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Legal operations: organisational design in 8 steps

Legal operations is so important, we’re writing an eBook on how to make it work for your company right now.

Natalie Salunke, VP and Head of Legal for Fleetcor Europe, shares her insights on organisational design, support and management in this preview post. You can download the full eBook for free today. Don’t forget to follow us for the latest insights. The views in this article are the author's own, and do not represent the views of Juro nor those of CLOC.

The scope of in-house legal has never been greater than it is today: globalised, distributed teams are increasingly the norm, collaborating through tech platforms that may or may not speak to each other, with acquisitions adding layers of complexity. It’s our role as in-house lawyers not just to advise on matters of black letter law, but to look holistically at the way the business experiences legal - not as a blocker, but as a service that solves problems.

This won’t happen by accident. Through my career I’ve found that I needed to take deliberate steps to make sure legal was fit for purpose, and empowered to add real value. Here are 8 practical steps to get started with organisational design, support and management.

1. Take stock

The first step is to take stock of what you’ve got, rather than trying to replicate what was there before, or what worked at your last company. It’s crucial to understand what has been working well, and not just those things you want to change, in order to genuinely understand the business’ needs - and get buy-in for any changes you want to make.

2. Matchmake for the short term

Rather than jumping to hiring new talent, work out where and how you can fit in with what’s already there. Understanding the skills and personalities you currently have, and how to map them against the business’ needs, is always going to be faster and less painful in the short-term. In doing so, you’ll identify gaps that you can fill in the medium and long term with new resources.

3. Face-time for real

My job would be impossible without technology, but never underestimate the value of actual face-time. To run a function that really collaborates, you must make the effort to physically get the team together - whether that’s monthly, quarterly or annually - and foster that real-world connection with your colleagues. Those moments of human contact create goodwill that ripples out through your work.

4. Adapt to internal clients’ way of working

Site visits are priceless if you want to know how your colleagues actually work and interact with each other. Adapt your culture and ways of working to theirs, rather than trying to impose an artificial uniformity that’s always doomed to fail. Ask yourself if you’ve honestly made the effort to go and experience the culture and ways of working around the business first-hand; if not, can you really expect to add value where it counts?

5. Make your metrics support theirs

Once your ways of working are aligned, do the same for your objectives. The business wants growth, but how it defines that growth will change your areas of focus. For example, if it’s through higher revenues, then are your sales contract processes as frictionless as they need to be? If it’s through adding new markets and geographies, should regulatory issues be your focus? Speak the same language as the business, and show them how you can help to drive that growth.

6. More human, less lawyer

For better or for worse, lawyers often have a perception problem: we’re smart and haughty, distant and stern, high-handed and didactic. These stereotypes are often unfair, but sometimes they’re not - and it’s up to us to change that. Getting into the habit of providing and asking for feedback is really effective in making the legal function come across as accessible and collaborative.

7. Accountability is key

Legal is often perceived as a blocker because our information is hidden. Stakeholders might think a request is unanswered because we’re slow, or we’ve prioritised poorly; but what if it’s because another team is flooding legal with NDAs, or the kind of low-value document assembly that could easily be outsourced? Sharing this with the business empowers them to rank your priorities, and see where your time and resources are too stretched, or deployed against matters that aren’t commercially important.

8. Invest in development

If your team isn’t stable, a revolving door of departures and onboarding has a huge time cost. While exits are inevitable, they can at least be reduced and predicted. To do this, employee development can’t be a footnote in performance reviews. It’s only by regularly asking where team members want to go with their career, and what they’d like to do, that you can spot flight risks early enough to mitigate them. Unless you have honest, open, regular conversations with your team, they’ll make career decisions without you.

I believe that by taking these practical steps, the legal function can grow closer even as it globalizes: closer to each other, and closer to the business. Through an open culture that encourages dialogue, learning and curiosity, we can create an atmosphere of continual improvement, that keeps lawyers at the centre of business growth - where we belong.

This is a preview of Natalie’s chapter in our eBook on legal operations. For her thoughts on how to keep employees engaged, and on the right matters, in a global company, download the full eBook for free today. Don’t forget to follow us for all the latest.

Natalie Salunke

Natalie Salunke

Natalie Salunke is Vice President and Head of Legal for Europe at Fleetcor, and has held senior roles at Enterprise Rent-A-Car, NetSuite (now part of Oracle) and SaaS provider Venda.

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