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Part 2: Up-Skilling

In this second part of our series, “The Essential Skills of a Future-facing Law Department,” we discuss the key skills law departments need for the future.

This article is based upon the Practice Note “In-House Counsel Skills Needed to Support Emerging Law Department Responsibilities,” one of the more than 65,000 resources available in Practical Law.

General counsel are under ever more pressure to deliver the same level of legal work to their companies with stable or declining budgets. At the same time, the departments they oversee are more integrated into the corporation’s structure than ever, their operations pressured to run like finance or people functions.

How can they do this?

According to the 2019 State of Corporate Law Departments report jointly produced by Thomson Reuters and Acritas, high-performing legal departments deliver superior value by maximizing their organization’s success and by providing long-term shareholder value.

But as the demand placed on law departments shift, the skills needed in that department shift as well. In the second of three articles, we’ll look at process and review skills.

Process improvement

The increased demands on law department productivity are forcing in-house counsel to improve their departments’ service delivery models, including the:

  • Ways in which the organization engages the department
  • Efficiency of legal service delivery
  • Use of standard templates across the department
  • Access to client self-service products
  • Transparency of the status of the work being performed
  • Speed with which services are delivered

In-house counsel improve department processes through:

  • Policy and procedure development and implementation
  • Technology use
  • Repetitive task outsourcing
  • Shifting work to the lowest responsible level in the law department
  • Assigning non-legal tasks to other company departments
  • Eliminating unnecessary or low-risk activities

Improving these processes requires in-house counsel to:

  • Accurately identify through client interviews and surveys those processes that operate inefficiently
  • Develop creative solutions that address the process inefficiencies
  • Overcome resistance to changing existing practices
  • Effectively document, implement, manage, and improve solutions

Process improvements lead to other law department benefits, including:

  • Allowing in-house counsel to concentrate on the organization’s more strategic work
  • Enhancing in-house counsel development
  • Reducing the law department’s spending on outside resources

Regulatory review and education

The number and scope of local, state, national, and international regulations applicable to businesses continue to grow. Although many organizations have separate regulatory compliance departments, in-house counsel are increasingly responsible for:

  • Identifying applicable regulations
  • Designing and establishing regulatory compliance programs
  • Educating business colleagues on regulatory requirements
  • Auditing the status of their organizations’ regulatory compliance
  • Performing due diligence on third-party service providers’ regulatory compliance programs
  • Preparing and implementing programs to remediate compliance gaps
  • Reporting on regulatory compliance to the organization’s leadership, its board of directors, and external authorities.
  • Tracking and advising management on developing regulatory requirements that might affect their organizations
  • Working with third-parties such as lobbyists and law firms to influence regulatory developments

In-house counsel must obtain the information and develop the skills needed to fulfill their responsibilities as their organizations’ regulatory experts, including:

  • Arranging for, reviewing, and understanding regulatory updates from third-party service providers.
  • Being aware of their organizations’ current and planned business activities that might be affected by regulatory developments
  • Effectively communicating the importance of regulatory compliance to their organizations

Legal project management

In-house counsel uses legal project management (LPM) techniques to pursue their departments’ and organizations’ projects.

LPM steps include:

  • Identifying the scope of the project
  • Collecting the necessary resources
  • Determining the project’s strategy, steps, deliverables, budget, and timeline
  • Managing the project to completion
  • Evaluating the project’s outcome and the process used to achieve that outcome
  • Coordinating their organizations’ business projects, such as evaluating potential acquisition targets, expanding business operations, and integrating newly acquired businesses into the company’s commercial operations

In-house counsel is increasingly responsible for leading projects. This is particularly true for organizations that do not have dedicated project management departments. Managing these projects often demands that in-house counsel coordinate activities including:

  • Internal resources from company departments like finance, tax, human resources, IT, sales, and marketing
  • External resources such as law firms, consultants, accountants, and public relations firms

As a result, in-house counsel needs to become more proactive, organized, and deliberate in their LPM practices than ever before.

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