Top Ways to Run Your Legal Department Like a Business – Part I

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Law school famously teaches students to ‘think’ like a lawyer. But one thing many law schools do not teach their students is how to run, or succeed in, a business. Law firms have famously struggled with marrying the business of law with the practice of law, but less talked about is how in-house legal departments, for the same reasons, often struggle with integrating into their companies as a collaborative and effective unit of the business. To run like a business unit, it is important that your entire legal department have a culture of collaboration and an understanding of your company’s business and how to demonstrate your department’s success within the business.

The following is the first in a series of posts on the top ways you and your legal department can integrate with your company and function more like a business unit.

Item #1: The first steps in acting that a business unit is to find an effective way to manage your department’s workload. As with any business unit in a company, an initial determination of how to allocate resources, evaluate performance and establish success can’t be made unless the totality of the work in your department is captured and understood. This may seem like a no-brainer, but without a very systematic way to track internal projects and what outside counsel is working on, a legal department—big or small—can lose track of all the legal work being done until they receive the invoice well after the fact.

Often times certain in-house attorneys are in charge of working with certain internal clients, and the knowledge of what they’re working on may reside only in their head or in their inbox. This can work for the short term, but again when the General Counsel is asked about the current exposure in the legal portfolio, or how many contracts are being negotiated this year compared to last, there isn’t an easy way to get this information without a system to track the legal matters.

Ideally the General Counsel can run a report at the touch of button, and see by matter type (litigation, transactional, etc.) how many matters each in-house attorney is working on, what the status of those matters are, which firms are working on those matters. Having transparency into the work going on in the legal department is key to being able to manage that work both internally and with outside counsel (hence the old adage, you can’t manage what you can’t measure). For example, if Bill in litigation is working on four minor matters for Business Unit C while Sally has fifteen matters for Unit B, it may be time to either redistribute that work or hire a new in-house counsel. Business managers prioritize projects and allocate resources accordingly to be as efficient with their workforce as possible. For a legal department to do this, you must first understand all the work being done, whether internally or by outside counsel, and then allocate that work appropriately. Visit Serengeti Law and get more info here.  

Patrick Johnson

Patrick Johnson, JD, is currently a Business Development Strategist for Serengeti Law. As a six-year veteran of Thomson Reuters, Pat previously served as a Client Relationship Manager where he managed a portfolio of more than 200 corporate law department clients using Serengeti's Tracker matter management and e-billing system, as well as conducting trainings and seminars nationwide on the best practices of the top legal departments worldwide. A graduate of University of Virginia School of Law, prior to joining Serengeti, Pat served as a corporate attorney for five years. Prior to law school, he worked as an IT consultant and financial analyst in California.

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