The modern GC and the "more for less" dilemma

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Lander & Rogers' Practice Group Leader - Consulting, Anthony Kearns looks at the five key adaptive challenges that sit within the “more-for-less” dilemma and describes the best-practice responses to these challenges.

Ask any General Counsel to describe their biggest challenge and they will likely answer “delivering more for less”. By this they mean that their budgets are getting smaller (certainly in relative terms but sometimes in absolute terms) and the risks they are expected to manage for the business are getting bigger and more complex. Of course, this imperative is not unique to GCs. All functions providing services to mature organisations face the same challenge when both the services and the companies themselves are under exponentially increasing disruptive threat. However, the path most lawyers follow to in-house roles leaves them ill-prepared to not only solve for this dilemma but even to break it down into its component parts. In this series of insights, I am going to cover the five key challenges that sit within the “more for less” dilemma and describe the best-practice responses to these challenges. In some cases, my descriptions of best-practice draw on the real-life practices of GCs I have worked with, but most are based on my experience of facing into the "more for less" dilemma for most of my career as a business services leader. You probably expect me to start with managing your relationships with external law firms, but I think it is much more important to first get a handle on your internal resources before looking at how you outsource.

More for less challenge 1: Getting a handle on resourcing, structure and workflow

There is very little guidance or assistance available to GCs on how to resource and structure their teams for maximum value and efficiency. In fact, there are not even commonly accepted benchmarks in respect of the size and shape of legal functions. As a result, many GCs have essentially bolted a mini law firm on the side of a large organisation (or inherited such a structure from their predecessor), adopting by default the structures and cultural norms from the firms they grew up in. There is often little thought put into what capabilities and structures are needed to manage the risk profile, work types and workflows presented by the business. Hence, functions are generally arranged around traditional “practice group” silos with a high proportion of fixed cost resources with significant autonomy in the management of stakeholder relationships and the work they do. This makes it almost impossible to manage the resource capacity and leads to unsustainable workloads when fixed costs are constrained (i.e. all the time). The traditional response of GCs to acute resourcing pressure is to ask external law firms to provide lawyers on secondment and this has become the norm but is hardly a reliable long-term solution.

Best practice

Best practice in meeting this challenge consists of first developing a deep understanding of what the business needs from the legal function. The best way to do this is to go and ask stakeholders, but your lawyers are not the best people to do this. It is much better to engage experts in user-experience sampling to collect and analyse the results. As they do this for a living they don't bring your framing and biases to the interviews. We have undertaken extensive user experience sampling on behalf of a number of large legal functions and it never fails to deliver fascinating insights. It is amazing to learn what stakeholders actually value and what they could really do without. The next stage is to take this data and work with experts in organisational design and process improvement to design a resourcing model that combines fixed resources (employed in-house lawyers), flexible resources (LPOs, contractors, labour hire) and technology enablement with investment in workflow management systems (triage, self-service options, centralised resource management). In the more sophisticated legal functions this is often within the remit of the Chief Legal Operations Officer who has a background in management and the authority and budget to implement real structural change.

Get hold of the really useful book on how to structure and manage your legal function by Bjarne Philip Tellmann (Building an Outstanding Legal Team). I am a particular fan of Bjarne's insistence on getting professional help to solve for this challenge. It is complicated, so invest in expertise.

View other insights in The modern GC and the "more for less" dilemma series here:

  • The modern GC and the "more for less" dilemma | Part II
  • The modern GC and the "more for less" dilemma | Part III
  • The modern GC and the "more for less" dilemma | Part IV
  • The modern GC and the "more for less" dilemma | Part V

All information on this site is of a general nature only and is not intended to be relied upon as, nor to be a substitute for, specific legal professional advice. No responsibility for the loss occasioned to any person acting on or refraining from action as a result of any material published can be accepted.

Key contacts

Anthony Kearns

Practice Group Leader, Consulting