A legal ops guide to internal collaboration
According to Onit’s Enterprise Legal Reputation Report, 73% of in-house legal respondents say they have “positive relationships” with their non-legal peers. However, just 60% of those non-legal employees return the sentiment.
This disconnect may seem small, but it can have significant consequences: 65% of non-legal employees admit to bypassing legal’s policies and processes to get their work done. If different business units view working with legal as a hindrance, this opens up the door to much greater risk.
Strengthening legal’s working relationships across departments is key to changing legal’s reputation as a roadblock to one of a helpful, trusted partner. Investing time and energy into this improved collaboration will support the overall health and success of the business and demonstrate the value of legal ops.
While certain principles like better communication can be applied universally, the specifics of how to improve teamwork with different departments will vary. Our tips will help you work together with finance, sales, IT, procurement, and engineering to better support their unique needs and processes.
Connect with finance to optimize legal spending
The ELR Report notes that finance employees had the most favorable view of legal, with 62% citing a positive relationship. This is good news. When finance and legal are proactive and keep legal budgets on track, both teams can better support the financial health of the organization.
Legal ops can build upon their relationship foundation with finance by taking accruals management off finance’s plate and listening to their input on billing guidelines and legal spend reporting.
Take ownership of accruals management
Even though legal ops works more closely with outside counsel, the responsibility of managing legal accruals is frequently put on finance. The result? More headaches for everyone involved.
If legal doesn’t communicate any upcoming accrual changes to finance, finance gets blindsided when the accruals and final invoices come in. Then, finance has to spend time reaching out to legal ops and vendors to explain the unexpected charges. Finally, finance is then forced to scramble to adjust their budget to account for the higher-than-anticipated billing.
Since legal ops is already looped into the accruals process, it makes way more sense for them to own the day-to-day management than finance. You can work with vendors to address any issues before the estimates or invoices reach finance, preventing last minute back-and-forth conversations. And you can quickly communicate any billing changes as soon as you find out, which helps mitigate their impact on the overall budget.
Not only does this ownership make for a more seamless accruals management process, but it also gives finance more bandwidth to focus on their own higher-level priorities.
Ask for finance’s input on billing guidelines and legal spend metrics
To ensure stronger alignment between the two departments and with enterprise goals, finance should have a say in the outside counsel guidelines legal ops uses and which legal spend metrics are being tracked.
If you don’t loop finance in when creating your billing guidelines, you can end up causing more work for them. For example, if you set up an invoice deadline for the last day of the month but finance actually needs them by the 20th, that’s a problem. Establish your outside counsel guidelines with the input of finance to avoid these types of issues.
You can also better support finance by getting their input on legal spend reporting. This way, you can track data that add value to the legal department while also deepening finance’s understanding of the team’s spending. Not only does this illustrate a sense of teamwork, but reporting that is tailored to finance also helps them plan budgets more effectively.
Keep firming up your relationship with finance with our best practices.
Streamline complex contract reviews with sales
Sales employees reported a less favorable view of their legal peers than finance, with only 43% citing a positive relationship. A key way to improve the relationship with sales is to reduce the amount of time they have to spend in back-and-forth discussions with legal during contract reviews.
For sales, time is money. They need to work fast to close deals and satisfy the needs of their prospects. But if legal takes too long to respond to questions or red-lines the entire contract draft, that process comes to a screeching halt.
Reduce the tension and delays by proactively working with sales to create pre-set contract standards and a clause library in legal management software. Taking the time to put these resources together saves both teams time and energy in the long run.
For instance, instead of having to reach out to legal to ask for alternatives to 3 contested contract lines, sales can just look in the clause library and browse through pre-approved options from legal. This keeps contract negotiations moving and also reduces the number of final revisions legal has to make.
The same goes for general contract standards. Simply enter pre-approved language into your legal contract management software, and the platform will automatically flag deviations from those guidelines.
This type of digital legal knowledge management makes the contract management process smoother and faster for everyone, helping both teams to work more efficiently (and happily) together.
Strengthen sales support with these best practices.
