As much as we might wish it were different, it’s a fact of life that an in-house legal team will have to justify their legal plans to senior management. It’s also a fact that good plans on their own won’t get the job done. You need to be conscious of how your plans will be perceived, and much of that comes down to how you present them.
There are several things you need to do in order to give your plans the best chance of being approved (the most important of which is making sure they are sensible, achievable and robust), but these 5 sentences can certainly help!
1. This will add value to the business.
It sounds obvious, but it’s easy for an in-house legal team to forget that what they do exists in a wider business context. Legal plans are not just about the legal department. If you can show how your legal strategy brings value to the business beyond merely providing protection to it, that will go a long way to getting your plans approved.
Examples of this approach might be including legal plans for licensing to increase the performance of licenses, or suggesting strategies for monetising your IP portfolio beyond its use within the company.
2. This will save the business money.
While adding value will get you a long way in terms of getting your legal plans approved, cutting costs can provide a shortcut. Unlike increasing revenue, cost-cutting (as long as it implies no downgrading of your ability to do the job properly) has a direct, positive impact on the bottom line.
Anything in your legal plans that is likely to have an immediate, bottom line impact, will give you a better chance of getting those plans approved. Examples of this might include outsourcing certain functions to an alternative legal services provider in order to save money you currently spend on external counsel. Of course, you have to be confident that there won’t be a reduction in quality alongside cost.
3. This will increase certainty and predictability.
Unpredictability is the enemy of good business just as it is of lawyers. Legal plans that demonstrate increased certainty for the business are likely to get a good hearing from senior management.
Certainty could be a question of budget predictability, for example if you can negotiate fixed fee arrangements with your external counsel. You could also develop legal plans which incorporate certainty in terms of outcome, perhaps by suggesting a settlement strategy in a long-running litigation, for example.
4. This will reduce risk.
Business risk for legal departments can take many forms, and managing risk is central to the job of a good in-house legal team. A plan that helps reduce risk will help you get approval from management.
Risk reduction could be as simple as engaging a new supplier to manage your IP renewals, or investing in a software system to help with your docketing.
In a more sophisticated sense, you could also include in your legal plans how you will work with other areas of the business to identify and mitigate key legal risk before it manifests itself.
5. This will help achieve the strategic objectives of the business.
Last but certainly not least, any strong legal plans will take account of the overall business objectives. Perhaps your business has identified China as an important market for expansion. Lining up your legal plans with that objective, perhaps by identifying key risks and mitigations in China, will certainly help persuade management to approve your plans.
If that sounds simplistic, it can be more subtle too. If the business’s strategic objective is to outsource manufacturing, for example, then a legal plan from an in-house legal department that includes strategy for securing against counterfeiting will likely be very popular.
These sentences on their own will not get your legal plans approved. However, they can help you set your priorities in terms of communicating those plans with the decision makers in your company, and ensure that your plans get judged on their value and not merely their cost.