Building the right relationship with your legal counsel

August 1, 2018 | BY SHANNON Q

Natalie McFarlane, Senior Legal Counsel at Simplex Legal, recently shared her views on a changing legal services market and on the challenges facing in-house legal departments.

In your role, what are the most common issues facing legal departments in the current environment.

Having legal support that can demonstrate an understanding of the client’s business. That understanding has to be deep and broad. So, it has to include the revenue models, the operational structure, as well as the industry and sector. I think a lot of businesses and their in-house departments find it challenging getting that level of understanding from their external legal counsel. It’s really important for legal counsel to demonstrate they can assist with the effective handling of the risk that comes with the business operational structure.

What else?

Being accessible. I think business executives would appreciate having legal more involved. It’s just that the involvement of legal has to be done in a way that adds business value; that positions legal as more of a collaborator, rather than merely a cost centre or after-thought. 

How can clients take up the challenge of addressing their legal operations more efficiently?

Well, it is incumbent on the legal service providers to develop solutions that a business can understand.  The business has to immediately see the value in it. At the same time. clients also have to articulate their desire to have solutions. They have to talk about their pain points a bit more clearly, although it seems to me that they’ve been doing that a lot more clearly in recent years. They have to give feedback on service delivery, so that the legal service provider can find a way to bridge any gaps that become apparent. And ultimately, clients could be more tuned into to the marketplace of legal services, figuring out what’s out there, and looking into different business models delivering high quality legal support.

What do you set out to accomplish in helping a client better manage their legal issues?

I would be inclined to start first by understanding what the revenue models are, and understanding ultimately the risk. Of course there are various risk levels, but at a tangible operational level, the key to understanding any aspect of the business is looking at it with the largest net profit source of the business in mind. That operational risk scoping needs to be addressed in the most comprehensive way from a legal standpoint. And so starting from there, you can build a profile of all of the relationships that come into play in supporting  particular aspects of the business, and how the regulations related to operating that aspect of the business have an impact as well. It’s a very high level, but you have to understand first what line or lines of business is the driver of the business operation. Then you can build out legal support services that help clients better manage their legal issues.

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