Defined, considered strategy has never been more important. Whether you are a new entity, a holding company or global giant, there are global pressures that need to be accounted for within a strategic plan that aligns the legal department and the business.

The panellists of this early slot on the first morning of the ACC Annual Meeting were all speaking from different experiences and perspectives, but all touched upon similar necessities when outlining how they have structured their forward looking tactics. In summary there seemed to be three stages of strategic planning, which are consistent regardless of organisation or structure:

  1. Alignment
  2. Mapping
  3. Measurement

Each of these stages can be considered complex and could be covered in blog posts of their own, but this blog will attempt to summarise each of the steps in a particularly precise manner.

Alignment

Alignment can be considered a basic understanding of the business and the plan behind their own strategic outlook. Timothy Phillips, general counsel at the American Cancer Society termed this “familiarization”; a basic process of asking questions, meeting the right people and undergoing a discovery process in order to give the legal team all the information that they can possibly have.

Alert Parker, managing director for legal affairs at Blue Quaker Holdings described how his large legal team has managed to get ahead of the curve in terms of the business strategy. They found themselves so aligned with the company goals, that they were helping to shape things like geographical expansion by being in a position to understand jurisdictions’ compliance and legal challenges, effectively a key component of the business’ growth initiatives.

Mapping

Optimization of structure, processes and spending are all essential when constructing strategic plans for the legal department and the wider business. Donald Walther, EVP and general counsel at The Heico Companies has embraced Six Sigma processes since joining the holding company, having broken down the internal resourcing, internal/external spend and value of partnerships with outside counsel.

Mapping the composition of the legal team, the interactions that they have and the benefit they bring is essential in order to get the buy in of the senior management for strategic influence. Without knowing yourselves, you can’t know how to improve strategy.

Measurement

What is the legal department achieving? How will the business measured the success? What metrics can we use to make the impacts “real”?

All of the panellists have a comprehensive feedback program with their business peers during times of change. This is a great way to be able to assess the perception of the legal team and their work during a time of transformation. Metrics such as contract turn times and quantification of law firm value have been used to demonstrate the legal team’s effect on the business plans.

As much as legal teams on the panel have achieved significant recognition for their approaches internally, the question is still posed as to the ability for a department to become proactive and get ahead of the curve. This is going to be the next, and hardest step, for GCs; but the ability to align, map and measure their position in the companies is essential.

 

Dominic Williams