Lean Legal: Assess
The alignment of legal strategies and business goals is how companies and legal teams will survive and beat the competition. If the legal strategy is not reflective of the business goals the company risks being unable to act on and respond to opportunities quickly enough. Money and time risk getting lost and competition is just around the corner. Legal teams* need to adapt to what is happening within the company as well as in the outside world and allow the company’s overall goals to frame and shape the legal strategy, which means working more closely with the rest of the organization. It’s critical to assess where you are today in your current legal strategy and processes and decide where you need to be to support the business.
Once you have completed a basic measurement of your legal operations, you can better assess the current status and where there are gaps and room for improvement. The goal of the Lean Legal framework is to help you make improvements that allow you to gain control while scaling. We’ll walk you through how to do an assessment that leads to innovation within the Lean Legal framework.
*When we say “legal team,” we mean everything from a company with a dedicated legal department to a company with no legal department but a team consisting of several operational people who manage the legal work but aren’t lawyers.
Assess the status quo
Legal teams need to have a business-first mindset. Every opportunity the business has, legal has an impact. Therefore, every action the legal team takes (if any) needs to be tightly aligned with company goals, and the impact of legal processes needs to be considered.
So while assessing your current legal operations, keep this top of mind. You should now have measurements and an understanding of how legal affects your business, such as how much time it takes to draft a quote/contract to a customer for signing, respond to a legal request ticket, the number of hours spent on high-urgency/low-risk contracts, and so on. These data points give you a more complete picture of the current status of your legal operations and where you are draining money and resources so you can ensure you’re optimizing the impact legal is having and fulfilling company goals. Now it’s time to see how they are impacting your day-to-day on a deeper level.
To assess your current legal operations, ask your team,
- What is the purpose of the legal team?
- Or, if you don’t have a legal team yet, how is legal impacting your business currently? Are there any material blindspots/risks not identified when it comes to legal?
- What is the current legal strategy? Do you have a north star / KPIs for legal? Is that north star / KPIs aligned with the company’s north star / KPIs?
- What strategy do you want to have? How can the legal team’s goals be more aligned with the company’s?
- Where are the biggest gains?
- What is a nice-to-have? What is a must-have?
- Who is responsible for what? Is this clear and communicated to everyone that needs to know?
- How is the legal team or legal processes integrated with other teams’ workflows? What is working well? What isn’t working well?
Asking these questions and doing this analysis helps you better set and adjust your strategy on how legal can be an asset to the business and not a blocker. If you don’t have a basic understanding of what’s happening, it will be impossible to create that strategy and prioritize.
Create a legal source of truth
A legal source of truth is a simple yet powerful way to help legal teams assess more effectively. Having everything legal-related in one central location with a clear structure and ownership allows you to maintain control over all agreements. It also makes it easier for the legal team to assess what current contracts are being used, how often, and by which teams. It will also reveal any legal content gaps the company might have that need to be resolved.
Make sure wherever you are storing your agreements is secure and up to privacy standards. For example, if you’re currently storing your contracts in Google Drive or something similar, assess how secure and risk-prone this process is. Certain tools that aggregate legal content for you also allow you to see the overall status of all your documents’ signingsinging status, and where you may have content gaps so you can address those. You should choose tools that incorporateand a storage location that help you work strategically – not just store your documents.
With all legal documents in one place, you can regularly monitor and update the company standard for legal documents. If the entire company is accessing legal documents from one central location, you can ensure that every document being used is the most up-to-date version. Having everything in one place is the first step to maintaining control of legal standards at scale.
Automate where you can
Legal challenges will not go away – on the contrary, they will only increase. That means we won’t be able to solve the challenges of tomorrow with current means. Throwing money or people at the problem is neither scalable, sustainable, nor cost-efficient. One essential part of the solution is leveraging technology in a smarter way, just as all other departments have already done for decades.
The goal of automation in legal operations should be to make low-complexity legal work as low-touch as possible. A Gartner study from 2022 found that lawyers expect to spend 100% more time than they did pre-pandemic on managing business disruptions. Disruptions include sanctions, supply-chain issues, new working policies, and more. Business disruptions are less predictable and, therefore, they take a lot more time and energy – which they should since they are more complex. It’s therefore critical to have processes that allow you to scale with control. You need processes that allow you to better focus your attention on what is important while supporting the business in the everyday legal.
With automation, it’s also important to have a conversation with leadership about the level of risk the company is willing to take to achieve your goals for the year(s). Meaning, for example, what clauses are you willing to not negotiate since the risk could be low enough, but the negotiation time could become a bottleneck? Clarifying this will help the organization make decisions faster, and make decisions that are more aligned with company objectives.
Once aligning your goals with your risk appetite, assess the following to get started,
- What is your acceptable/preferred company standard for various agreements, and third-party agreements? Where is it important to negotiate a clause, and where is it ok to accept a maybe less-than-ideal clause? “Lower” standards often mean quicker processes.
- What risks are acceptable for the business to take? Bring in the C-suite (or even the board) to make this decision with the legal team. By clearly agreeing on key risks for the business it is easier to uphold this standard in the business and also avoid getting stuck in risks that would be acceptable to get things done.
- What are the needs of other teams and how much are you willing to automate for them? (This ties into what level of risk you’re willing to take)
- Assess your current legal tech stack – is it helping you streamline your processes, or creating unnecessary barriers? Are you using tools to help you automate and reduce administrative tasks? Are the tools you use helping you control headcount?
When lengthy and complex processes are in place, they often take more resources than are needed. There are a lot of administrative and high-volume but low-complexity tasks that can be automated to alleviate the workload. Legal teams will potentially be dealing with more complex circumstances, but not have increased resources to do so. Automation that allows you to keep control at scale must be part of the legal operations strategy.
Have a process for staying compliant & up-to-date
Being compliant enough is required these days. Not only because of the risk of severe penalties from regulatory bodies, but it can also be damaging to your brand (internally and externally) if the company is not up-to-date and compliant. Being up-to-date also allows you to hire people with the most up-to-date employment contracts or launch marketing campaigns in new markets without having to worry.
- What current processes do you have for staying up-to-date with changes in the law? Think this through per-market, and you can bring in the data point from measure, “amount of time from law change to updated contracts.”
- Do you have any risk of out-of-date terms being used by anyone in the company?
- Decide, together with the C-suite, what the minimum level of compliance is that the company needs to be so that the company and brand remain safe, but the company is not held back.
You might not have the perfect solution at the moment you need it, but find tools and processes that help you stay on top of everything. The key to success and avoiding losing more valuable time is to “just get started”, especially if you are convinced that your current way of working is not sustainable.
The first time you assess your legal operations through the Lean Legal framework, it will give you the current standard of your legal operations. Then you can improve and innovate. As you go through the Lean Legal framework you will be able to make even more fine-tuned adjustments and your legal operations will become more efficient. This is a continuous process, so once you’ve assessed the status quo once, make sure you do it again on at least a yearly basis when company goals are adjusted. There are always ways to improve.
Legal teams will need to learn to do more with less in the future, but will still need to contribute to company growth. Assessing helps companies be smarter about how their budget is allocated, and gain more control over their legal processes.
We’ve now covered measure → assess → so next is innovate. Subscribe so that you don’t miss the next article that deep dives into the final step in the Lean Legal framework.
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