Partner with IT to prioritize compliance with data privacy regulations
Just 38% of IT respondents claimed they had a positive working relationship with legal. That’s not ideal, but it’s a huge opportunity for in-house legal to improve that partnership by assisting with data privacy compliance.
With the emergence of complex data privacy regulations for businesses, data security is no longer just an IT responsibility — it’s become a risk-laden legal issue. Proactively reach out to IT to lend support in navigating the compliance side of all things data privacy.
Work with in-house counsel on a data compliance audit
While IT checks for hardware vulnerabilities, corporate legal should review whether current data management processes comply with relevant laws. Once both teams have their findings, work together to come up with a prioritized list of next steps to resolve the most pressing (and potentially costly) issues.
Review data privacy training materials
Human error is the most common cause of data breaches. So, to effectively mitigate risk, legal needs to be involved in data privacy training and guidelines. Legal should work with IT, and possibly even people ops, to ensure all training aligns with current laws.
Involve IT in legal tech decisions
The last thing you want is to invest in pricey new legal tech only to have IT come back and say your platform is a logistical or security nightmare. When you’re reviewing legal tech vendors, ask IT for their input. This brings their expertise earlier into the process, and they can call out red flags your team may not have noticed otherwise.
Improve IT interactions with the extra guidance in our blog post.
Team up with procurement on law firm benchmarking
Procurement was the most dissatisfied with working with legal, with only 37% of employees citing a positive relationship. These teams have historically clashed over vendor hiring decisions. When legal believes vendor expertise is more important than cost and procurement believes cost is more important than expertise, it’s a recipe for disaster.
Reduce this friction by working directly with procurement on law firm benchmarking. If you’re only connecting with procurement to tell them which legal vendors to hire, it can feel like a one-sided process that causes frustration between departments.
While it’s true that procurement might not know the specific legal expertise you need, they still bring valuable perspectives when it comes to hiring. For instance, considering vendors based on cost-benefit analyses or reviewing their reputation and data security protocols.
Working with procurement on the law firm benchmarking process is a strategic way to ensure you don’t miss any advantages or red flags when comparing vendors. It’s also helpful because procurement has a larger bandwidth for thoughtful vendor research — hiring is their primary focus. So, working with procurement means you’ll get more options on the table, like including alternative legal service providers.
Additionally, this collaboration benefits legal ops when it comes to backing up vendor management choices to the C-suite. Instead of just voicing legal’s perspective, you can now add procurement’s stamp of approval into your conversations. This demonstrates a collaborative, united front that improves legal’s reputation and brings business benefits.
Perfect your procurement partnership with these extra tips.
Support engineering with research and development
Engineering wasn’t included in the ELR Report as every in-house legal team isn’t at a product-led company. However, if you’re on a legal ops team at a company selling tangible products, you can make a difference by helping engineering create an airtight product roadmap.
Legal ops can double-check that the product idea is viable before engineering sinks time, money, and resources into bringing it to market. This involves looking for potential instances of patent, trademark, or copyright infringement and supporting in-house counsel to file the necessary applications to obtain those rights on time.
Additionally, legal ops can brainstorm additional legal needs with engineering before the build starts. For instance, if a children’s toy is being launched, it will most likely need to meet certain safety parameters and have any necessary safety disclaimers (e.g., choking hazard) printed on the packaging.
By proactively connecting with engineering, any work legal needs to do can be built into the initial product roadmap instead of being added in along the way. This will keep engineering on track to meet their product launch date, preventing delays that cause customer dissatisfaction and revenue loss.
Elevate your work with engineering with these tips.
Transparency strengthens cross-department collaboration
Sharing clear, updated information is critical to successful teamwork across business units. If you’re consistently delayed in responding to colleagues or sending over incorrect data, you’re slowing down their productivity while increasing feelings of frustration with legal.
Integrated legal technology creates greater visibility across teams, reduces communication silos, and improves the accuracy of legal analytics being shared. This tool supports greater cross-team efficiency than sharing clunky, outdated spreadsheets.
Learn more about how legal software helps non-legal teams in our blog post.