to a report by the Law Society which estimates that 32% of solicitors will be working in-house by 2020.  Many businesses are looking to reduce legal spend and they consider growing their in-house team to be a cost-effective alternative to outsourcing their legal work. While this may solve the problem of cost, it is not always the best long-term solution for the company. If you are a business leader managing an in-house legal team, Janvi Patel of Halebury suggests starting by asking ‘what does good look like?’. Determining this can help you to decide what changes should be made to your legal team and when these should happen. Janvi recommends that leaders and GCs consider the following factors:

Meeting business needs

The legal team can find themselves being thought of as a separate part of the company, but in order to get the most out of it, the legal function needs to be brought into the fold as a key part of the business. The type of team that is put together and the particular skills of team members should be selected in line with the requirements and goals of the business. This requires a shift in focus, from seeing the legal team as a cost that needs to be kept down to an essential part of the company as it not only supports business but also enables business growth.

Achieving more for less

According to the 2016 HBR Consulting survey 79% of respondents expect that their legal requirements are likely to increase, which is no surprise considering the pressure that is facing in-house teams from current issues such as GDPR and Brexit. So what is the solution to this? In-house legal teams will be expected to provide ‘more for less’. Some General Counsels suggest that growing the legal function of a company is the solution to achieving ‘more for less’, but this is not a sustainable option as the legal needs of a business can fluctuate. A more consistent and well-considered structure needs to be agreed in order to determine what the demands on the legal team will be and how these can be met. In other words, once the exact meaning of ‘more’ is understood, an outline of how ‘more’ can be achieved efficiently and cost effectively can then be decided.

Are your legal team doers or influencers?

As well as considering how your legal function can align with business goals, it is also necessary to question exactly what role you want in-house lawyers to fill. If you require a team of ‘doers’ to spend the majority of their time working on deals and contracts then your legal team should look very different compared to a company looking for strategic input from a General Counsel to act within the management team as an ‘influencer’. Carrying out day-to-day legal work is not necessarily the best use of a senior lawyer’s time, so the work required from the legal team should be reflected in the appointment of legal staff.

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