Start with Why. Value storytelling is essential (series summarized here). But, as storytellers, we’re not experimenting with the form. We should tell simple, compelling stories with no mystery as to the What, How, and Why.
What is outputs. How is inputs/process. Why is purpose, outcomes, and value.
What, How, and Why all matter. But, for our business audience, legal’s What and How are inherently uninteresting. Always start with their Why.
Why is the subject of the previous post. Business value is the one true Why. The call to action. The hook. The propulsive force. But the framing of Why is context dependent. The way we talk about business value will often need to be calibrated to our subject matter and our target audience—identifying our target audience and understanding what messaging resonates with them is quintessential to mastering our own context.
The stories we tell must cohere with the stories our audience tells themselves about their own starring role in the business’s journey. We must present ourselves as allies in the same cause. Which we are. This sense of shared purpose is most crucial when we are engaged in productive disagreement and accountable for persuading our allies of unpalatable truths—whether seeking to rejigger their perspective on value preservation (e.g., refining their legal-risk/business-reward calculus) or recommending that finite resources be allocated to the legal function despite the very real opportunity costs.
I recognize this all sounds quite theoretical, ethereal, and squishy because it is ultimately about soft skills. First, soft skills are wildly underrated. Second, fair enough.
(h/t Alex Suv)
Real fake examples
Common: Head of Sales complains to GC that legal review is the bottleneck for revenue contracts. GC responds that the legal team is drowning and needs more headcount.
Uncommon: The GC approaches the Head of Sales and broaches the backlog of revenue contracts. The GC offers kudos, observing that the Head of Sales’ new strategy has caused a spike in contract volume—a wonderful “problem” to have. Last year, volume was 40 contracts per week. Now, volume is 65 contracts per week. On average, the law department turns 1.7 contracts per FTE per day, and there are 5 dedicated FTEs supporting revenue contracts (or 42.5 contracts/week). Last year, the team was right sized, but, today, the backlog only continues to grow (22.5 contracts per week above capacity). The GC asks the Head of Sales to support legal’s request for 3 additional headcount so resource levels are commensurate with the required service levels (i.e., capacity increases to 68 contracts per week).
The Why: accelerate speed to revenue
The How: by having sufficient FTEs to
The What: move revenue contracts through legal review in a reasonable timeframe
To be clear, I do not love this. I am allergic to throwing bodies at the problem (we can see how they are likely to be having the exact same conversation again very soon). Yet stockpiling bodies is what we do. From astronomical bonuses from law firms desperately looking for laterals to the continued upward trajectory of in-house departments, more hours from more lawyers is the lens through which we frequently view the delivery of value. The above is far from perfect but disappointingly close to accurate (and, at least, more productive than centering “savings” in our value narrative).
Indeed, the second scenario is only slightly more sophisticated than the first—and yet materially different. From a metrics perspective, the law department only needs to know its headcount allocation and contract volume. From a storytelling perspective, we only need to situate these in the most basic business context. Relatively simple and yet surprisingly uncommon.
A more complex, real fake example. Same hypothetical. Head of sales complains legal review is too slow and a bottleneck for revenue contracts. Many (not all) law departments react with variants of the following:
- Anecdotes about how the legal professionals who review contracts are doing their best but are overburdened (probably true)
- Anecdotes about how the sales professionals engage in behaviors—unauthorized concessions to counterparties, last-second requests—that exacerbate legal’s resource constraints (probably true)
- Vague suggestions that various technologies could improve contract velocity (probably true)
- Vague commitments to pull some people off other items, try to work harder/faster, or innovate—cobble together process/tech improvements (probably true aspirations)
Nothing factually wrong. But not a compelling story.
The preceding list ignores Why completely. Instead, it jumps directly to How—and then lacks the requisite specificity. It also makes promises to do more with the same level of already overburdened and exhausted resources. Service levels are inextricably tied to resource levels.
There is a better path. But it is a rough slog.
- Acknowledge the centrality of Speed to Revenue to the business generally and the sales function specifically with a deliberate emphasis on how sales professionals are mission-critical to the success of the business, as well as how committed the law department is to enabling that success.
- Identify a legitimate Why that rings true with the specific audience
- Communicate real understanding of, and support for, the business objective
- Lay a foundation of shared purpose
- Start with the business drivers of revenue-contract volume, velocity, and variety, including any lumpiness thereof (e.g., acute peak-load problems at the end of months, quarters, or fiscal years).
- Present law department cycle times specific to revenue contracts along with the estimated impact of improved legal cycle times on Speed to Revenue.
- Detail the steps in the current workflow and, where necessary, explain the reason for legal’s involvement in specific steps (i.e., where and how legal adds value).
- Call out the primary constraints and other rate-limiting factors in the current workflow, including those originating outside the legal function.
- Offer a target operating model that optimizes the workflow through a mix of improvements/additions in personnel, process, and tech. If possible, move upstream, painting a picture that extends well beyond legal—a business-level, systems-oriented view in which legal is a key contributor.
