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How legal matters: 3 habits of a highly effective chief legal officer

4 min read
Conga Team
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“You’re the boss.”

Hearing those three words is the goal of many corporate lawyers. But advancing to the top rung of the legal corporate ladder isn’t easy—and once you’re there it doesn’t get any easier.

The top lawyer in a company is usually called the General Counsel (GC) or the Chief Legal Officer (CLO). The difference between a GC and a CLO is that, usually, a CLO reports directly to the CEO while a GC does not.

This suggests a crucial difference in the way a GC thinks about their job versus a CLO. The GC may concern him or herself only with the legal matters of the organization, while the CLO is concerned with connecting those legal matters to the broader objectives of the organization. This latter point of view is very powerful—both for improving the performance of the organization and for advancing the career of the corporate lawyer.

At Conga we talk to many GCs and CLOs to understand how they approach their jobs, and how they make their jobs strategic to the goals of the organization. Here are three pieces of advice we hear over and over.

Lead with metrics

Every department has metrics that it uses to measure its performance and guide its activities. The law department is no different. A CLO will be concerned with several metrics such as managing outside counsel spending, reducing contract cycle times, and meeting service levels for response to internal requests.

A highly effective CLO will connect these metrics to key corporate objectives. They will “manage up” by showing how good performance to these metrics is boosting performance of companywide metrics, and motivate their team by showing them how the ability to hit these metrics is supporting the company and everyone who works for it.

While no two companies are exactly the same, here are three specific ways to connect common law department objectives to company goals:

1. Revenue opportunities / risk management: Show how a victory in a suit, a successfully negotiated key agreement, or another matter are creating a revenue opportunity or preventing a risk with a specific dollar value. Demonstrate the return on investment (ROI) of the legal spending and emphasize that you’ve stayed within budget.

2. Contract cycle time reduction: Reducing contract cycle times contributes to increased revenue; Conga CLM customers, for example, enjoy an average 42% reduction in contract cycle times and at least 6% increased revenue. As you reduce cycle times, use available findings—if not company internal data—to tie the accelerated cycles to greater revenue and reduced procurement costs.

3. Compliance with policies: Internal response in accordance with policy helps with sales and cost savings goals, for the same reasons as reduced contract cycle times. If your department has done its job to advance deals, it has played a critical role in revenue and profitability growth.

Tie your team to companywide processes

Your staff attorneys and other professionals have skills that no one else in the company holds. This could naturally lead your people to focus inward: on each other, on their specific tactics and on their deliverables. Your goal, however, is not just to be the legal back office: it’s to be a strategic contributor to the company. Everyone on your team should have the same mindset.

To achieve this goal, specifically align your team to the rest of the company. Use a formal matrix if it makes sense for your company.

Here’s a specific example of how this could work: If you have staff attorneys committed to sales support and contracts, work with your Chief Revenue Officer to assign your team to your sales organization, one attorney for each major organization within the overall sales team. This way, each attorney will build a relationship with a key sales leader and individual representatives, learning how they are using their tools and experiencing legal support. Your attorneys can then individually spread the message you want them to, for example, how your team has contributed to sales success in prior quarters. In time, your team will become more tightly integrated to the business, able to respond faster, and be perceived as more valuable.

Be a technologist

Lawyers have a reputation for being technology-averse, but this often is not true—and it certainly should not be true for a CLO. Embrace all the value-added technologies available to you and promote the positive effect they have on your organization.

As you adopt technology you’ll be most cost-efficient over time. This doesn’t mean you’ll have to let go of valuable team members. To the contrary, you’ll be making them more effective and more valuable, boosting their careers and their value to the business. You’ll be well positioned to take on more responsibilities and grow your organization, not shrink it.

Become proficient with modern communication and collaboration technologies as well as tools that usually live within the law department, like e-billing and matter management. Focus your strategic effort on those tools your department can own that will positively influence corporate objectives, such as contract lifecycle management. And stay informed about emerging technologies like applied artificial intelligence and smart contracts.

Who’s the boss?

Even if you’re not in the C-suite yet, practicing these methods as you grow in your role will put you in a great position to be an effective CLO. Think metrics, corporate alignment and technology, and you’ll be on your way!


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