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Leigh Dance has written, published and spoken extensively on many aspects of global legal services, at major global conferences and in business and legal industry publications worldwide, including The Wall Street Journal.  Click here for our extensive archive of past (we believe still insightful!) published articles.

Dance is author of Bright Ideas:  Insights from Legal Luminaries Worldwide, published by Mill City Press and available on Amazon.  Bright Ideas is a compilation of 23 original essays by leaders and influencers around the world.

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In-house counsel feeling cost pressures? Show your value.

Here’s a summary of my recent "Global In-House" column published in ALM’sCorporate CounselIn the Global Counsel Leaders Circle’s 2017 Benchmark, we uncovered a secret to ensuring your corporate legal function's success. My advice in a nutshell is: Make your performance count. The research confirmed what we've seen for a while now: global corporate in-house teams face continual cost and headcount pressure. Nearly everyone says their job is more demanding and time consuming than a year ago. All that work makes belt tightening more painful.  But there is a troubling disconnect between the global corporate legal treadmill you’re on and how you measure and promote your value. Cost pressures for all, with more budget cuts outside the US Global in-house leaders responding to the GCLC Benchmark are with large international organizations in diverse industries. Half have in-house pros on the ground in 20 or more countries worldwide. The mix of respondents was: 40% based in North America, 40% in greater Europe (UK included), and the rest in Middle East/Africa and Asia. Given your heavy workloads, operational goals for your global corporate legal functions are not surprising: Save time, move up the value chain, better allocate resources, spend less.  I organized the extensive responses into three areas:
  1. Improve efficiency and performance through IT tools and operations;
  2. Reorganize the function and reallocate work;
  3. Control costs, better manage providers and external spend.
It’s a relief that fewer leaders expect budget cuts in 2017, compared to our 2015 benchmark. However, the only place where most respondents expect budget increases is North America. In greater Europe and beyond, half expect further cuts. Those with flat budgets often expect to cover increased demand. The areas under greatest cost pressure vary, but outside counsel spend is mentioned most often by far. Getting budget for tech tools takes a distant second place. This handful of comments on cost pressures illustrates the range: “manpower costs – retention is a big challenge;” “compliance and litigation – litigation due to high numbers;” “contracts, because it is expected to be handled internally;” “all areas under cost pressure due to prolonged market decline in our industries.” Legal's contribution is not clear enough to those deciding your budget Given the need to defend budgets and fight for every additional resource, you would think that that global in-house teams would have greatly improved at demonstrating their contribution. Unfortunately, not so much. Nearly half of our Benchmark respondents are not using Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). For those that are, their KPIs often don’t demonstrate value, they just measure cost or adherence to budget. This has to change. You’re pressured to innovate, and you need funds to implement IT tools and streamline processes. Finding and using workable performance indicators seems a better way to spend your time than continuously arguing for more legal and compliance resources. What if you could consistently prove your value relative to the value of other functions with which Legal and Compliance competes for resource?  Without KPIs and other proof of your contribution, you show your disregard for how the rest of the organization measures performance and allocates resources. How well you demonstrate value affects your ability to get the job done Many brilliant and talented global in-house leaders don't recognize the issue, because their own value is recognized in daily interactions with business leaders and stakeholders. Those people see the benefits of the legal chief that serves them daily. However, that chief must defend lots of in-house Indians spread far and wide. Many decision-makers in your organization don’t quite understand what various members of the legal team really do, and how it differs from what compliance or enterprise risk professionals do. These decision-makers divvy up “the pot” and enable your team’s ability to influence and perform. Sustain your career and solidify your team’s future Many successful corporate legal/compliance teams can show you how they’ve made progress in measuring and presenting their contribution. While there’s some trial and error along the way, they will tell you that it pays off big. They don’t see this as distasteful self-promotion. They see it as clear communication that enables them to be recognized for adding value. If you’re not convinced yet, ponder this marketing wisdom, so relevant to global in-house counsel today: Doing business without advertising is like dancing in the dark. You know what you’re doing, but nobody else does. Full GCLC Benchmark data referred to in this article is available to Leaders Circle members only. This article appeared May 9th on www.CorporateCounsel.com. The link to the original published piece is:  http://at.law.com/zGQrWy .