Legal professionals want to be involved as early as possible in transactions. Their influence and participation, however, is only welcome if it is collaborative and if they come with a profound understanding of the business.
Whether you are the privacy expert or the contract negotiator, at the end of the day your client, burdened with legal concerns, is simply looking for someone who can explain issues to them in clear, understandable language and resolve their issues as quickly as possible.
Why is it then, that the legal education pipeline, regardless of jurisdiction, rarely equips new attorneys with the tools to respond accordingly? Instead, they teach young minds how to think as ‘lawyers’, to embrace the complexity of dense regulatory environments, and to weave complex thoughts (and precedents) into persuasive arguments that can vanquish opposing counsel.
Although this is great for courtroom TV shows, it does not help harried colleagues at work. So as leaders and managers, how do you shape new legal professionals to be client service savvy and to understand the need for efficient solutions and clear language?
A great way to get important results without overlooking real world issues are to embrace and use these four tools for success.
- Invest in non-legal training;
- Use contract lifecycle management (CLM) to improve collaboration and reduce miscommunication;
- Inspire legal professionals to be ‘hands-on’ when developing and using business products; and
- Make continuous efforts to eliminate unnecessary complexity by leveraging visual and plain language contracting.
Invest in non-legal training
One of the most impactful methods of improving the efficacy of new legal professionals is to focus on non-legal education when new professionals join an organization. It’s tempting to have them jump into legal work immediately and it seems to make perfect sense to teach them the nuances of the clauses and terms that they will need to negotiate or to inundate them with regulations that are applicable to their new role.
But don’t overlook how soft skills training and introduction to communication standards outside of the legal environment will benefit them long term in a way that legal jargon alone cannot do. Having the legal staff trained in standard corporate memo formatting, talking points, and avoiding the use of ‘legalese’ may seem like common sense, but far too many companies assume that this will come through osmosis.
Organizations that emphasize a staff course, where everyone (including the legal team) is introduced to communication preferences and standards, help to reduce barriers in communications between experts with different educational backgrounds. Having an engineer and a lawyer learn company communication skills together is a great way to ensure mutual comprehension of key business terms and concerns. Such training will motivate them to understand the intent and priorities of the business, so they communicate better with clients and colleagues.
Don’t forget the conundrum the real legal world faces. Many legal professionals come out of their educational years as polished presenters in moot court settings or as excellent writers of legal briefs, but often they struggle with the brevity and clarity of written text which is prized – even demanded -- in the corporate world. Teaching new legal experts how and why concise and accessible communication is valued in non-legal environments will open up important perspectives within the corporate world.
Use contract lifecycle management (CLM) to improve collaboration and reduce miscommunication
An invaluable benefit of modern contract management platforms is that they reduce business unit isolation and impose collaboration on stakeholders throughout the company. A carefully executed CLM platform will improve transparency and communication among all parties seeking a transaction. Such a targeted platform should provide a forum (even if only virtual) for members to comment on business interests, deadlines, and context that will really help the legal professionals operate from an informed perspective.
This new and more efficient approach reduces the barriers to communication that traditionally have separated the ‘legal review’ from the corporate/business transaction. With this change, a good CLM combines corporate communications with legal reviews or transactions so that legal professionals are just as involved in the process as their corporate colleagues and are literally working off of the same page (or screen) on projects from the beginning of any transaction.
An example of how a CLM platform can substantially improve a company’s overall process is by improving stakeholder visibility as to where business requests are at any given time. By keeping the process transparent, business units limit the ‘finger-pointing’ that comes in a more siloed environment, as everyone can see who has touched the agreement or request and where there are bottlenecks to the process. For legal professionals, it can be extremely helpful in understanding business priorities and help them in expediting agreements based on actual business needs.
