Here’s the first in a series of content from our community of amazing clients. This piece is written by Ani Bhat, General Counsel at HealthEC. He provides an insightful approach on how to build a successful in-house team from the top-down. Check out where to begin, who to look for, and learn best practices.
Hiring is risky. It can take months to know if you have achieved that elusive sense of mutual fit. When it comes to building an in-house legal team, this risk is amplified due to the potential impact on the business. But every risk can be managed with a sound framework.
Traditionally, GCs approach the task of building a team by simply seeking to fill existing gaps in expertise. This approach may yield a collection of strong individual contributors but could lead to a less than effective team. Instead, it’s more useful to focus on maximizing collective impact.
This is the approach that product management guru Shreyas Doshi preaches as being an excellent time management framework. Doshi calls it the LNO Effectiveness Framework, which stands for “leverage,” “neutral,” and “overhead.” The framework acts as a way to categorize tasks based on a multiple of positive impact on the organization. “Leverage” tasks create 10x impact, “neutral” tasks about 1x, and “overhead” tasks <1x. It is admittedly subjective but a terrific way to prioritize your energy and time. The same framework can be adapted to building a legal team: hire in a way that maximizes your collective impact on the organization.
Where to Begin
First, consider all the ways in which your legal team can best impact the organization. For a sales-driven organization, perhaps it is in contracting and speeding up revenue recognition. For an organization in a highly regulated industry, it may be in working with the compliance team and upskilling the workforce. A hypergrowth startup, maybe in commercial contracting and hiring support.
Next, run a quick SWOT analysis to assess your weak points and threats, as well as opportunities to create value. Finally, list all the areas that the existing team (which may just be you) spends time, such as research, matter intake, contract management, policy review, HR advice, advising the C-suite, corporate governance, and so on. Assign scores to each using the LNO methodology, cross-walking the prioritization with the impact and SWOT analysis described in the previous paragraphs. This exercise will force reflection on your mission and strategy as a collective legal function. It should also yield a clear picture, not only of which roles you need to hire and in what order, but the specific skills and attributes you need to look for.
What You Need
Paralegals are a great first hire, especially for in-house teams that do a lot of corporate or commercial work. Effective at handling and triaging a high volume of “neutral” and “overhead” tasks like maintaining a contract repository, handling state regulations, and making up NDAs and basic contracts, they are “leverage” game-changers.
It is also important not to overlook the role of technology in reducing overall spend; many “neutral” and “overhead” tasks are better handled by a well-managed tool. Contract lifecycle management, e-signatures, matter intake, state registrations, etc., all have excellent technology options. I, therefore, see legal tech adoption as a “leverage” project, and maintenance as a “neutral” task.
When hiring your first commercial lawyer, it is important to keep the following things in mind. Core legal skills are only part of the success equation. The ability to work cross-functionally, exhibit high EQ, and build trust with non-legal peers are all important attributes for an in-house legal team.
Who To Look For
When it comes to the interviewing process, I look for three things beyond checking for required qualifications and skills:
1. Is the candidate a team player? Ask them for examples where they supported a colleague to their detriment, or shared credit for a job well done.
2. Has the candidate experienced setbacks? Ask them to tell you about a time they failed. The ability to learn from failure and use it as fuel is a force
3. Has the candidate implemented legal tech before? We are on the verge of a revolution in legal tech and experience with implementation, positive or negative, is an advantage. I also like to seek out “early adopters” of tech because they tend to be comfortable trying new things and thriving on the learning curve.
As GC, you will also need to carve out time to provide guidance, mentorship, and oversight over your attorney team members as they hit their stride, and on an ongoing basis to ensure their career objectives are being met. I believe in thinking of every lawyer on your team as your eventual potential successor and preparing them as such, even if you may not want to explicitly tell them that. You never know when you will have to give someone a field promotion and have them step into your shoes. The better prepared they are, the better your department can serve the organization. Quarterly offsites can be an effective mechanism to self-analyze your impact as a department, set goals, provide performance feedback, and nurture these deeper aspirations. I assign a “leverage” score to continue education, skills development, and external brand-building for attorneys.
In conclusion, I believe this adaptation of the LNO framework can help drive more value-added legal service and also nurture job satisfaction; nothing is more frustrating for an in-house lawyer than feeling inundated with low-impact grunt work or having their growth objectives ignored by their manager. The ideal outcome - a well-rounded team of professionals who bring their full and best selves to their work - does not happen unless you, as the leader, can commit the time needed to mentor your team and help them achieve their long-term career aspirations. It is arguably the most important “leverage” project on your plate.
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