Practical Tips From Legal Department Leaders To Manage A Turbulent Economy
March 28, 2023 | Articles
“Find the opportunity in a crisis” is common advice, yet opportunities may not be obvious in the middle of the storm. The upside of economizing does exist, as our recent webinar “How GCs Can Turn Economic Uncertainty into Opportunity” revealed.
General counsel are discovering unexpected advantages, such as a chance to reduce demand on the legal department without losing clout or to boost team morale. The program featured fresh perspectives and practical steps from these panelists:
- Jacqueline Lee, Vice President, General Counsel, Flynn Restaurant Group
- Renuka Drummond, General Counsel, International Data Group (IDG), Inc.
- Tracy Scanlan, VP of Client Development and Legal Affairs, Paragon Legal
- Megan Kelly, Director of Attorney Development, Paragon Legal
Our panelists discussed the big questions that GC are solving for and how to stay ahead of short-term turmoil for longer-term gain.
- Should this still sit with legal? Determine the right people for the right job.
Layoffs and budget cuts have brought nearly every process, project and person under scrutiny. And that can be a good thing, especially for rapidly growing companies.
It may be the perfect time to step back and see if everything under legal’s responsibility should continue to be.
During rapid expansion, legal easily becomes the head traffic cop and catchall assumer of responsibility. But when companies gain deeper or alternative resources, pulling in a lawyer for standard, reoccurring and non-gray areas of law does not make sense, according to Jacqueline Lee of Flynn Restaurant Group.
“Contracts are supposed to be readable by non-lawyers,” says Lee. She suggests drafting contracts the business folks can understand. Instead of a lawyer spending an hour discussing the landlord’s duty to change lightbulbs, a well-trained leasing team can handle it.
Introducing a self-service mentality, akin to teaching non-legal colleagues “to fish,” requires some effort. Renuka Drummond of IDG says to “really look at ways that we can help the business be less dependent on legal.”
IDG’s legal team fosters independence with templates, escalation processes, playbooks and trainings of sales teams, along with being ready to intervene for issues outside the norm. Tools like these allow Drummond’s team to support a high-priority sales initiative even though they had to forgo hiring a FTE earmarked for the project.
Opportunity: Decrease dependence on legal for lower-value services. Create playbooks, guides, trainings and other DIY tools that empower business units to help themselves.
Bonus opportunity: Non-legal employees enjoy their new self-sufficiency and are shifting legal’s old reputation as a blocker to an empowerer in the organization, according to Paragon’s Tracy Scanlan.
- Data is your friend. How can you track it?
Data and tracking are even more important when resources are limited. Hard data, not anecdotes, will build a GC’s case.
“People in a business context really need substantiation if they’re going to change behavior. Substantiation helps them say ‘okay, this is actually a problem’ and act on it,” says Lee.
Lawyers may grumble about tracking their time and how it’s spent, flashing back to billable requirements, says Paragon’s Megan Kelly. Ultimately, the team will benefit from collecting the data, and the process can be simple.
Panelists shared tips such as using a notepad to mark the frequency of questions that could have been answered outside of legal, note the activities that could have been done elsewhere in the function or org, or to flag an unexpected surge in demand. These quick notes and deeper analysis have helped GCs see patterns in resource misallocation, litigation upswings, and contract review bottlenecks—and made it easier to anticipate the pipeline and related issues.
Opportunity: Use informal and formal reports to identify the need for new efficiencies, substantiate the ask, and increase visibility across the company.
Bonus opportunity: Expand reports to connect to projects and efforts in other units, such as risk management, finance or IT.
- Help needed. When and whom should you hire?
Everybody wants to prevent hiring an FTE and then letting them go in a layoff. The panel understood the need for caution while also avoiding decision paralysis.
“Companies get money for a full-time headcount or something like that, and you want to just jump on it right away. You think, I have to do this or I’m never going to get this again,” says Scanlan.
Instead of FOMO driving the hiring, try reframing the view. Look at priorities and resequence them as needed, says Drummond.
One example of reframing came from Lee of the franchisee Flynn Restaurant Group. She saw the negative impact created by backlogs in lease deals. A delayed opening of a new restaurant also delayed revenue.
Lee shifted gears from pursuing a lengthy FTE-hire process to jumpstarting the immediate lease work with a Paragon interim attorney, who hit the ground running. The urgent work was done, and the time and cost of an FTE search avoided. In fact, the Paragon lawyer fit in so well, they became the team’s FTE months later.
Opportunity: Instead of focusing on what’s missing without a FTE, reprioritize to focus on urgent business needs and creative staffing options to meet them.
Bonus opportunity: The short-term solution may hold the solution to the longer-term win!
- Team looking tired? Keep them happy.
One important opportunity for panelists is their team’s quality of life. “You can’t just assume that folks are going to be indefinitely working 60 hours a week on the weekends and evenings without a break,” says Lee.
GCs should model wellness behaviors, such as taking vacations and periodic wellness days off. Support a culture that supports healthy habits like midday fitness breaks and celebrations of achievements.
Opportunity: Be proactive in recognizing burnout on the team. Bring in right-sized help before morale disintegrates and the entire team’s suffering in silence turns into mass resignations.
Bonus opportunity: Demonstrating best practices in team building and wellness can resonate company wide.
This article shares highlights of the program, “How GCs Can Turn Economic Uncertainty into Opportunity.” View the full webinar here. Have questions? Please contact us to learn more about Paragon and our attorneys.