3 Steps for Building an Agile Legal Pilot Within Your Growth Company
By Catherine Kemnitz
Legal leaders face particular challenges while building legal departments to meet their growth companies’ everchanging needs. Here’s how GCs can craft strategic, effective legal teams when they can’t afford to hire through traditional channels.
At growth companies, GCs are tasked with building a legal team that is able to handle both business-as-usual matters while navigating all the unique, more complex issues they also deal with – driving product launches, contractual and IP nuances, merger activity, complying with regulatory measures, and addressing novel labor and employment issues. And in this inflationary economic environment, their jobs are even more complicated. They are facing increased and more complex demands, often with smaller budgets.
Flexible resourcing, or an agile legal department, is essential for growth companies whose legal needs ebb and flow as they face increased budget restrictions. Here are three steps GCs and legal leaders can follow to strategically conduct an agile legal pilot within their growth companies while mitigating risk:
1. Identify which positions are best suited for flexible talent
The first step in building an agile legal pilot within a growth company is to identify exactly which positions are best suited for flexible or agile talent to fill. By reviewing the internal legal organizational chart, GCs can identify which positions are considered “core-critical,” or those that require embedded subject matter expertise and deep institutional knowledge. These positions can be filled by the legal department’s leaner, full-time team, who will be able to provide managerial scale and handle the department’s core competency work.
All other positions are well-suited for flexible talent. One example is a second-level need for a competency that is already being handled by the full-time team. Agile talent, or lawyers working on a more flexible basis, can step in to assist full-time talent as the department’s needs change or increase.
Because legal department needs tend to be more fluid within growth companies, there are often unexpected demands for critical, but not continuous, expertise. As growth companies launch new initiatives, projects, or transactions, they require increased support. However, these needs are often short-term; therefore, it doesn’t make sense financially to hire an additional full-time lawyer. Flexible lawyers who have the expertise to handle these complex needs should be onboarded as needed. Having a bench of on-demand talent that is ready to assist can help GCs tackle these needs as they arise.
2. Design the pilot program in a way that ensures enterprise success
When designing a pilot program, it’s important to determine who will be the best person to own the program to ensure enterprise success. Depending on the structure of the legal department, would it make the most sense to have the GC own the pilot autonomously? Or should it be co-sponsored with the CFO? Each growth company is unique, and each legal department’s structure and needs are, too.
Determining the legal department’s budget for flexible talent can be daunting, but there are several steps GCs can take to make the process less overwhelming. GCs may consider working closely with the CFO and trusted external partners throughout the process to avoid budgetary pitfalls and ensure they are designing a program that will not fiscally penalize experimentation. For example, if all the funds allotted to the pilot aren’t spent, will they be returned to the legal department for general spend? If the pilot is successful, it should also result in an allocation for additional spend in the future.
Another important, yet often overlooked, component of designing the pilot program is communicating its intent to stakeholders. Communication about goals, budgets, and KPIs is key for creating internal champions of the program. If the GC or pilot owner can’t gain buy-in from stakeholders, it’s much less likely the program will be successful.
Determine what success will mean to the department by strategically measuring against well-defined, predetermined KPIs. These KPIs should go beyond cost, though. In light of the Great Reflection and with more attorneys leaving or switching jobs than ever before, it’s imperative KPIs are implemented that measure talent satisfaction. Agile talent can boost the in-house team’s morale, as on-demand attorneys can step in as needed during periods of higher than usual volume to reduce the strain on teams already stretched thin.
3. Engage the right external partner to assist with design, measuring success, and everything in between
Growth companies must often overcome unique pain points. For example, most growth companies lack the ability to hire permanent headcount to address legal needs that can’t be met by current in-house expertise, and this isn’t always the most effective solution, as needs at growth companies are constantly in flux. They also face tighter budgetary restrictions, and aside from the high cost associated with relying on an outside law firm, GCs often spend precious time managing them, as they aren’t as entrenched or familiar with the ins and outs of the company.
It’s important to work with an external partner who can help with the pilot program at every step of the way while also being mindful of both budgetary and time restrictions. The right external partner should be able to work to help identify which positions are best suited for flexible talent, design the program, create a budgetary framework with strategic KPIs, and help access the right flexible talent for specific needs.
Axiom can help build an agile legal pilot within your growth company from start to finish. Read Axiom’s white paper, The Definitive Playbook for Building Legal Departments at Growth Companies, to learn more about how Axiom’s model can translate to your department.
The Definitive Playbook for Building Legal Departments at Growth Companies* Required
Catherine Kemnitz is Executive Vice President, Chief Strategy and Development Officer at Axiom and Managing Director for Axiom Advice & Counsel. Throughout her 9-year tenure at Axiom in senior roles, Kemnitz has brought her extensive legal experience to bear across a range of strategic, commercial, corporate development and operations roles. In her prior role as Chief Legal Officer, Kemnitz led the global Legal & Compliance, Corporate Development, and Corporate Secretary functions. She is known for her strengths in driving strategic growth and high stakes transformation.
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