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5 ways a small business lawyer provides added value to the business

How to become a trusted advisor to your growing business

As general counsel (GC) to a small business, you’re constantly called upon to perform routine work such as drawing up contracts and nondisclosure agreements. That may just come with the territory, but it’s also a fast path to getting buried in repetitive tasks that don’t always add value to the business.

One of the most important things you can do as GC for a growing business is position yourself as a trusted advisor to the C-suite. You can do so by clearly delineating your responsibilities, acting the part, learning the business, and building the full set of skills your business stakeholders need.

When you do, you can help steer your business as it grows, addressing changing risks while building a proactive legal team that your company values as an indispensable contributor to the future of the business.

In this article, we offer five strategies to help you deliver your best work with confidence so you can serve as that strategic advisor and risk management expert your organization needs.  

Let’s get started.

1. Think like a small business owner  

Because the C-suite wants to grow the business, they're willing to take on some risks, whereas a GC famously avoid risks. In “How small business lawyers can become that trusted advisor,” we offer some key strategies to help you open those communication channels by demonstrating your mastery of the business.

  • Understand industry trends. Follow the analysts and reporters who are forecasting the future of business. Understand how these trends will affect your company, its strategic direction, and its position in the value chain.
  • Read about your business. Set alerts for your company’s name so you can digest the latest news as it happens. If you haven’t already, peruse your company’s website, press releases, public filings, and commentary in industry publications.
  • Perform a deep dive on products and services. Ask for a sales demo so you understand your company’s products and services and how they work; review your company’s roadmap for enhancing or extending them.
  • Learn basic finance. Make sure to read your company’s P&L, balance sheet, and cash flow statement. If necessary, work with the finance team to increase accounting rigor — a company’s prospects can come undone because of creative strategies that ran afoul of regulatory requirements.
  • Meet with business leaders. Schedule time with C-suite executives and business heads to learn their priorities, their challenges, and what keeps them up at night. Mirror their priorities and language back to them in your ongoing communications.
  • Build your executive presence.  Ask to present — and participate in — leadership meetings and retreats, staff meetings, industry conferences, and more.

2. Develop the full range of competencies you need to succeed

You’re an expert on the law. But furthering the growing business will require developing a broad range of skills.

The Delta Lawyer Competency Model is a well-established framework you can use to identify other business and “soft” skills you can develop — beyond traditional legal skills — to broaden your value as a trusted advisor. According to industry experts, in addition to legal knowledge and skiils, a GC should also develop:

  • Personal effectiveness skills. These include an entrepreneurial mindset, which you’ll need to help shepherd your organization’s growth. They also include “soft skills” such as emotional intelligence, relationship management, character, and communication. You’ll be more successful on an ongoing basis when you can listen, understand, and craft win-win arrangements.
  • Business and operations skills. In addition to business fundamentals, project management and data analytics skills are crucial. Legal technology falls into this category, helping you simplify day-to-day work, focus your teams, and gain insights you otherwise wouldn’t glean. Good technology can eliminate manual processes, making your team more efficient while helping you avoid mistakes that could harm your business.

3. Anticipate the changing risks of a dynamic marketplace

GCs at small businesses are given a seemingly impossible task: provide risk-mitigation expertise in an era of constant change. As you manage your growing workload, consider these best practices for risk management.

  • Frequently review your risks. Business is changing quickly. Consider regularly reviewing your current risks to make sure they’re still relevant and that current protocols are applied correctly.
  • Forecast what lies ahead. Emerging risks such as greater cybersecurity threats, or longer-term risks such as climate change, could affect your business. Engage business stakeholders proactively in evolving protocols to address these new risks.
  • Update your crisis-management plan. Conduct desktop risk-management exercises to create scenarios for how to respond if risks occur. Then circulate an updated crisis-management plan so that everyone knows how to respond when these risks strike.
  • Conduct a root-cause analysis. Mine your business data to see if you can understand the causes of certain risks and then address them proactively.

4. Use technology to manage growing workloads

Whether you’re the sole GC for the growing business or you run a small team, you probably have more work than you can manage. Implementing the right legal technology can help you scale your time and talent while helping you avoid getting tied up with low-value work.

Depending upon your organization’s size and budget, you may want to implement new tools for hiring employees and contractors, protecting intellectual property, managing disputes, managing commercial relationships, and more.

In addition, Thomson Reuters® Practical Law provides you with significant legal expertise and resources, enabling you to learn, expand your skill set, and respond quickly to your stakeholders’ questions. You gain:

  • Practice Notes that save hours of research by providing current, clear, how-to guidance on the law
  • Model Documents that provide best--in-class guidance for contracts, NDA's and more
  • Toolkits that provide summaries, templates, articles, and explanations of specific legal topics
  • Matter Maps to make it easy for colleagues to understand work phases and core tasks

5. Leverage data to add value

General Counsel can struggle to demonstrate their value to the company. They typically point to legal metrics, such as the matters they’ve opened and closed, how they manage outside legal spend, and more.

These metrics are important. But ideally, they should just be a starting point. Here are some other ways to demonstrate value that will make your business stakeholders take notice.

  • Create key performance indicators (KPIs). Talk to your business counterparts to understand what data they’d like to see, so that you can jointly create KPIs. Report on progress on a quarterly basis in a structured manner — ideally a face-to-face or virtual meeting with a presentation.
  • Develop benchmarks. Align your services and costs to the market. Showcase areas where you lead industry peers and create action plans to fix areas in which you’re lagging. Being able to tell your internal clients that you’re best in class for accuracy, efficiency, and cost is a compelling story.
  • Measure customer satisfaction. You’re in the business of service. So, measure your customers’ satisfaction and demonstrate progress. Here are some questions to ask:
    • Does our law department add value to the business?
    • Are we focused on the right things?
    • What should we focus on next year?
    • Are we easy to work with?
    • How are we at responsiveness, speed of finding solutions, avoiding risk, and other key measures?

Conclusion

As a GC of a small business, you’re in a unique position to build and maintain strategic relationships with the C-suite and business heads. When you position and prove yourself as a valued advisor and risk-management expert, you can positively influence the future growth of your company and help protect it while navigating uncharted waters.

Focusing on the right priorities, automating low-level tasks, and communicating ongoing progress will help you drive outsized results. Practical Law can provide you with the insights, forms, and tools you need to master new legal areas and speed routine work so that you can do your best work with confidence.

Become the strategic advisor your growing business needs.

Learn more how the Startups and Small Businesses collection in Practical Law can help. 

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