I recently participated in a webinar with my former colleague at Vertafore, where we laid out the blueprint to do this. Since a large part of every in-house legal team’s job is contract management, it’s one area where you can move the needle on your reputation as your internal clients begin to notice a difference in the process and outcomes for themselves.
I’ll cover the key takeaways from the webinar in this blog, but you can always watch the replay here.
1. Assess your current reputation with the business and internal clients
How do your internal clients currently feel about legal? Maybe you have access to direct feedback or need to assess the department’s reputation yourself. Listen to the language your internal clients use when they talk about the legal department. Far too often, legal is viewed as a department of “no.” Words and phrases like “too slow,” “bottleneck,” or “blackhole” are a pretty good indication of a negative reputation.
Think next about the way other departments interact with legal. Do people feel comfortable reaching out, or do they try to avoid doing so at all costs? Do people reach out when it’s important or loop in legal at the last minute to check a box? If you feel like people generally avoid interacting with legal, it might help to peek at your team’s calendar. It could be that internal clients feel like they can’t even ask a simple question because you’re booked solid for the next 2 weeks.
As you assess your current reputation, remember that it’s not a one-and-done deal. The sales team may be your company’s bread and butter, but it’s important to consider your relationship with every department you support. The answers you receive will likely be different for each team.
2. Develop and strengthen your reputation with the business and internal clients
Whether your reputation is already OK or you find it leaves a lot to be desired, you can strengthen it by getting to know your internal clients. When was the last time you spoke to someone from the company based at a different office? Having them come to your headquarters could make them feel like they’re being called to the principal’s office, so instead, I recommend going to them.
You should aim to travel to every office at least once a year to meet and speak with the people you don’t interact with regularly. Hopefully, these “roadshows” strengthen those relationships and even lead to more frequent communication between legal and the other teams you support.
During this process, be sure to gather as much information on each team as possible before meeting with them. Make it clear that you did your homework and are more interested now in learning where legal can support them. Spend time socially by taking each team out for lunch or happy hour. And don’t leave without an understanding of a typical day in the life of each team you support.
How do you know what you need to do better?
The more you talk with each department, the easier it will be to identify the pain points your internal clients have. You’ll probably even find that a lot of what’s painful for your internal clients overlaps with legal’s barriers. When it comes to solving pain points, these overlaps are a good place to start – especially when it comes to gaining business-wide buy-in for a new solution.
This is also a good opportunity to look beyond each department and more toward the overall business objectives and strategy. See where you can find a contract management solution that can solve the overlapping pain points between legal and the departments you support while also aiding the business in reaching its overarching goals.
3. Improve the services you provide to your internal clients
Improving legal’s reputation among internal clients starts with improving the services legal provides. Talk to the different teams you support and identify similar themes in needs. You’ll probably hear a similar request along the lines of “I need legal advice without having to come to legal for it” or “I need contract information at my fingertips without needing to go through legal.”
Determine any areas in processes where you can make immediate improvements and start there. Any steps you can take to increase revenue, reduce costs, and streamline sales and procurement processes is sure to be a slam dunk in the eyes of your internal clients and the overarching business. When you can make immediate improvements to a process, it helps make the case for investing in technology for instances where a simple process change won’t cut it.
4. Leverage contract management technology to provide better service
Some pain points just can’t be solved with a simple change in the process. In these cases, technology can help legal teams provide better, more efficient service to internal clients. The right contract management solution should solve mutual pain points and align with supporting the overall business goals. Finding the right solution can be difficult, and if you make the wrong choice, you could end up making the legal department’s reputation worse instead of better. Here are five tips to help guide you throughout the process:
- Do your due diligence – Never purchase any new technology without first consulting other customers who currently use it. Ask them what they know now that they wish they had known before purchasing.
- Remember that no tech is perfect – Each tool on the market was created to solve a problem for someone else. While a solution may look perfect on the surface, make sure it can solve your unique problems before deciding.
- Do a proof of concept – Test out the solution in your real-world environment, and test it through the lens of each end user who ultimately needs to adopt it. You should be able to see whether a solution will solve pain points you know exist for the different functions of your business. If it doesn’t, your proof of concept did its job by saving you from an expensive purchase and unsuccessful implementation.
- Don’t force it – Don’t be the legal department that everyone at the company loathes because you force a new tool or process on the business that doesn’t work for end users.
- Align your problems with the solution – What are the pain points you’re trying to solve and who are you trying to solve them for? If you get these wrong at the beginning, you’ll end up with an unsuccessful solution.
Don’t forget about adoption
Adoption is oftentimes an afterthought when in reality it’s one of the most important aspects in implementing a new solution. You’ll know a solution has been adopted when it becomes part of a user’s daily work and all prior methods, processes, or solutions have been replaced in favor of the new solution.
Even the best solution won’t solve the problem if people refuse to adopt it. Remember that adoption has three components: Mental, emotional, and practical.
Mental – I understand why adopting a new solution makes sense for me and the business
Emotional – I feel comfortable embracing a new way and not afraid to give up my old way
Practical – I know how to use the new solution and can easily do it
If any one of these three components is missing, you’ll have a harder time gaining company wide adoption for a new solution. And it’s hard for the business to see success and value the results of a solution that isn’t adopted fully.
5. Articulate the value of legal to the business
For many companies, the perception is that legal is a cost center. Lawyer salaries, outsourced legal services, and software costs all chip away at the bottom line. How do you show the business that your department isn’t just costing money, but is actually delivering ROI? Here are a few specific ways I’ve been able to do this in my role as in-house counsel in the past.
Recontextualize achievements as they relate to legal – Remind the business that legal shares credit in strategic business achievements. For example, maybe you helped sales get a 3-year contract instead of a 1-year deal, or you made changes in processes that increased contract velocity by 50%. Connect legal’s role in these wins to the company’s overall revenue growth.
Demonstrate legal’s contributions to KPI improvement – Show data that exhibits the key metrics the company is tracking. For example, reducing the number of customers with a termination for convenience in their contracts. Reducing the existence of that contract term certainly prevents customer churn, so don’t forget to take credit for that contract-based win.
Emphasize your role as “the closer” – Point out that while sales is usually in the driver’s seat, legal is always there to help close deals. Emphasize the teamwork involved in closing deals and legal’s role in ultimately closing new contracts and renewals.
Highlight your team’s part in crisis management – Since we can’t see the future, there’s no telling what kind of crisis might arise. Knowing you can get answers fast during a crisis provides huge value to the business. For example, with the recent failure of Silicon Valley Bank, my department was aware of the need to quickly find any customers on auto-pay and make sure we weren’t going to deduct funds from their accounts at a time when they might not be able to make payroll.
If you’re ready to start shifting your legal team’s reputation to one from just OK to a team of Contract MVPs that push business goals forward, see how Pramata can help with a demo today.