Hugh Murray, solicitor at Spire Healthcare Group plc, explains how his in-house team has delivered added value to the business through taking on a number of non-legal projects.
Adding value can be hard to define, let alone carry out, as an in-house lawyer. The in-house role has never been more important to help an organisation navigate the ever-growing and increasingly complex landscape of legal risks and compliance, but the desire to contribute something of more identifiable benefit to the organisation is often an elusive objective.
It doesn’t help that your typical ‘in-houser’ qualifies without any non-legal experience, so lands in their post needing to bridge a knowledge and experience gap whilst satisfying the day-to-day legal needs of an often fast-moving and complex organisation. Regardless, the business will expect more than the delivery of a consistently high quality technical service. There are many ways in which in-house lawyers can approach trying to demonstrate greater value, but one that can work well and both broaden the capabilities of the team and enhance the value of the business is when the in-houser goes beyond the scope of what is considered traditional legal work.
When I joined the team at Spire Healthcare (a FTSE-listed independent hospital group), it became immediately apparent that dispensing advice from an ivory tower was not an option. Total immersion in the business was given high priority. We spent time out on the ‘shop floor’ in hospitals (cleaning wards, observing in theatres, helping porters and meeting patients), running training workshops, and sitting with clinical and operational colleagues on internal committees. We were expected to be intimately involved from the outset on new development projects and commercial initiatives.
Grabbing opportunities to underake non-legal work can give in-housers greater fulfilment that their private practice peers would long for …
Such immersion and connection with the business equipped us with the network, knowledge and profile to do more outside the team’s core legal sphere, and in doing so enhanced our value to the business.
Here are a couple of examples.
The opportunity to develop an insurance affinity scheme for consultant doctors who practise at Spire Hospitals was born from the in-house team being able to engage directly with consultants, as key stakeholders, gather and analyse relevant data and work up a viable product with the business’s insurance brokers.
The legal team was ideally placed to identify and then lead on implementing the opportunity. This was not because we held any specific expertise in insurance, but because we had the business insight and relationships, internal and external, to understand the issues and create a proposal that we could deliver in collaboration with the business and its advisers.
We managed the roll-out of the project by co-ordinating documentation, securing trademark registration and (most crucially) communicating the offering across local management teams by way of a packed timetable of roadshows, complemented by a poster campaign, guidance and other literature.
By identifying an opportunity, and then developing and implementing the scheme, we made a new product available to the core partners of the business and were able to deliver a higher value outcome. Whilst the product had no direct profitability, its success was still measurable in terms of uptake and positive feedback, which gave us evidence of the additional value created.
An in-house team can also demonstrate value through non-traditional legal work when it creates the tools for the business to be able to manage risk itself.
The in-house inbox only ever grows, and as a cost centre the team will always be under an expectation to do more with less. Creating space to focus on the right areas and look for opportunities to lead the business, means reviewing and improving existing workstreams. This process can identify self-help initiatives, in which the business learns to manage a risk itself, an effective way to educate and empower colleagues whilst freeing up time and adding value in the process.
An example of this in which I was involved, and one where the investment of hours on a non-legal project generated a valuable outcome for the team (and the wider business) was in the process of managing the oversight of published content (advertisements, other marketing and non-promotional literature).
An inefficient and cumbersome process had existed for years, whereby draft content was reviewed by multiple departments. The large number of costly man-hours incurred in correcting and finessing content was inefficient, inconsistent and required wholesale change.
By being part of the current process, and so well versed in the relevant codes of practice, regulation and common pitfalls, the in-house team was approached by the marketing team to work with them to devise and implement a solution. We had already learnt the lesson that simply issuing guidance to the business was not enough, and so we were well placed to help lead on the most effective self-help solution. It had to be a clear process, with the right training and allocation of responsibility to get the necessary level of business engagement and ensure better management of the associated risks.
The new system was created, piloted and then rolled out to the business; the in-house team co-led the process. We supported training sessions, a spot audit of approved content, and provided a channel through which any ad hoc queries could be submitted. This gave us greater oversight and allowed the business to manage the transition gradually. The project brought a previously unwieldy and inefficient process under control, with greater consistency for the business, whilst freeing up time for the marketing team to focus on other projects. The temptation to always maintain control can be instinctive to lawyers, but it can also present a barrier to putting value into their business. By equipping non-legal colleagues with the tools and education they need to manage those risks provides greater efficiency, resource and ultimately a benefit to the organisation.
The trust and high regard held by the business for a team where the best result is often when nothing happens means that when there is an opportunity to innovate or collaborate with colleagues on non-traditional legal projects, the chance should be embraced. It generates valuable outcomes for the business and positive recognition, and it can give those in-housers a broader experience and greater fulfilment that their private practice peers would long for.
Hugh trained and qualified at Norton Rose Fulbright between 2009 and 2013, before moving in-house to Spire Healthcare Group plc.