This discussion was held on Thursday 15 January 2015, at The Law Society. The meeting was conducted under the Chatham House rule. It was attended by general counsel representing a range of FTSE organisations. This précis provides an overview of the key points discussed.

  • Significant number of businesses that do not have an in-house legal function. Therefore important to demonstrate that this function is better than any alternative.
  • Distinction between proving and demonstrating the value. Value is dependant on context.
  • Arguably proving the value is an unrealistic goal. However, consistently demonstrating the value is achievable and ultimately should become self evident.
  • Four pillars to demonstrating value:
    1. The legal function is doing the right things
    2. The calibre of people within the team
    3. Providing legal advice within the context of the business
    4. Resilience of service
  • Vital that the in-house function speaks the language of the business. If asked to do something important to understand the reason behind the request. However, the objective may not always be obvious. For example, an organisation may be known for producing a specific product, but actually the logistics of getting that product to retail outlets on time is far more of a challenge than the actual production.
  • In-house teams should be closely embedded in the business and create a reputation for timeliness, context and expertise. This demonstrates value.
  • Good individuals create good teams. Successful in-house lawyers will be:
    • Technically capable
    • Commercially competent
    • Influential, with a range of skills which allow them to negotiate
    • Team players
  • In-house lawyers will often form part of a larger project team. Essential they have the ability to understand the aims of the project, collaborate with other members of the team and communicate effectively.
  • Demonstrating value is both quantitative and qualitative. Important to be on top of the financial information. Not only does enable effective budgeting and commercial discussions with external providers, but it demonstrates to the rest of the organisation that you are a competent business person.
  • The in-house function must always keep in mind the organisational objectives. If a particular project is in conflict with these objectives then it may be appropriate to escalate to a more senior manager. Ultimately this could reach the desk of the CEO.
  • The in-house lawyer should step back and think before doing something. They should consider if something they are being asked to do should be done and how to do it to ensure it best meets the needs of the business.
  • Demonstrating value is therefore not always about doing what one is told. When internal conflicts appear it will be the job of senior management (ultimately the CEO) to arbitrate, but it is right for the in-house team to highlight the conflict.
  • The principle is to agree or escalate to ensure what is being done is what the organisation actually wants.
  • There are certain tools/mechanisms that may be useful in demonstrating value - but all depend on context.
  • Ultimately an effective in-house legal team should provide a service to the organisation that is:
    • Aligned to the objectives of the business
    • Presented within the context of the business
    • Communicated in a way that is understood by the business
    • Supports all elements of the business
  • If achieved, and combined with financial competence, the value of the in-house team should be easy to demonstrate.