Aligning the goals of the legal department to business objectives

Strategic plan should include vision, mandates, objectives and actions: legal ops specialist

Aligning the goals of the legal department to business objectives
Sara Ajmi, legal ops specialist and former in-house counsel

In-house legal departments must develop their own strategic plan that aligns with the corporate plan in order to be perceived as a true business partner and facilitator. While the general counsel may be tuned in to business objectives, the rest of the legal team is often unclear about the corporate vision, according to Sara Ajmi, a legal operations specialist at kdc/One.

Having a strategic plan within legal that clearly aligns with the broad business plan will allow the entire team to have visibility into the priorities of the business so they are equipped to streamline the operating model of the department in a way that is aligned with business objectives, Ajmi says. It also allows the team to create value with their legal work.

Ajmi, who worked in an in-house legal department in Morocco prior to moving to Canada, notes that legal departments tend to operate reactively as a consulting team rather than proactively to help the business.

“In the last few years the role of in-house teams has shifted tremendously,” says Ajmi. “They are not only handling legal matters but also HR, compliance, ESG, integral operations in supply chains, governance, and a lot of other responsibilities, so this can make them feel overwhelmed and confused.”

Understaffing, a lack of resources and heavy workloads facing in-house teams can prevent them from working effectively with the business, Amni says. In-house teams are often so busy fighting fires and working on emergency legal matters that they don’t have time to think about higher value mandates and strategic projects. Poor communication with business partners is another significant factor, Ajmi adds.

“Legal tends to think that everyone else is going to understand the legal mentality and legal language, but this can lead to a breakdown in communication,” she says. Another issue is the fact that the legal department is often perceived as the “department of no” instead of a proactive business partner that needs to understand a problem in order to mitigate risk and provide solutions.

When legal is involved in building cross-functional projects and processes, the team often encounters resistance from other departments because the new process is viewed as being entirely legal, Ajmi adds.

Legal departments may want to seek help from experts in order to create a strategic plan that aligns with the business objectives. This could include legal ops professionals within the team, or external consultants. Metrics are also key to helping legal departments track their progress in achieving objectives, and therefore showcase their value to the business.

Ajmi recommends creating a one-page strategic plan and ensuring that everyone in the team has access to it at all times to keep the team on track and aligned with business goals during all projects and initiatives. The plan should outline a vision, mission, mandates, goals, objectives and actions.

“Maybe you are going to cut budgets or streamline your processes, or build a new solution, or close more deals. You have to see what the business wants, and build a strategic plan to help the business realise what it wants,” says Ajmi.

Communication between the general counsel and the rest of the legal department is the most important factor to help make legal teams more efficient and productive, in Ajmi’s view. She also advises legal teams to make themselves present and seen within the business by participating in corporate events and having a curiosity about all aspects of the business and challenges it faces.

“It is important to first understand the problem, so them you can find out how to solve it,” says Ajmi.

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