How To Run Your In-House Legal Department Like a Profit Center
Susan Diehl, Vice President, General Counsel and Secretary, Holcim Ltd, USA
I have always had a love of business, even when I knew I wanted to be a lawyer. Reality set in at my first in-house position, during the height of an industry slump. That job taught me what often defines the life of corporate positions: being. overhead.. I learned that when times get tough, "overhead" gets going (right out the door). The nearly quarterly demands to trim our already meagre ranks were also accompanied by the question - "what, exactly, is it you do?" This hard lesson spurred a journey to prove that what an in-house lawyer does is something worthwhile for business. The question is how to define and demonstrate the value creation potential of an in-house legal function. Despite numerous articles on law firm convergence, e-billing, and TQM for dummies, none provided me a road map of how to translate individual actions and transactions into a total system for value creation. This system also needed to be translatable to the business. Ultimately, the answer came from the principles of business itself - strategy and execution.
In this article, I will discuss how our company's legal function evolved from an assembly of high quality lawyers acting individually, to a highly performing team that has leveraged its small size by using tested business principles to create and execute a strategy. The goal - to be a corporate service that adds to, not detracts from our company's bottom line - is still a work in progress. As with most things, the fundamentals are critical. Then, it is about basic strategy, execution and continuous improvement.
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