Wednesday, May 7, 2014

New Mantra: Proactive, Not Reactive

The challenge for an in house legal team is no longer how to avoid being labeled the "Department of No", it's now how to truly add value as a partner and not just a resource.  Many of my colleagues will bemoan the fact that they're not brought into issues early enough - and I've been known to utter that complaint a time or two myself.  But if we're truly honest we have to admit that part of the blame for that lies on us.  By definition a lawyers job is often seen as reactionary.  We review contracts after the relationship has begun, we respond to complaints after they have been filed - of file them after a wrong has occurred.  We have a solid reputation for helping to solve problems after they come up.

Where we need to improve is being seen as someone that can help avoid the problems in the first place.  Making that jump requires a change in culture.  We need to take a cue from our business partners and learn how to better predict the needs of our clients and satisfy them ahead of time.  Our partners in IT have embraced the Agile methodology allowing them to create stories to truly understand the users requirements and solve for them before they become issues.  We've even established chief customer officers who analyze surveys and data to help predict and ultimately drive customer behavior by ensuring that the customer experience meets or exceed expectations.  So why can't we do that in the legal department?

The first step is to admit that we have a problem. Our processes are mostly set up to trigger after the pain has begun.  So let's revamp them to add value to other teams while getting us into the game a little earlier.  A friend of mine is revamping her entire contract process focusing on how to decrease the salespersons time spent in the contracting process while increasing the accuracy and timeliness of information sent to accounting for better invoicing.  If it works they way she envisions it she will save hours of time and frustration for two very important partners and set the expectation that she (and her legal team) can help to get things done faster and better if brought in early and more often.

Similarly, I go through an audit of our templates at least once a year focusing on where are the pain points for my business colleagues. What do they need the rights to do?  Or to restrict the customer from doing?  Where are they spending too much time negotiating or administering terms that only makes sense to lawyers? By getting their input and revising the terms before they have to negotiate them or deal with their consequences I've given them an opportunity to see me as someone who helps avoid the problem in the first place.  Now I'm invited to more meetings and am requested to advise on a broader range of topics because the focus of my team is on being proactive, not reactive.  It's become our department motto and a guiding principle in virtually everything we do.

So how are you becoming more proactive?