How to Set Up a Modern In-House Legal Department

How to Set Up a Modern In-House Legal Department

Here at Logikcull, we talk a lot about in-house legal departments (we are, after all, purpose-built for in-house teams). Sometimes we focus a lot on details, so we thought it could be valuable to zoom out a little bit and discuss some of the basics of how to set up an in-house legal department.

But not just any in-house legal department. A modern in-house legal department. Cue jazz hands.

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Sorry, Krasinski, not enthusiastic enough. Let’s try again.

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Yeah, Garak gets it.

Why Set Up an In-House Legal Department?

Most businesses start off only using outside counsel. Generally speaking, this is manageable for a while. But as businesses grow, there comes a point where increasingly complex and frequent legal issues may call for bringing services in-house.

An in-house hire can look like an expensive proposition at first, but can save you money in the long run — especially if your outside counsel spend is starting to outstrip what you’d pay a GC/in-house counsel in salary. 

Besides potential long-term savings, GCs and in-house counsel have the benefit of being a part of your business every day, allowing them to really get to know the people who work there and how things operate. They may continue to work with outside counsel on complex matters, but this deeper understanding allows in-house attorneys to operate more efficiently and effectively because they understand your business, values, and the players involved.

You’ll have a trusted attorney you can consult without worrying about their billable hours. Plus, they’ll have knowledge not only of the law, but how to run a business. You can combine the best of both worlds, the way cake balls combine cake and handheld snacks! 

Step 1: Set Goals and Expectations for the Role, and Hire Accordingly

When you’re thinking about bringing your legal work in-house, the best first step is to make sure you’re aligned with HR on what needs you want the role to fill, and what your expectations will be for their workload and the type of issues they’ll handle.

Would you like them to be strategy-focused or transactional? Do you want a generalist or a specialist? What’s the area of law they’ll be focusing on? Are you planning to start with a single GC or hire a GC and supporting in-house counsel? Do you need other legal support staff like paralegals?

The answers to those questions will of course depend on your specific business needs, but it’s important to make sure you have clear expectations so you can find the best candidates for the role. It may be helpful to draft a vision statement for the in-house legal team so you can clarify your goals and strategy. 

When you’re interviewing and hiring, be sure your candidates are clear on the role and expectations, so they can speak to their experiences in the areas of expertise you’re trying to prioritize.

Step 2: Get Counsel Integrated Into Business and Company Culture

As mentioned above, one of the benefits of an in-house legal department is that the attorneys know the business and the company inside out. Of course, when attorneys first join your business, they’ll have some learning to do. 

Make sure attorneys have opportunities to meet and speak with as many members of the team as they can. It’s a good idea for a new GC to do a listening tour throughout the company to learn how things really operate and get a sense of any gaps or issues that might be coming up. It’s important that counsel build trust with the team so that they can effectively investigate issues and represent the company. Having some casual company or department-wide events after bringing on an in-house attorney can create opportunities for them to connect with staff. 

Making these connections can be especially challenging in remote work environments, so it might be useful to hold some virtual hangouts or implement an app or add-on like Donut, which pairs up users in Slack spaces for casual Zoom meetings (it will even suggest conversation starters). The more you can help integrate your counsel in the company, the better they can perform in their work. 

Step 3: Don’t Be Afraid of Tech

You really can’t set up a modern in-house legal department without embracing modern tech. That would be like saying you want to go to Las Vegas without any cash or Pedialyte. It’s unwise and you’re gonna have a bad time.

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There’s a lot of great tech out there to help legal teams with contract management, billing, legal research, and of course eDiscovery, just to name a few. Adopting the right tools can make your legal department more efficient and productive. In fact, according to Bloomberg’s 2022 Legal Technology Survey, increasing productivity was the number one reason respondents gave for adopting legal tech. Other top reasons were improving workflow, meeting client or organizational demands, and improving quality of work.

So, if legal tech can improve the productivity and work quality of your modern in-house legal department, why is there still resistance to adopting it?

Bloomberg’s survey found that lack of tech savvy and time to learn new tech were two of the top barriers to legal tech adoption. Finding tech that has great onboarding and support can help alleviate some of these issues. Doing your due diligence about which tech is the most intuitive can be helpful here too. 

Speaking of doing due diligence, you may be thinking that doing all this research about new tech sounds time-consuming, and it can be. Lack of clear strategy and defined change management processes were also found to be barriers to adoption.

If you have concerns about the logistics of finding and implementing the right tech, it could be worth setting up a legal operations function on your team. If you have the means to hire someone to focus on legal ops strategy, it can really free up time for the GC and other leadership who would otherwise be shouldering the burden.

You can also check out this recent Inside Voices episode with Jessica Vander Ploeg, senior director of legal ops at Micro Focus, on the best ways to implement legal technology from scratch in your legal team.

Hopefully these tips will help you effectively set up a modern in-house legal team. And if you want to learn about how Logikcull can help your legal team save time and money in eDiscovery, feel free to book a demo with us!

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