Inspire legal professionals to be ‘hands-on’ when developing and using business products
In the corporate world, technical experts are fast-tracked into their niche as soon as possible to leverage their experience and skill sets, and that is no different for attorneys. However, the benefits of having legal professionals take a rotation through business operations are substantial. Not only will they pick up the terminology that their colleagues and clients use to describe the business, but they will also get hands-on exposure to the products and services that the company offers and will better understand the value and importance they represent to the business. Wherever this experience is lacking, legal professionals are likely to miscalculate priorities and business risk; they might tend to talk past their colleagues, because they are less familiar with the product and needs of the business.
Furthermore, if overly risk-adverse attorneys are delaying sales or product launches, it's to the overall detriment of the business. Generally, this leads to the difficult situation where colleagues go out of their way to avoid any legal office known for its risk adversity, instead of coming to these attorneys as trusted and understanding advisors that are part of the business team.
An excellent example of this barrier to success is how new legal professionals can lose the respect and attention of their clients by failing to understand their company’s product or service. By arguing risk concerns or intellectual property issues without a context grounded in the industry and actual operations, the lawyers will quickly find themselves relegated to the sidelines in any discussion.
Make continuous efforts to eliminate unnecessary complexity by leveraging visual and plain language contracting
The plain language ‘movement’ started decades ago, but for the narrow purposes of commercial contracting, we can tie it together with visual contracting as an important attempt to make contracts (and the contracting process) more approachable to stakeholders.
Legal professionals rightly argue that there are detailed aspects of contracting that do not lend themselves to simplification, but the number of terms and conditions that fall into this category are really quite limited. Therefore, legal professionals, procurement experts and business leaders should lean into the simplification of commercial contracting to improve efficiency and heighten clarity of communication. Unnecessarily complex contracting is not only off-putting, but it can also actually lead to lost revenues, because parties are unable to understand or track their obligations.
By using user-friendly graphics, visual contracting helps to take the mystery out of contracts and lowers the bar to entry into a global commercial environment where many vendors are unwilling or unable to dig into a complex English-language contract for simple transactions.
The added advantage of visual contracting is that creating visual contracting, leveraging design thinking, and having profound understanding of the business transaction, actually teaches the legal professionals to think through the contracting process in a way that’s more approachable. This will improve their ability to communicate ideas to their users and colleagues.
END RESULT – IMPROVED COMMUNICATION AND COLLABORATION
These four tools can dramatically improve communication and minimize any ‘us versus them’ mentality in discussions between business units and legal offices. The emphasis on soft-skill training, and hands-on business experiences early in a legal professional’s career benefit everyone in a company.
CLM platforms, plain language and visual contracting improve the cooperation and understanding of all stakeholders involved in business transactions. These tools can really help to minimize the rift between business priorities and legal concerns. Although successful legal professionals, throughout their careers, always find a way to improve their business acumen and communication capabilities -- the tools and techniques that encourage this growth and fast-track business expertise boost the rate at which new legal professionals can get it ‘right’ in their advisory role.
Obviously, clients come to legal professionals in a corporate setting for productive solutions. Companies that apply the solutions defined in this article will see improved cooperation and communication. They will be pleasantly surprised at the efficiency gains that come from having legal and non-legal experts working closely and effectively together in pursuit of joint goals.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Kirk Samson (JD, MBA) works with companies across the globe on their contract management needs for Nexdigm. He has over two decades of overseas experience negotiating with governments and multinational companies and leads a team of legal professionals located in the U.S., India, and Poland.
See also the CEJ article by Kirk Samson and Marc Lessem titled Contract Management as Strategic Asset (November 30, 2022)
Nexdigm provides integrated, digitally driven solutions encompassing Business Consulting, Business Services, and Professional Services that help businesses navigate challenges across all stages of their life cycle. This employee-owned, privately held, independent global organization strives to help companies across geographies meet the needs of a dynamic business environment. Through their direct operations in the USA, Poland, United Arab Emirates (UAE), and India, they serve a diverse range of clients, spanning multinationals, listed companies, privately-owned companies, and family-owned businesses from over 50 countries.