Aaron E. Lunt
Corporate legal departments are constantly challenged to juggle scarce resources while delivering accurate, timely and forward-thinking solutions to protect their organization and clients. Further complicating these challenges are internal counsel's vested interest in the company's profitability, reputational risk and relationship with customers and distributors. Much like other areas of the business, legal departments are not immune from creating inefficiencies, duplicate processes and "bottlenecks" for the organization.
However, there are several ways to increase efficiencies within a legal department to ensure its internal and external clients are receiving top-notch, timely service. This article is designed to propose a process for internal business clients to submit requests to legal corporate counsel that will improve efficiencies and production.
Let's take a closer look at the document itself and the benefits of the process.
Consider implementing a resource request document that all non-executive staff members must complete before engaging legal counsel. (Senior leaders may require different treatment.) A resource request document contains basic information needed for legal corporate counsel to properly assist internal clients. This simple, one-page document should include:
- Department name
- Requestor's name
- A tick-box indicating they have secured manager approval
- Jurisdictions impacted
- Client's name
- Product involved
- Distribution channel
- Volume/sales dollars
- A brief description of additional detail and support
Completed forms should be submitted electronically via email or a central legal department sharepoint to ensure the submission date and time is properly tracked. If not already in place, you may also want to consider implementing an intake and screening process to ensure requests are immediately identified and distributed to the proper legal contact.
The benefits of a resource request document process are myriad. Let's review the Top Five:
- Eliminate drive-by conversations: In a corporate setting in which attorneys are in the office next door, there's a tendency to have "drive-by" conversations that often lead to lengthy discussions and disruptions in productivity. Collaboration and dialogue are good, but they need to be tempered against productivity. By having the submittal document process, a cadence is created to secure legal counsel's time to engage in fruitful conversations while maintaining productivity.
- Ensure the business client has all the facts: Occasionally, conversations with legal counsel ensue and then, halfway through the conversation, it becomes apparent that there are salient facts. So another meeting is required once the missing facts are secured, thereby adding more time to already busy schedules. To help eliminate these unproductive sessions, the resource request document ensures the most pertinent facts are secured, thought through and available for the initial conversation with the legal team. This helps reduce back-and-forth dialogue, setting the groundwork for a successful project.
- Enable the business to self-regulate: Requiring a manager's approval on the resource request document creates an initial layer of dialogue within the business to discuss the issue — which can sometimes be answered without the need for legal counsel. It's akin to a mini peer review that requires dialogue or "practice" before submitting the question or concern to legal counsel. For example, a junior employee may want to ask whether a product change (e.g. adding coverage) is acceptable in a certain state. If they go to their manager first, it's possible the manager can provide the answer based on previous experience.
- Encourage departmental/organization prioritization: Through the process of securing manager approval, the manager may indicate that the question or request can wait. After all, they may have several other issues of higher priority pending with legal counsel. This helps eliminate the challenges of legal counsel trying their best to prioritize amongst competing internal clients.
- Track issues and responses: The submittal process also allows for better tracking. Each company has its own internal systems, but creating a simple email process with a sharepoint site to house legal questions and responses can create a library of useful knowledge for future legal questions. Very often, the same legal questions are recycled, and having departmental access to a library of standard information is a useful tool. Obviously, each organization will have to determine legal best practices to protect privileged information.
There is no perfect solution to improve operational efficiencies within a legal department, but creating an organized cadence will pay large dividends by way of increased productivity from the legal department. Although there may be some initial resistance to the new process, if properly implemented, internal business clients will be pleased with the decreased turnaround times and efficiencies gained through the process.
As seen on P&A Magazine.