This essay is part of a series exploring the concept of Integrated Law, a new service category in the legal industry that addresses a critical challenge facing in-house counsel: Complex Legal Work at Scale. Today, we look at what components make up an Integrated Law toolbox.
When Maslow wrote that those with hammers will see everything as nails (or “the Law of the Instrument”), he could have been writing about today’s legal industry. While we’ve seen that historically the industry has been capable of creating new solutions when market requirements change sufficiently, in today’s legal market, lots of ‘hammers’ (tech tools, LPO/ALSP service models etc) are looking for nails in the shape of commoditized legal work. There aren’t many of them. What there is lots of is Complex Legal Work at Scale – work like contracting that requires expertise, efficiency and integration.
In this essay, we’ll consider the challenge of Complex Legal Work at Scale and what’s needed to deliver it rather than try to fit it into existing service categories. In short, we’ll lay out the foundational skills that comprise the Integrated Law toolbox.
As we’ve seen so far, Complex Legal Work at Scale sits at the intersection of three types of complexity (legal, business and scale). Each of these flavours of complexity corresponds to a skillset that teams must create in a thoughtful cocktail to solve their problems:
Expertise is traditionally what we think of when we consider the practice of law and especially when we think of external counsel. This need emerges in Complex Legal Work at Scale because this type of work increasingly engages a broad cross-section of laws applicable between companies, their suppliers, clients, and government. While Complex Legal Work at Scale won’t typically be at the cutting edge of the complexity of novel applications of the law, it will require some judgment, making expertise important.
There are three key aspects to this skillset in the Integrated Law toolbox: Legal Expertise, Market Know-How, and Credibility.
If expertise is the core traditional skill of the lawyer, then legal expertise is the epitome of traditional expertise. This is the deep knowledge of the content and application of the law in highly specific areas that comes with the complete immersion and increased specialisation that is expected as lawyers progress in their journey as external counsel. It’s what comes from asking the questions that push the boundaries of the application of these laws and engaging with a community of peers doing the same.
However, what takes this from purely academic to commercial is the acquisition and application of market know-how. This is the expertise that sees how pure legal knowledge is applied within an industry and an ever-evolving set of market norms. It comes from experiencing the sector over time, across companies. It sees how participants act and interact and creates a deep understanding of what “market” is for the sector. For example, in contracting, it’s knowing which clauses are most heavily negotiated and what exchanges of compromise positions are typical in the market.
What helps to build these two facets of expertise and, in turn, is built by them is the third sub-type of expertise: credibility. Perhaps more than most industries, ours is one that is truly driven by reputation with credibility at its core. It isn’t just enough to know the law and the industry, you must be trusted in your capabilities here too. As with anything reputational, this is something that takes a great deal of time and effort to build and maintain.
Integration, as we saw in our survey of the history of the legal industry, is what we think of when we consider the rise of in-house law. This need arises in Complex Legal Work at Scale because this work usually forms just a part of the BAU value chain. In contracting, for example, the legal task comes after business people have made a deal and requested a contract and before finance, operations, compliance and other functions deal with its consequences.
This is the skillset that sees legal more closely align with the business, its internal systems, stakeholders, practices, and goals. Thinking of in-house lawyers as the standard bearers of integration, we can break down its components: (virtual) proximity, business know-how and stakeholder/process alignment.
Proximity is about the ability of legal services to be readily available and interactive with the business. The prime example of this is the literal co-location of legal and business teams and their ability to interact formally and informally to achieve the business’ goals. Of course, the meaning of proximity has changed as teams work across geographies and, more recently, as remote working has become more common. In this new world, virtual proximity is the key skill. The ability to nurture a collaborative and communicative environment where co-workers across business and legal teams are accessible and transparent to each other across communication platforms.
Added to this is business know-how. This is the skill associated with having a deep understanding of the goals and practices of the business. This is activated when legal teams can look at their work and contextualise it in terms of the direct impacts on the business’ objectives and optimise for this. It is also relevant when legal teams adopt the practices of their wider business partners to match their efficiency.
This is linked to the last component of stakeholder and process alignment. This is where legal teams operate within the IT systems, business approval processes, guidelines and policies and stakeholder maps of the companies they serve. Complex legal work at scale isn’t carried out in a vacuum. It is completed as part of an integrated value chain, within all the constraints, safeguards and (even) political dynamics of a particular company. Managing this reality requires real integration.
Finally, there is the skillset of efficiency. Complex Legal Work at Scale engages this because of its volume and recurring nature. The ‘at scale’ part isn’t about one-off matters but rather the kinds of work (like contracting) that need to be solved for again and again. Because of the association of this volume with the myth of commoditization, this skill set is most closely associated with new law providers. In the Integrated Law toolbox, this comprises three key subskills: tech enablement, streamlined processes and smart resourcing.
Tech enablement is the single skill that attracts the most attention when we think of solving the problems that in-house teams face, but it is just that, an enabler of the other skills required. However, this isn’t to downplay the importance of this. The ability to take any of the other skills we’ve seen whether it be applying legal expertise to contract review or technology to improve stakeholder management, and use technology to enable and accelerate it is essential.
This, in turn, is supported by the skill of process streamlining. Often, tech enablement is found wanting because it is overlayed on an existing process rather than a process that has been rationalized and optimized (to remove bottlenecks, redundant effort and unnecessary steps). Despite the excellent insights of the likes of Six Sigma, Lean and others, in legal, this is often as much art as science, as it requires the careful balance of sufficient substantive understanding and oversight with removing barriers to the business achieving its objectives.
Finally, we have the skill of achieving a smart resourcing mix. This rests on finding an appropriate balance of team members to solve for the work to be done. This is finding the right resource (with the right expertise) at the right price (not always the cheapest) in the right place and at the right time (to allow for effective integration). At the team level, the resourcing mix will often intersect with the other drivers of efficiency as the mix of skills and seniority levels will be determined by the tasks as defined in the streamlined process and by the level of tech-enablement.
As we’ve seen, the modern toolbox for addressing Complex Legal Work at Scale, with the skills that fall under the Integrated Law category, is more than the sum of the solutions we have today when we think about how to solve our day-to-day legal problems. But what do these abstract skills, and the right balance between them, look like in a team addressing this challenge? We’ll look at this in our next essay on what a legal function incorporating Integrated Law looks like.