What can corporate legal departments learn from their local supermarkets? Self-reliance.

For retail customers, self-checkout was a novelty when first introduced in 1986. By the end of 2022, DIY scanning was in nearly 40% of the grocery sector. Anyone who has been on the tricky end of a price scanner knows the technology has some issues, but those scanners are here to stay.

The good news for legal teams is as self-help options become commonplace, people’s mindsets have shifted from “do it for me” to “I got this.” Several GCs in a recent webinar, How GCs Can Turn Economic Uncertainty into Opportunity, shared how they are meeting the mandate to do more with less by reducing other business units’ reliance on legal.

Corporate legal teams are drafting playbooks, trainings, rules, and protocols to reduce the attention they must give to standard requests from sales, finance, engineering, and other units. This, in turn, is creating new bandwidth for legal’s strategic initiatives while still supporting initiatives companywide.

Areas Primed for Self-Help Tools

Not sure who the likely candidates are for self-help resources?

Begin with a few questions, says Jacqueline Lee, Vice President, General Counsel, Flynn Restaurant Group. Lee began to track the requests her team kept fielding. Then she asked, “Is this something that needs to be done by a lawyer or trained legal professional, or is this something, with clear guidance from a legal professional, other folks are better suited to do?”

The answers helped easily identify areas of in-house expertise that could be elevated a notch or two. For example, the real estate team has a deep understanding of leases, property management, and facilities. The creation of a playbook that addresses standard questions concerning facilities has helped resolve lower-level problems, which were previously escalated to a lawyer, with no time needed from the legal team.

The approach is applicable beyond real estate, says Lee. Look for the questions or issues that are constantly reoccurring. She discovered other areas and practices, such as initial contract review and consumer privacy request responses, that could be handled with a properly trained, nonlegal professional.

“Are we adding value in this process or in this review step? Must you have a specialized background to add value?” are some qualifying questions that Renuka Drummond, General Counsel, IDG, Inc., asks to determine what may qualify for a training, playbook, or templated self-help tool.

Self-Help from Interim Support

Creating tip sheets, guidelines, and trainings requires effort and time, which can feel like a luxury for many legal teams. One legal tech software company tackled the issue strategically. They made good use of their Paragon flexible attorney brought in for a specialized contract project.

After completing her original, initial assignment, the Paragon attorney mentioned her previous experience drafting playbooks. The GC had long wanted to introduce playbooks into legal’s toolkit but was uncertain of how to start. The Paragon attorney used her new institutional knowledge to help launch a guide and template for select contract matters, creating a true win-win for the GC.

Both Lee and Drummond caution on the importance of accounting for deviations from standard protocols and providing clear recommendations when an issue should be escalated for legal’s intervention.

In another self-help use case, Drummond shared how, like many other GCs today, she’s delayed hiring FTEs. The impetus for the hires was to support a new, non-U.S. sales push. Challenged to support sales still, Drummond pursued temporary resources, which included a Paragon attorney, to help train salespeople, draft playbooks and provide the tools to wean the sales team’s dependence on legal.

Building Skills vs. Directing Traffic

Shifting to a short-term goal without losing sight of long-term aims, as Drummond did, is exactly what flexibility looks like for GCs today, says Tracy Scanlan, Vice President of Client Development and Legal Affairs, at Paragon Legal.

The self-help approach carries several upsides: an increase in teamwork and shared goals, says Megan Kelly, Director of Attorney Development at Paragon Legal.

Business units gain confidence from their new skills, work silos lessen, and cross-functionality increases. GC Drummond is also noticing an even deeper institutional impact — a shift in legal’s historic, if inefficient, role as “traffic cops and the middle glue that holds everything together” to a more strategic use of professional talent.

Showcase the Value of Self-Help Resources

There are many benefits to self-help resources for legal teams, and it’s important to showcase the value to the broader business. Reduced legal spending, faster turnaround times, improved processes for getting deals done, and ultimately increased revenue. Highlight the impact that self-help tools bring to the organization as a whole, and increase your department’s visibility and recognition.