As organizations grow or the competitive landscape shifts, the corporate vision can evolve. Unfortunately, there is often a disconnection between a corporation’s new vision and the law department’s support of that vision. Law departments may be mired in their historical ways, resulting in a number of habits or concerns that can be inconsistent with growing and changing businesses. For example, the law department might be overly involved in lower value work, keeping lawyers from focusing on higher value work, or might lack expertise in emerging areas. The law department focus might be on risk avoidance rather than finding solutions or on providing only specific legal advice rather than combining that advice with strategic business acumen, leading it to respond to internal clients in a reactive rather than proactive manner.

Law departments that can align themselves with the corporate vision are better positioned to proactively serve their clients and meet or exceed client expectations. But how can a law department embrace the corporate vision and transform its role and approach to service delivery? It requires adopting a new vision for the department, redefining the value contribution and behaviors to meet client expectations, and challenging historical perspectives to adopt a new operating model.

The most critical component to transforming the law department is an innovative, collaborative leadership team that fully embraces the vision and will guide development of the group with the needed skills and mindset. Once the leadership team is on board with the vision, following are five areas of focus to guide the department through its transformation.

1. Work Prioritization

Often, law departments spend too much time on low-value work, leaving insufficient time available for work that is of high value to the entity. The department can undertake an exercise, with the assistance of its internal clients, to determine where the law department’s time should be best spent and where gaps currently exist, in order to align internal and external resources to the highest value work for the company. It is important to do a qualitative value assessment of each type of work, based on its risk and its contribution to achieving the company’s strategy. The results of this comparison provide insights into how resources are actually being used and how they should be used.

2. Expectations for Client Service Delivery

In many law departments, lawyers perceive their role as mainly focused on providing substantive legal knowledge. But the role of the law department has evolved, and internal clients now need their in-house lawyers to be collaborative, strategic business partners, with business acumen and the ability to match the speed of the business. To evolve, law department leadership must clearly define performance expectations for client service delivery for each internal role.

3. Organizational Structure

A law department may also need to revise its existing organizational structure to support the evolving business needs and provide career development opportunities within the department. While every organization’s needs are different, the organization structure should provide clients with easy access into the law department, provide consistency of service delivery, emphasize high-value services and areas with strategic impact, provide internal clarity, and offer opportunities for department members’ career advancement.

4.Tools and Technology

It may be appropriate to invest in new or updated tools and technology to facilitate better service delivery. The right tools can streamline certain tasks as well as offer reporting tools to track performance.

5.Training and Change Management 

Change is often difficult and a true transformation of a law department can require considerable change. To embed the desired new behaviors, department leadership will need to demonstrate its commitment to the change and incorporate the related philosophies in all its communications. It will need to conduct training, not just in a single instance, but on an ongoing basis. Leadership should be aware of the likely barriers to change and develop strategies to overcome those barriers. In sum, it is important to actively address the change management needed to support transformation, through communications, team member involvement, and training to embed new behaviors and expectations of team members.

Transforming a law department to align with the corporate vision may not be easy, but it is an exciting prospect. Law departments that successfully embrace their transformation develop strategic partnerships with the business and are able to find creative solutions to issues that arise and to proactively contribute to the organization’s success.