As an attorney, I’ve always seen a job as in-house counsel as a sweet gig. There’s no need to trawl for new clients or chase overdue invoices. You have only one client and they always pay on-time. And best of all, no more tracking and reporting your work in six-minute segments.
The downside to being in-house counsel is that you are a part of a bigger whole: the business. Like every other department and employee, you’re at risk of budget cuts and downsizing if finances get tight.
Maintaining a legal department can be expensive, with office space, salaries, benefits, and supplies all adding up. Some companies might look at the bill and find themselves contemplating instead hiring an outside firm when representation is needed.
That’s why, whether you’re flying solo as corporate counsel or heading up a full in-house legal department, you need to consistently show how the value of your services exceeds their cost. Good news: it’s not difficult. All it takes is hard work and a little creativity. Here are 11 ways to demonstrate the value of your in-house services to your company:
1. Know the business
These days, in-house counsel is increasingly a part of corporate decision-making. Lean into this role by gaining a thorough understanding of how the company operates. Internalize its high-level goals and challenges. Seeing the company as the C-suite executives do enables you to do more than review contracts and dispense static legal advice. Reading the company website daily for news and industry trends is a great way to stay up on your client’s problems and opportunities.
2. Get to know other departments
Everyone likes to know who is on their team. Take time to visit with department heads, ask them what they need to be successful, and let them know how you can help solve their problems and make their jobs easier. Busy people will appreciate knowing you want to help. Meetings can be over lunch or a casual drop by just to chat. It always pays to make a friend and do a favor.
3. Client satisfaction surveys
Every department in the company is a client. After you’ve helped them with a legal issue, email a customer satisfaction survey asking what aspects of your assistance went well, what needs improvement and how the legal department can better serve them. A satisfaction survey shows others you care about their needs and are always looking for ways to improve your service to them.
Consider sending a survey before a legal need arises. Ask if there are specific things legal can do to help their specific department. I suggest sending a yearly or bi-annual survey asking the same questions. People will appreciate your asking and will respond. Sharing the results with your team and company management will help others see you as a contributor willing to do what needs doing.
4. Track and report your performance
Since most of the company will have no real idea what the legal department does, you need to tell them. The best way to do that is with numbers. Track everything you do, including:
- How much you spend on research and for which issues
- The number and types of contracts you write
- E-discovery costs for each case
- Trial preparation and litigation expenses
- Continuing legal education
You need to know exactly how you’re spending your time and money.
Don’t forget costs saved by avoiding litigation. I recently settled a claim out of court for a tenth of what litigation would have cost one of my clients. The client was delighted.
This information can be easily gathered through dashboards and reports. When it’s time to report your performance, use colored charts and graphs to highlight department and individual accomplishments. Tools like Filevine Periscope can instantly transform your data into compelling and clear visual displays.
5. Be available and respond promptly
Maintain a schedule and let others know they can contact you during those hours. If you’re going to be out of the office, leave an automatic response email stating when you expect to return. If something requires immediate attention, include contact info for another attorney you know will be in the office.
Establish and religiously follow a policy of responding within 24-hours to each phone call and email. This lets others know you consider them important and will appreciate it. If a matter is urgent, make sure to include instructions on how you can be contacted.
6. Never be surprised about your responsibilities
You will inevitably run into or be contacted by someone asking for an update on an issue you’re handling. Always be aware of the status of projects for which you are responsible. Significant developments, e.g., settlement offers, and verdicts must be shared immediately with appropriate parties, minor things can wait for a scheduled update. If there are no new developments, tell the individual nothing has changed.
One simple way to do this is through Filevine’s Activity Feed, which shows you all the latest updates on each matter. Even when a matter is not at the top of your mind, with a few clicks, you can open the file and see all new activity. With everything centralized into one system, you don’t have to search through email, texts, and other apps to gather data.
I have a client who is involved with a myriad of lawsuits. Staying current on each suit requires me to briefly review each case file as well as my email and phone messages every morning for happenings. It’s extra work, but I get a thrill when the company president or a board member asks for an update and I have the info immediately at hand.
7. Regular written reports
Establish a schedule for reporting your work to the appropriate parties. While this should certainly be done monthly, my preference is a weekly email. Your emails need not be lengthy—succinct is always better. Make sure to include a line reminding the reader that you’re available to answer any additional questions they may have. The people you report to will come to expect your reports. If you’re paying attention to and using a system that tracks your work for you, reporting is a snap.
8. Internal website
Creating an internal website for the business is one of the most effective ways to help your company see you as a valuable asset. It can also help track and report your accomplishments. The site should be clean and easy to navigate with links to the following pages:
- An FAQs section with answers for handling certain situations, such as a call from an outside attorney or a subpoena served to an employee.
- A list showing which legal employees handle what issues, along with their contact information.
- Commonly used documents such as non-disclosure agreements and black general vendor contracts that can’t be altered without permission.
- A request form for employees or departments to briefly describe their needs. This will enable you to be better prepared before responding, and better prioritize your time.
- Legal articles of interest
While you can post pretty much anything on the site, never post links to legal resources. The last thing you want is non-lawyers doing their own legal research and acting on their interpretations of the law.
9. Department trainings
Host question and answer sessions for specific departments where you provide lunch or light snacks. Here you can discuss potential legal issues facing the company and industry, as well as the value of certain regulations.
People show up if food is available. Once there, they will ask questions. Responding to those questions will help others see you as the expert and further enhance your value to the company.
You may even consider bringing in outside experts to speak at a brown bag on legal topics of personal interest to employees like setting up a will, adoption, or buying a home. Be as creative as you want to be.
10. Be the “Department of Yes”
Attorneys are often viewed as bottlenecks, naysayers, and deal-killers. To avoid that image, you need to have the company view you as the place to go for solutions to difficult problems. Cut through a few legal Gordian Knots and your value will shine brightly.
I long ago learned an important lesson from a senior partner on Wall Street; When a client has a problem, never tell them what they can’t do without also showing a way for them to solve the problem.
11. Toot your horn
Because the contributions of in-house are often overlooked, you have to help others, especially C-Level executives, recognize the value you bring to the table. Don’t be a braggart but do announce big accomplishments that contribute to the well-being of the company and employees.
When tooting your own horn, however, make sure to give credit publicly to individuals and departments that played a role in completing a project, especially if they went above and beyond. People like to be recognized for their work, and will often return the favor.
You understand the incredible value your work creates. Help others see it as well. Implementing the above suggestions will help you step into the mainstream of the business, help others see you as a problem solver, and demonstrate your unique value to the company.