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Setting and hitting in-house legal department goals

Setting and hitting in-house legal department goals

Setting and hitting in-house legal department goalsSarah Hack
Sarah Hack

If you’re an in-house lawyer, and you don’t currently have clear, big-picture goals for your team, don’t despair. 

It’s fairly common not to have them. 

There are plenty of excellent legal departments that operate smoothly and effectively without their own overarching objectives. These legal departments are highly attuned and responsive to the priorities of leaders in other departments with more traditional revenue-generating business functions. 

That is, these in-house legal teams are successful to the extent that they excel at collaborating, counseling, and consiglieri-ing related to the goals of other departments.

But crafting a goal specifically for your in-house legal team is prudent, and it can be far easier to implement and measure than you might think. These objectives can come sui generis from GCs and their teams, for example; or they can come from the very top, from a CEO or from the mission statement of the organization.  

The real rewards lie in how such a goal can make your job easier and can facilitate difficult decision-making.

Setting legal KPIs that support overarching business goals

Lawyers tend to love language and nuance, to eschew rigid systems with bland acronyms, and to fear graphs, charts, and (god forbid!) math. 

Thus, in thinking about legal department goal-setting, it’s possible to lean heavily on language and nuance. The key is to make the goals specific and–most importantly–to get clear on what successfully achieving the goals looks like. 

Frequently, an in-house lawyer’s actual work is substantive and qualitative. The in-house legal function does not come with a predefined set of performance metrics, tied directly to a company’s KPIs. The business development team in an organization, on the other hand, does. (Increase business revenue! Develop x-many new partnerships! Expand y-many existing partnerships!) 

Trying to implement business development goals for a legal team might feel forced, and they could quickly add an extra layer of irksome admin to an already overworked, over-admin’ed group. It’s not impossible, but it can be a challenge. 

Evergreen in-house legal goals to get you started

Instead, you might start with what in-house lawyers know to be helpful at all times. For example, the following three goals are evergreen. They are worthwhile to chase and valuable regardless of the larger strategic agenda of an organization. 

  • Evergreen goal #1: Accelerate transactions and reduce the length of contracting from deal close to execution.
  • Evergreen goal #2: Scale in-house legal operations and competencies, lowering legal costs and outside counsel fees.
  • Evergreen goal #3: Enhance the legal team’s reputation and relationships through legal training, CLEs, events, and greater external touchpoints.

This list becomes even more meaningful to individuals and teams when the goals are connected all the way up to the why of the organization, to its mission and strategy. 

Metric map for goal #1: Accelerating deal closes

Lexion’s recent webinar, ”How to Set 2023 Legal Department Goals,” fleshes out ways to construct metric-maps based on goals. Use the following as a guide to set better goals for your legal team: 

• How: Identify a specific way the in-house legal team will attempt to achieve its goal. 

• Who: Identify all the individuals in the organization who participate in the particular process, and assign them Owner/Reviewer/Do-er roles. There should only be one Owner for a given task. 

• When: Identify the time frame during which progress-toward-goal will be tracked. 

• Dependencies: Identify any necessary pre-conditions/ongoing support required from the organization to enable the specific process. 

• Metrics to track: Identify the yardsticks you will use to measure progress.  

For goal #1 above–the goal related to accelerating transaction speed–Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs) can be used as an example. The NDA is a document all in-house legal teams encounter, and all would like to put through a more streamlined process. 

By starting your metric-map with the how, the rest of the parameters flow directly therefrom. Here’s an example:

• How: Automate Non-Disclosure Agreements

• Who: Owner (GC), Reviewers (Sales leader, CEO, Stakeholder), Do-er (Contracts Manager)

• When: Q1-Q2

• Dependencies: IT Support to enable tooling/integrations; Adoption of tooling by sales team

• Metrics to track: 
- Number of NDAs touched by legal
- Number of NDAs on own template vs. third party template
- Average time under legal review stage
- Average time under counterparty review stage
- Time spent to close an NDA request from start to completion

Examples of qualitative in-house legal goals (to keep your wheels spinning!) 

The breakdown above applies to virtually every in-house legal team, but the goals below are more subjective and qualitative and can be catered to your company. Because these goals have a motivational—even aspirational—ring, they could galvanize staff and in-turn, drive in-house lawyers to achieve their more rote, standard tasks. 

The goals below can be broken down into metric maps just as in the NDA example above. (Examples of the metric map “how” immediately follow the examples in this list.) 

Goal: Be an easy legal team to do business with. 
- How: Actively adapt and evolve certain contractual terms and templates related to particular industry changes.

Goal: Be an influential legal team and thought leaders in the space.
- How:
Become experts on our industry and produce related content; followers and impressions; drive the conversation about our space by appearing at events and panels. 

Goal: Be highly supportive of this particular team in our organization, because any suffering in their deal-making will sink the whole ship. 
- How:
Prioritize requests, questions and deals from a particular team. 

Goal: Lead the organization in adapting to the broader tech landscape, i.e., by utilizing cutting edge tech advancements and appropriate software. 
- How:
Implement legal software that works like a charm and saves money.

Goal: Transition to plain language contracting that every intelligent person can fully comprehend. 
- How:
Revise certain templates and legal communications; educate appropriate staff, internal/external stakeholders.

These goals are bespoke; not one-size-fits-all. When setting qualitative goals, it’s important to ensure that the legal team’s why (the goal) and its how (the means of achieving the goal) are sympathetic to the company’s growth aspirations and risk tolerance, not at cross-purposes with the quantifiable KPI’s of the company at large.

While evergreen goals are rational and performance-based, qualitative goals are more like statements of purpose for legal departments. Like mottos or creeds, they serve to connect legal performance to more aspects of in-house lawyers’ work selves, for example, satisfaction around internal and external productivity, interpersonal harmony and collaboration, and personal development. 

How goals help drive your team toward business wins and moral imperatives

For all legal department KPIs, consider that they do not exist only in order to be met. It’s not about single-mindedly, doggedly chasing after a number or vision. Instead, your legal objectives will help you navigate complexity and improve professional relationships. 

Strategic goals for your legal department can be particularly effective when they drive toward the bottom line and help you maintain a moral compass. If there are ethical or interpersonal components, there will be stronger and more prolonged uptake. 

Brainstorm with your team, hone your aims with input from your counterparts, articulate them and get buy-in from all stakeholders. And start measuring your progress against them using the metric-map structure above. 

Most importantly, bring everyone along. We’re pavlovian, trigger and reward creatures. We like to have something to chase, and–in professional settings in particular–we thrive on autonomy and accountability. If the goals are authentic and thoughtful, they won’t weigh you down–quite the opposite. They’ll drive you towards meaningful outcomes. 

Go get 'em. 

Watch the full webinar about in-house goal setting with Jessica Nguyen, Chief Legal Officer at Lexion, Rachel Olchowka, Chief People Officer and General Counsel at Fetch, and Jason Knapp, Chief Legal Officer and Chief Privacy Officer at InMarket, below. 


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