Over the past two decades or so, general counsel have become increasingly accountable for effective management of their legal departments. Legal teams are expected to add value to the enterprise, and when they turn to outside counsel to aid in this mission, the ones who can understand and help address both legal and operational pains will prove to be significantly more valuable advisers.
The traditional role of trusted adviser involves understanding the client’s business and providing substantive matter-based advice and advocacy to the client. Certainly, the purpose of this type of relationship is to protect the client’s business interests, but in the end, this traditional role does not help to further a general counsel’s goal of doing mission-critical work for the enterprise while protecting the company revenue from runaway legal spending.
There is currently a palpable hunger among leaders of enterprise legal departments for advice and counsel on creating efficiencies within their own departments—particularly for those who don’t have the benefit of a legal operations professional.
Consider this recent experience: I sat down for an introductory meeting with the general counsel of a listed multinational company. Our conversation began with discussions about his department’s substantive legal needs. We then went on to discuss my firm and its approach to the delivery of legal services and how shifting to a “new model” firm can help control outside legal spend.
The course of the conversation from that point on veered in a now-familiar direction. The GC began opening up to me about challenges he was facing with creating efficiencies with his team located across a number of time zones. He sought advice from me about good tools for knowledge management, collaboration, and analytics, as well as specific providers to use for outsourcing commoditized legal work.
This was just one of many almost identical conversations I have had with chief legal officers in recent months. Clients are curious about the range of services available to help their departments perform well across all metrics, and they are benefiting from counsel and firms that layer legal knowledge with an awareness of operational challenges and available technologies and services to create efficiencies. This is where a significant opportunity lies for modern lawyers to provide competitive differentiation.
Simply having strong legal knowledge is increasingly insufficient. We know that business acumen has become an additional requirement for trusted advisers—outside counsel must understand the business realities and needs of the entire enterprise. To stand out and add value for your client in the new normal, however, gain an understanding of the business and operational challenges of the legal department as a subunit of the enterprise. Sure, there are consultants available with this expertise. But attorneys who become knowledgeable about their client’s management-related problems and how to solve them will be better positioned to withstand increasing competition from alternative providers who offer a blend of operations consulting and substantive legal services.
Nicole Bradick is an attorney and director of strategic initiatives and development at Potomac Law Group. Nicole is also the founder and CEO of Custom Counsel, a nationwide network of more than 100 freelance attorneys. Nicole has received recognition as an ABA Journal Legal Rebel and was named to the 2014 Fastcase 50 list.
Editor’s note: The New Normal is an ongoing discussion between Paul Lippe, the CEO of Legal OnRamp, Patrick Lamb, founding member of Valorem Law Group and their guests. New Normal contributors spend a lot of time thinking, writing and speaking about the changes occurring in the delivery of legal services. You’re invited to join their discussion.