I often think in-house legal departments suffer from a lack of brand awareness. Do the people they serve really know who they are and what they do day-to-day? More importantly, do the business people they are supposed to be helping really know how legal operates and what they could be doing to help each other?
You will often hear in-house lawyers say they wish they could be more proactive and be seen as adding value to an organization versus being viewed as firefighters or naysayers — and many do, but does everyone in the organization they serve understand how it works when you need access to legal services?
I would suggest not many legal departments know how to market themselves. Let’s just say there’s probably a lot to be desired from a branding perspective.
That’s why when I recently went looking for contact details for McMaster University’s corporate counsel Brent Davis, I was impressed by the public-facing (not an intranet) web page I discovered for the university’s Office of Legal Services. It is one continuous scrolling and well laid-out page that starts by explaining the mandate of the office of legal, who it sees as its clients, and a couple of paragraphs outlining its objectives.
Davis says he created it to make it easier on the community to figure out how they could get less complex matters solved quickly. Seven common agreements are posted for easy download from the web page. They range from a consent waiver for photography and video to a speaker contract and participant waivers (both short- and long-form versions). There is also a policy posted to explain the co-ordination of legal services to the university including the role and responsibilities of the office of legal services, the process for retention of external counsel for university legal matters, and the administrative and financial oversight of external counsel. Davis says his goal is to grow the list of commonly used documents. He has also posted a key performance indicator scorecard for the Office of Legal Services. It demonstrates the department welcomes and seeks feedback — client satisfaction is also measured annually by way of a survey.
Other legal departments are also waking up to the fact they need to market themselves better. Last year, one of the InHouse Innovatio winners in the law department management category won for work it did as part of a “people and culture” initiative. Interac Association’s legal department sought feedback as to its perception in the organization. Its work received high marks but there was a feeling it sometimes took a long time to turn things around and was seen as failing to look at the big picture.
The legal department decided to educate the various business units about what, exactly, legal compliance and regulatory supports, about the value legal brings, and to improve and measure the legal division’s productivity. It held an open house to provide its “clients” a chance to get to know legal better and understand what it does.
Interac also revamped its presence on the company’s internal web site, posting answers to frequently asked questions and explanations for “what if” scenarios such as, “What if I haven’t signed a confidentiality agreement?”
Following the open house, lawyers at Interac said relationships with the business units improved. One of the lawyers told me the bottom line was “. . . they have a better appreciation of what we do and why we do it.”
Don’t assume your clients know what you do and don’t assume they believe you are bringing value. Tell them.