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Corporate Law Departments

In Practice Sidebar: How to become a strategic partner to the business

Rose D. Ors  CEO of ClientSmart

Rose D. Ors  CEO of ClientSmart

Thomson Reuters’ 2021 State of the Corporate Law Departments Report points to the business imperative of having general counsel and their law department “be a proactive, core advisor” to the company.

To fulfill this more value-added role, the legal team needs to do more than identify and mitigate risk. They need to understand the business, be “in the room” with business colleagues to keep abreast of the company’s direction, ask the right questions, and offer advice with a singular purpose: to help ensure the growth and sustainability of the entire enterprise.


Check out our In Practice interview with KPMG executives about being a strategic business partner here.


Although not exhaustive, here are some of the approaches forward-thinking GCs and law departments are taking to meet their increasingly expanding role as strategic business partners:

Culture — The GC and department leaders understand that to succeed within the legal department, they must succeed outside of the department. These leaders develop trust-based, collaborative working relationships with internal clients (e.g., finance, communications, HR, procurement) and external stakeholders (e.g., regulators, legal service providers). They foster an individual and team “learning mindset” and reward curiosity.

Talent development — Leaders understand they need more than lawyers to succeed. Team members include professionals with business and operational expertise. Leaders also should seek a range of voices and perspectives throughout the legal department to innovate better, take informed risks, and solve problems creatively.

Operational excellence — Leaders reimagine how people, processes, and tools come together to achieve a higher degree of operational excellence. They introduce digital tools to automate processes, enable self-service options, and capture data. They create playbooks and templates that capture the department’s workflow processes and standard operating procedures.

Metrics and benchmarks — Smart GCs and law department leaders know they can only manage what they measure. To that end, they adopt performance metrics and benchmarks for both the law department and external legal service providers to gauge the value each contributes to the enterprise around issues of cost, performance, efficiency, and responsiveness. They assess the law department’s value by benchmarking internal legal spending, law department processes, and performance metrics with results from comparable industry peers.

Marketing — Leaders are also intentional in persuasively telling the story of how the department adds value to the business. They use data — including metrics and benchmarks — to tell the story and demonstrate the success of the department.

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