/ Legal operations

Service delivery and alternative support models: how satisfied is your internal client?

This is one of 13 chapters from our eBook, 'Legal operations: how to do it and why it matters'. Download the full eBook here or explore the other competencies below.

Foreword | Introduction | Financial management | Vendor management | Cross-functional alignment | Technology & process support | Organisational design, support & management | Communications | Data analytics | Litigation support | IP management | Knowledge management | Information governance & records management | Strategic planning

Max Hübner, General Counsel & Executive Director Legal Operations at DPA Professionals, shares his insight on how to design legal service delivery. The views in this article are the author's own, and do not represent the views of Juro nor those of CLOC.

How do you model service delivery for in-house legal? It’s a foundational question for all of us, but as a starting point, it’s entirely the wrong question. Before you model anything, you need to find out what you need to deliver. If you don’t know where you’re going, it’s almost certain that you’ll end up some place else. You need a legal services map.

Creating a legal services map for your department means first conducting a risk assessment, to understand where and how the company is exposed to legal risk, and as a GC, how you need to respond to it. But that’s just the groundwork. You then must exhaustively identify the legal services needed by the business, and the stakeholders that need them. Depending on the size of your company, this can be a sprawling exercise - there might be five or six key programs, across areas like IP, litigation, tax, regulatory, litigation, and so on. But without it, you’ll be flying blind and throwing money out of the plane while you do it. Only once you’ve identified the specific areas of need, and the resources available to meet them, can you evaluate if you have the right level of support for those areas, to deliver the right quality, and at a fair cost to the business.

Many GCs jump past this step entirely and start with the assumption that new technology is what they need. They read something on LinkedIn, they saw something at a conference, they spotted something at their external counsel’s office - and they want it. But following the legal technology explosion to a software solution that promises efficiency and effectiveness, without taking a hard look at where your legal service map should take you, is amongst the worst mistakes a GC can make. Software alone won’t help you - not without a strategy and a road-map to guide you.

The customer is always right

Once you know what you need to deliver, the next question has to be: how does your internal client want that service to be delivered? Far too few in-house legal departments ever take enough time to put that question directly to their business stakeholders. That’s exactly what I chose to do during my time as Director of Corporate Legal and Tax at PGGM, as part of a programme of transformational change that was nominated for an award from the Financial Times. Together with Stephan van Gelder, Chief Executive at Integron, I co-created a customer satisfaction questionnaire, designed specifically to help lawyers understand their responsibilities to internal customers - and increase our value-add to the business.

The first step was to ask stakeholders what the most important factors were when it came to evaluating the performance of legal. The answer was surprising but, in hindsight, obvious: the overwhelming message was that the quality of our legal expertise was a given, almost meaningless. Internal clients know, as far as it’s possible for them to know, that you’re good lawyers. They assume this to be the case, and besides, as non-lawyers, how could they evaluate the quality of your expertise anyway? Much more important to our internal clients were factors like turnaround time; usability, meaning the way lawyers relate to business colleagues; accessibility, meaning how understandable and jargon-free the advice is; and the extent to which legal helps the business to be efficient and effective.

These insights helped me to create our first customer satisfaction questionnaire for legal, which involved 20 questions upon which legal should be graded. I also asked how important each issue was to the respondent. I first asked my in-house legal team to complete the questionnaire, and provide the names of stakeholders within the business with whom they worked. That provided a list of about 500 internal clients to survey, and when the responses came back, I could see not only those areas of most importance to internal clients, but whether they matched the legal team’s expectations.

I know what service I’ll deliver, when, how, and how much it will cost - giving legal and the business the predictability they need

Needless to say, they didn’t. But we had established the baseline, which was an average mark of 7.2 out of 10. My focus then became overturning that deficit to move towards a 10, and where we could improve. As a team, we chose 4 KPIs - none of which were legal quality - and I asked each individual legal counsel to take 3 other KPIs they wanted personally to improve.

Over the next three years we moved the needle from 7.2 to 8.2. On legal quality, we remained the same; but on non-legal indicators, we improved every year.

The final piece of the puzzle was to link these KPIs to our bonus pool. Legal’s bonus, more often than not, is dictated by the performance and profits of the company; but is it clear that we all affect that? Can we say the upside in profits that came from acquisitive growth, or winning new contracts, is anything to do with us? Or indeed the downside from our sales colleagues having a bad year? Instead, I wanted the team to feel that their fate, in terms of reward, was in their own hands - if they achieved positive change in terms of legal service delivery, they’d be rewarded for it. This is a difficult cultural change to make, but we’ve ultimately seen improvements to service, after aligning bonus and service this way.

Brave new world

With this kind of holistic, research-driven approach to service delivery, it’s much easier to shape the model that will deliver it - and the incentives your team have to make sure it works. I can use this knowledge to design my model from the inside outwards. I now know the capabilities of our in-house team and where they’re deployed. I can deploy technology or software services to handle the appropriate tasks in-house. For volume tasks, particularly involving low-value work, I can bring in the right alternative legal service providers. For litigation and similar issues that are limited to this jurisdiction, I can turn to preferred mid-sized local firms; and finally for global issues, I can escalate to the big international law firms. Having mapped our resource map internally, it’s wise to take the same approach with external counsel - I ask for rates for each and every type of lawyer, from trainee to senior partner, so I can map them against matters and generate predictive pricing. I know what service I’ll deliver, when, how, and how much it will cost - giving legal and the business the predictability they need to establish trust, and work together as genuine partners.

Expensive shelfware is one of the fastest ways to ruin your credibility with the business

This approach has proved successful for me, but every organisation is different. The biggest mistake a GC could make in service delivery is just to follow what’s out there in the legal market and expect it to instantly deliver effectiveness and efficiency. That can lead to expensive shelfware - one of the fastest ways to ruin your credibility with the business. To truly become the business’ partner, they need to trust you - but you need to trust their commercial judgement too. If you can’t win their approval as a partner through how you deliver legal services, then no technology can save you.

Explore the other legal ops competencies covered in our eBook, Legal operations: how to do it and why it matters:

Foreword | Introduction | Financial management | Vendor management | Cross-functional alignment | Technology & process support | Organisational design, support & management | Communications | Data analytics | Litigation support | IP management | Knowledge management | Information governance & records management | Strategic planning

Download the full eBook here.

Don’t forget to follow us for all the latest.

Max Hübner

Max Hübner

Max Hübner is General Counsel & Executive Director Legal Operations at DPA Professionals. He was nominated for an award by FT Innovative Lawyers in 2013.

Read More
Beautiful end-to-end contract management, designed for the modern business
Find out more