Proactive lawyer: or why and how a lawyer should be involved at every stage of the business
Can the legal department be proactive? Of course, it can! A lawyer should not be consulted only when a problem has already arisen or when the whole concept is developed and it should be finalized by preparing documentation or checking if the concept complies with the regulations.
A lawyer should be involved at every stage of the project, from conception to closing, through the key implementation stage.
But it also requires his own initiative, as hardly anyone tend to consult his lawyer at the early stage of preparing a new financial plan or during the construction of a building.
When talking to a client (or other company departments in the case of in-house lawyers), the lawyer should exclude the answer "No, you can't do" to replace it with "Okay, we'll see how WE can do it", i.e. from a reactive to a proactive approach.
However, this new approach must result from a global structural change in which the legal department learns to cultivate a "business partner" approach that requires an understanding of complex company issues at the economic, strategic, management and (of course) legal levels.
Individual approach: a proactive manager
To initiate proactive dynamics, it is essential that the head of the legal department (or head of practice) has a managerial approach.
This means, on the one hand, preparing a project sensu largo - setting goals, planning, and implementation - and, on the other hand, developing so-called Social Skills - a willingness to share a vision, motivate and coordinate talents, etc.
To do this, he needs to go beyond "his legal comfort zone" to enter an area where communication competencies such as clarity, responsiveness, accessibility, and listening skills become more important.
Teamwork approach: responsibility
Making a legal team proactive is also the task of each of its members. First, it is a question of changing perspective about your role in the context of the individual, but also of the whole "team".
Every lawyer has to learn the operational "language". He or she should also take part in discussions and exchange of information and ideas with other specialists working on the project, without losing sight of his or her role as guardian of the legality of the actions taken.
How in practice?
- Assistance in making decisions:
An important step is to define decision-making processes. A good example is the SMAC group, whose legal department has developed software that manages all relations with subcontractors and allows referring to them and verifies the tax and social situation.
- Better communication
Lawyers have many tools at their disposal to improve their communication: intranet, wiki, Slack or Skype.
Creating communication groups no longer based on internal teams, but also gathering people working on a given project, regardless of their competence and role, will allow for a better integration of lawyers in the implementation of their work. Also, a lawyer who is present (even as an observer) from the ideation to the end of the implementation, can detect and signal possible inconsistencies and prevent a fire instead of extinguishing it.
- Optimal legal monitoring
In a context of rapid and numerous legislative changes, each lawyer should ideally devote part of his or her daily time to monitoring legislative changes to share changes within the legal service and translate them into practical and ongoing recommendations for operational staff.
Thus, as pointed out at the beginning of the article, the initiative at all levels of the lawyer's practice seems to be the keyword.
This would mean that the image of the lawyer waiting for the client to come to him after the issue occurred or seeking advice towards a paradigm where the lawyer's initiative would not be limited to marketing in order to obtain real clients but would be expanded to include a real willingness to take part in the project at all levels.