- Breakdown the target operating model (which is a program) into constituent projects with expected impact, costs (money, attention, implementation dips), timing, and ROI.
- Delineate projects legal can accomplish on its own (with proper resourcing) from projects that will require considerable cross-functional collaboration.
- Express a view on the optimal sequencing of projects, including potential pilots, starting with the primary constraint(s).
- Request support from the head of sales in winning key stakeholder support, obtaining resources, driving cross-functional collaboration, and spreading the gospel of patience.
- Where possible, explain how particular improvements will make life better for sales professionals in addition to the positive business impact of increased Speed to Revenue.
- Tie How directly to Why
- Translate real understanding of, and support for, the business objective into tangible options for improving business outcomes
- Build on the foundation of shared purpose to recruit an ally in the internal competition for finite resources as part of broader effort to foster cross-functional collaboration
- Establish mutual commitments contingent on obtaining sufficient resources and collaboration
At this point, I suspect my own audience breaks down into three camps:
- Legal innovation enthusiasts who never had much opportunity to get an inside view of law departments. You are thinking my candidacy for Mayor of Obvioustown is looking strong. This all seems so self-evident.
- The tiny subset of experienced, successful outliers. You find my lack of sophistication amusing (like when a dog wears pants).
- The remainder of the in-house community. You are either (i) wondering why I woke up and chose violence, or (ii) daydreaming of a timeline in the multiverse where such superhuman exploits are conceivable. But mainly you are bewildered as to how anyone could be so naïve as think you have time for all that.
Almost No One. Recall my rhetorical question from the conclusion to last post, “But when only 16% of law departments track surface-level Cycle Time, how many have done the deep work to demonstrate the effect of contract-type-specific legal cycle times on Speed to Revenue and the attendant business impact?”
Our ceiling is 16%. Only 16% of law departments track some form of cycle time. What share of that 16% also:
- Are conversant with the business?
- How the business currently makes money and plans to in the future (model/strategy)
- The business value of specific legal workstreams
- The business drivers of specific legal workloads
- The attendant business metrics, and the impact of law department metrics thereon
- Have mapped and measured their processes to the degree they can project the impact of re-engineering?
- Have developed target operating models with the attendant ROI estimates, resource requirements, sequencing, step plans, and technology roadmaps (that not only take account of, but take advantage of the existing corporate tech stack)?
- Have attained cultural fluency and are aligned with their key stakeholders to the point they can successfully code switch in packaging the above into salient, salable stories that win friends and influence people—i.e., increase the law department’s ability to secure sufficient resources and cross-functional collaboration in order to drive better business outcomes?
Almost no one. Including me, except in very select circumstances.
Work Must Be Sorted. You likely know the old joke about law firms specializing in door law.
Under the new world order, that punchline applies even more to law departments than law firms. But ratcheting up effort levels to quickly turn around whatever crosses our desk is untenable. Budgets are not keeping pace with ever-increasing demand. We cannot avoid, either by commission or omission, allocating scarce resources. Optimal allocation will not occur by accident. Legal work must be sorted, including being ranked by business value.
Work sorting has all manner of implications. Deciding what not to do (the essence of strategy). Unbundling. Insourcing versus outsourcing. Internal resource allocation. External supplier sorting. Target operating models and roadmaps, including identification/prioritization for automation and self-service. Dashboarding/metric selection. The list goes on.
For our purposes today, however, some surface-level work sorting is often required just to decide where to start. My complex example above sits at the extreme end of the “so much easier said than done” spectrum. The notion that a law department will achieve enlightenment on all their workstreams simultaneously is nonsense. We must choose which stories are worth telling first—i.e., size the prize.
And, even then, we continue sort and prioritize. We don’t have to do it all. Leveling up to the slightly more sophisticated version in the opening hypothetical above is still a material improvement on the status quo. This is not about being perfect. This is about getting better. My complex example is not intended to be an ideal end state (it is merely a composite of approaches that have been effective in specific contexts). But even if regarded as the apex of a maturity model, it can still be broken down into small steps, each of which constitute valuable progress in their own right. Our story does not have to be complete to prove persuasive.
Yet, because we are so committed to accomplishing everything asked of us, selecting which stories to focus on can seem daunting. And it probably is, some places. But, usually, the initial triage—as opposed to the subsequent deep dive—does not require much detective work. The biggest problems tend to be glaring, persistent, and obvious, especially to legal’s primary business stakeholders. If you are unsure, just ask—uncomfortable though it may be. The business stakeholders may not be well positioned to recommend a treatment plan, but they rarely struggle with symptom identification. They knew where it hurts, even if they don’t exactly know why.
We will touch on more detailed working sorting in a later post on supplier sorting. Next post, however, we’ll address how work, once sorted, should broken down, measured, and reassembled into a story—and, more specifically, why fear of what me might find is often an impediment to action.