Legal expertise is valuable to the enterprise. Demand is on steep upward trajectory. Budgets are failing to keep pace. We must optimize resource allocation and innovate—enhance productivity through process and tech. But, while innovation and optimization are key elements in our value story, we are still likely to need more money for the legal function to drive better business outcomes at scale and pace. Service levels are inextricably tied to resource levels—including the resources required to invest in innovation and optimization.
It is, literally, our job to ensure the legal aspects of business needs are met. Thus, it is also our job to secure sufficient resources for the legal function. Obtaining finite resources inside an enterprise carries substantial opportunity costs (other value the business could pursue with the same money) and therefore requires expert value storytelling, a learned skill in which few legal professionals are practiced.
The business defines “value.” Yet the number one complaint among the legal function’s business stakeholders is in-house lawyers “don’t understand my business.” Understanding—mastering our own context—is essential. We should be capable of framing our ask for incremental resources in the language and metrics of the business. Centering the creation, and preservation, of business value in our narrative is the core of value storytelling.
Business value is context-dependent, not unknowable. Conversations around the business value of, say, accelerating speed-to-revenue demand a different framing, and often has a different audience, than conversations around the business value of complying with new privacy regulations. We should know our audience and develop the attendant abilities to calibrate messaging for maximum resonance with specific sets of business stakeholders.
Being aligned with the business, however, does not spare us from making hard choices and engaging in hard conversations as to what constitutes value. Though it pains our service-loving souls, it incumbent upon us to prioritize activities by business impact and artfully say “no” when asked to handle deprioritized work. We should, however, capitalize on each “no” as an opportunity to build our story that additional legal resources are required to address unmet business needs.
Yet, instead of a more-with-more value proposition, we too often default to savings-centric tropes valorizing more-with-less heroics reliant on extraordinary effort and improvisational ingenuity to bridge resource gaps (excess MacGyverism). Stories about savings are easy because they are counterproductive—reinforcing the attractive fiction that the business can, and should, spend less on legal. Good value storytelling is anything but easy for the same reason it is necessary—the hallmark of successful advocacy is not a penchant for combative argumentation but, rather, our ability to persuade those who need persuading.
We must start with Why but need to supplement this with a compelling vision as to How business value should be delivered. We need a strategy that resonates with our business stakeholders. Target operating models. Technology roadmaps. Metrics. We have to be able to move upstream to address the business drivers of legal workloads, presenting a systems-oriented view of how legal supports better business outcomes. Doing this well requires work sorting because we are bandwidth constrained. We can only tackle so many projects, let alone programs, at once.
In addition to limited bandwidth, we are constrained by a fear of looking bad and a myopic perspective on risk. Legal is often labeled the Department of Slow or the Department of No, which undermines our value storytelling. We need to shift these perspectives among our stakeholders, in part, by understanding when and where they are grounded in some level of truth—candid self-assessments of being bottlenecks because of (i) bad processes or (ii) an acute focus on legal risk that ignores net business impact. This candor extends to our business case: fix what we can, admit where we are falling short, and request the resources we need to serve the business better.