For decades, the role of an in-house legal department was primarily to protect a company from risk and liability. Now, general counsel are stepping out of this reactive role and moving towards a more business-centric model, which puts them right at the heart of company operations.
Globalization, increased regulation, and legal tech emergence are transforming corporate legal departments. Properly managed, this shift can transform legal counsel into true strategic business partners within their organizations.
A digital shift for legal departments
Swept up in the technological revolution, legal departments have streamlined and automated many previously time-consuming tasks. Whereas general counsel used to be buried in paperwork, they can now turn to virtual solutions capable of securely and safely handling massive amounts of data. Regulatory research, contracts, billing, corporate reporting – these can now all be at least partly automated, freeing up legal staff so they can contribute more fully in other areas. The automatization of these tedious tasks give general counsel more room to focus on the more significant tasks and projects at hand.
Legal tech comes in many forms, but all these products have a common goal – to make in-house legal teams more efficient and agile. To boost productivity, however, counsel need a rubric from which to measure their success, and that’s where analytics can help.
This growing field offers legal counsel a way to transparently track their spending and their returns which, in turn, highlights opportunities for outsourcing, downsizing, or simply shifting strategy. As analytics grow ever more refined, there’s scope for using these tools in a more predictive way, to identify compliance trouble spots, earmark looming budget shortfalls or get ahead of upcoming costs.
The global general counsel
As the world shrinks, companies expand. With more and more organizations opening branches across Europe and beyond, today’s corporate legal department needs to act local but think global. Legal departments in multinational companies generally operate from a central headquarters, but with business spread across many different jurisdictions, their outlook and approach must transcend borders. The complexity of a globally-focused legal team can be daunting. Different regulations, legislation, policies and even languages can hinder legal operations across the organization.
Strategic use of legal tech can help whether or not your corporate legal team is centralized at head office. If you do have legal personnel employed at other locations around the world, it is important to put a solid structure in place to clarify their role and duties, the resources available to them, and their reporting obligations to general counsel located at the HQ.
This top-down approach must also be infused with the company’s best practices, priorities and professional standards at every level. Building a common culture of collaboration and communication is essential for the success of diverse and disparate legal teams.
Strategizing for success
It’s a challenge to predict what the legal department will look like in ten years, but general counsel have a chance to shape that future by strategizing now.
It is time to ramp up adoption of technological tools tailored to legal governance. This might include collaborative platforms like Legal Entity Management which monitors all legal activity, allowing easy access to anyone you give permission to within your organization, anywhere in the world.