Legal Operations 101

 

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I fought the law and the law won.

I fought the law and the law won.

Buddy Holly

 

Legal operations emphasizes the effective and efficient delivery of legal services in-house. This relatively new discipline addresses a number of organizational issues. Counsel should no longer fight against the organizational assimilation, but they should instead work at becoming part of it.

 

Admittedly, Legal Operations even sounds cool. Someone going to the Legal Department sounds a bit like going to the old style department stores to look at furniture with your parents.

 

The best part of being in-house involves being part of an organization. The most difficult part of being in-house appears to be being part of an organization. LO helps with the effectiveness of being part of that organization.

 

We need to identify some of the issues that LO can alleviate. Dealing with organizational activities comes with the territory, AKA Willey Lowman. Some of this can be great when you are off to a retreat to do some strategic planning. Even if this involves going even further north during the winter since its off-season and there can be some great buys.

 

Another issue recognizes that in-house counsel require updates as to what is happening outside of their own department or function. The watercooler used to help with that, but now we have the ethereal coffee shop that we use for Microsoft Teams. This seems to lack the same level of integration and networking, but the coffee at home tastes better.

 

With limited resources, the next issue involves trying to educate your clients ahead of time. This really means being involved with the planning process.

 

Counsel need to demonstrate the value of the legal department or function. One must resort sometime to counting all of the icebergs or landmines the organization missed because of your risk management activities.

 

Sometimes the organization asks you to do tasks or projects outside of your area. This recognizes your abilities outside of your law degree, shows additional value and facilitates your engagement in other areas of the organization. Leading the business planning process can be a great way to demonstrate value and learn about other areas of the organization. Some refer to this as scope creep. I actually refer to this as ‘chipping in’.

 

The final and potentially greatest issue involves the need to reduce overall legal costs. Moving from a cost center to a profit centre can be a great achievement, so long as in creating profits you still have time to avoid that iceberg. The collision is what people generally remember, not that great business plan you put together.

 

LO competencies solve or alleviate some of the above issues. For example, learning the budgeting system goes far to learning the business and keeping on the CFO’s good side.

 

A major competency includes document management. Bringing in or learning how the DM operates can go far in alleviating time and costs. You waste a great deal of every day searching for a document, or searching for a document that never existed. DM search mechanisms can quickly bring you up to speed when it comes up with the ‘document not found.’ If you have every tried to prove a nullity, you can appreciate how an electronic search can substantially reduce the amount of grief.

 

Document management includes increased knowledge management. KM seems to be another term that comes and goes in favor. You can have all of the facts and information, but you need context for these two things in order to reach the knowledge plateau. Ultimately, you want the wisdom plateau when you accumulate all of the necessary institutional knowledge. Hopefully this occurs before retirement.

 

Another part of DM includes standardized contracts. Most organizations already have this. So if you do, then add it to your ‘to do list’ so that you can check it off. There is no greater feeling when it comes to setting out to accomplish something you have already accomplished.

 

Paperless policies form an integral part of document management. Previously people would scan a document but still keep the paper copy in another file. You simply have to face the situation and shred the original. Unless it is a negotiable instrument. You should keep those for a few days to make sure the scan to the bank works. I have scanned in personal cheques and shredded them immediately. This practice will catch up with me some day, but right now, I am just living on the edge.

 

Another competency involves project management. When taking my MBA, I went for a two-day seminar on PM. I spent a week cramming on using Microsoft Project software thinking that this would be the emphasis. However, we spent the two days learning to talk to one another and to listen to what the other person was saying. I did not learn anything significant about software, but it improved my relationship with my significant other. Good win there.

 

During the PM seminar, we all met up in the banquet hall. The large crowd waited at their tables, mostly patiently, for dinner. The seminar leader announced that if anyone could tell a project management joke, their table would be first in line for the buffet. I immediately stood up and asked ‘Why did the chicken cross the road?” Dramatic Pause here. “Because it was a critical path.” (Which is a major project management term that one needs to learn.) It was a groaner, but my table got to eat first. Or at least I did. The rest of my table wanted to put a bit distance between them and me.

 

The benefit of these LO techniques, excluding the lame joke telling, facilitates an effective in-house legal department and reduces the amount of legal work sent outside of the organization. Reducing outside legal work can result in reduced budgets, alternative fee arrangements or retention agreements.

 

Another LO benefit allows focus on higher priority and more strategic work. There appears to be a synergistic and not a sum zero effect. By spending more time on legal operations, this allows the remaining time spent more effectively on the legal function.

 

This is not quite the same thing as doing more with less since you need the LO expertise. You do more legal work but you need a bit more LO at the same time. If you are single legal officer worker (SLOW), then you need to become a FAST (Following A Strategic Tempo) legal operator. Yes, the acronyms sound contrived, but all business articles require several.

 

Becoming involved in other aspects of the business can be a bit of a cultural shift. Picking a few areas where you can provide value quickly and effectively would show other parts of the organization your value. Focusing on how you can help others achieve their business objectives provides the greatest value.

Incorporating Machiavelli into the mergers and acquisitions department

Niccolò Machiavelli

 

Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli was the Renaissance-era politician, writer, philosopher and name-sake of the adjective “Machiavellian,” frequently used in political discourse to refer to achieving power through cunning, manipulative, cynical, ruthless and immoral means.

“So Nick, thanks for coming in for an interview. We are very interested in having you join our M&A department. I understand that you have been in practice for a number of years. Prior to this, you were an Italian historian, statesman, and political philosopher. Your legal tactics epitomize cunning and duplicity. Even your name conjures up negative thoughts. To be called a Machiavellian lawyer can be the worst form of insult.”

“It is much safer to be feared than loved,” Nick replies.

“Interesting, I see. It really seems that you have one of those ‘rags-to-riches’ type of story. Did that impact you in anyway?”

“He who has relied least on fortune is established the strongest,” Nick says.

“What does not kill me makes me stronger. Yes, I have always liked that approach,” the interview continues. “You became quite active in mergers and acquisitions. Do you have an eye for businesses ripe for a takeover?”

Nick briefly considers the question. “He who does not properly manage this business will soon lose what he has acquired.”

“So looking for a poorly run business seems a good approach. I understand that when you helped your client, Mr. Prince, for your last acquisition, it was a hostile takeover. Did you have to clean house a bit? The directors may have been upset.”

“The prince, with little reluctance, takes the opportunity of the rebellion to punish the delinquents, to clear out the suspects, and to strengthen himself in the weakest places,” he answers.

“Yes, I read that you moved out most of the directors who opposed you. Was this ‘shock and awe’ tactic pivotal?”

“Hence it is that all armed prophets have conquered and the unarmed ones have been destroyed,” he says.

“Well, that is a bit dramatic, but I take your point. I hear you managed to reverse some declared but unearned options for the individual directors. That must have hurt.”

“Men ought to be well treated or crushed, because they can avail themselves of lighter injuries, of more serious ones they cannot; therefore the injury that is to be done to a man ought to be of such a kind that one does not stand in fear of revenge,” Nick declares, crossing his arms with self-assurance.

“Sounds a little harsh, but seemed to work. The new board certainly believed in your new direction. Do you think they will stand behind the new CEO?”

“And thus it is necessary to take such measures that, when they believe no longer, it may be possible to make them believe by force,” he replies.

“Get on the bus, or get under it. That is really tough leadership. And you helped implement some new business plans I understand. How did you view the staff who remained?”

“Because this is to be asserted in general of men, that they are ungrateful, fickle, false, cowardly, covetous, and as long as you succeed, they are yours entirely,” Nick says matter-of-factly.

“You are saying that as long as you are reaching your goals, people are happy. Did you have any problems with management and the new strategies you were suggesting?”

Nick took a deep breath, exhaled and looked at the ceiling, before replying, “There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things.”

“I’m with you on that. Boy, we implemented this new accounting package and the backlash caught everyone off guard. How did the rest of the staff respond to the fast paced changes?”

“In seizing a state, the usurper ought to examine closely into all those injuries which is necessary for him to inflict, and to do them all at one stroke so as not to have to repeat them daily,” Nick says.

“Yes, if you are pulling off a band aid, better to do it all at once … ”

Nick interjects, “For injuries ought to be done all at one time, so that being tasted less, then offend less: benefits ought to be given little by little, so that the flavour of them may last longer.”

“What sort of leadership qualities did the new CEO Mr. Prince have that really stood out?”

“It is unnecessary for a prince to have all the good qualities enumerated, but it is very necessary to appear to have them,” he says.

“Fake it till you make it. Got it. But to be a good leader, do you agree that credibility is one of the most important criteria?”

“It is necessary to know well how to disguise this characteristic, and to be a great pretender and dissembler; and men are so simple,” Nick says, “and so subject to present necessities, that he who seeks to deceive will always find someone who will allow himself to be deceived.”

“I hear you. A leader has to put on a front for staff and can be himself for family and friends. Do you have an open-door policy, you know that speaking truth to power thing?”

“But when everyone may tell you the truth, respect for you abates.”

“I see. Did you implement some sort of bonus retention plan to keep the key staff?”

“He who believes that new benefits will cause great personages to forget old injuries is deceived,” Nick says.

“Ok, so money may not smooth over past slights. Do you have particular ways to discipline staff that may not be following your directions?”

“Leave affairs of reproach to the management of others and keep those of grace in their own hands,” he says.

“Seems like a good idea to pass out the roses yourself, and leave the real dirt to someone else. I know this is confidential. But what can you tell me about any future takeovers?”

“He ought never, therefore, to have out of his thoughts this subject of war, and in peace he should addict himself more to its exercise than in war,” Nick replies.

“Yes, business is like war, and all is fair in love and war. Do you have any guidelines you follow to make your clients a fortune with M&A?”

“Fortune, who shows her power where valour has not prepared to resist her,” he says. “And thither she turns her forces where she knows that barriers and defenses have not been raised to constrain her.”

“Got it. Go for the weakest underbelly. I read something like that in Art of War or something. Thanks for your time Nick, and we will let you know. People certainly are talking about your working approach.”

“Hatred is acquired as much by good works as from bad.”

“Good to know. Have a nice day!”