How GCs Can Build a Legal Department Poised for the Future

The kinds of opportunities and uncertainties facing companies today are as challenging as any in modern history.  As you may know, executive teams must always thoroughly analyze – and revisit – their priorities and goals and identify ways to optimize operations for longevity and future success. That means that GCs need to be both legal counsel and strategic advisors to the executive team, paving the way through complex market issues and corporate problem-solving.

How might GCs plan for the future by taking inventory of their current resources, building a more robust legal team, and developing results-driven strategies that pay dividends for years to come?

First, Know the Current State of Affairs in Your Department

The first step to building for the future is knowing where you currently stand. How are your legal department’s operations and processes being implemented today? Are they performing well?

There are three fundamentals to any legal department:

  1. Delivering legal services
  2. Leading in-house legal talent
  3. Managing external legal resources, like outside law firms and legal technology

Understanding and evaluating how each fundamental part is currently performing is your critical first step when looking to position your department for the future. Accordingly, here are a few questions you should be asking yourself when it comes to a solid legal department assessment:

  • What legal services were you responsible for in the past, and what are you responsible for now?  What are the trends in the legal services you provide to the C-suite and business units and possibly the Board? What is your legal team’s current strategy? Is your organization chart matrixed by practice area, product or service or geography, or a combination?
  • What does your team look like?  What are your department’s internal and external talent management and succession planning strategies? Is your ‘ ‘team’s growth geared toward internal development or external talent acquisition, do you have the appropriate training and talent evaluation processes, and have you conducted a gap analysis of your team and the individual professionals? How might diversity and inclusion objectives factor into your planning?
  • What outside resources do you utilize?  Many practice areas or specialized legal cases can be outsourced. Have you reviewed your outside counsel? Are there any savings opportunities by bringing outsourced processes back in-house?
  • Are you benchmarking? Don’t forget metrics to measure; your ‘ ‘team’s success and whether your team’s objectives align with the ‘ ‘company’s objectives, and whether the metrics measure up against similar organizations. Our experience has been GCs who have gone through this process engage in valuable conversations with their peers.

Creating a list of your team’s strengths and opportunities may be enough momentum to move your succession planning forward. Identifying competency/skills gaps will help you focus on the right legal talent for talent development or inform your hiring needs. The gap analysis is tied to the ‘ ‘company’s vision and makes a solid business case for securing headcount when needed.


Second, Have a Vision for Your Legal Team

Now that you know where you envision where you want to be, you have the basis for a plan of action.

The key is to start broad, then narrow it down with strategic steps to lead you to your projected outcome. To imagine your ideal future and create a plan to achieve it, use these questions as a jumping-off point:

  1. What will the scope of your legal team be in the future? Do you have a mission statement for your legal department?
  2. How does the legal team’s mission match and integrate with your company’s goals?
  3. What new services or resources can your team provide that will make it indispensable to company business units?
  4. What legal competencies do your in-house attorneys need to refine or develop to achieve the legal team’s mission? Will you create those skills/competencies with new hires or your current staff?
  5. Are there new technologies, like AI, that will increase effectiveness or minimize redundancies?
  6. In a year from now, what will be different and what will remain the same?

What legal functions, practice areas, or cases might be outsourced? What is your talent acquisition process? (Don’t underestimate the power of a healthy well-run talent acquisition process) We have seen many companies lose talent if not well run. What technology resources might you need? When you think about your answers to these questions, factor all of your assets into the equation.

Third, Identify and Be “SMART” About the Resources You Need 

Once you have created a vision, the gaps you need to fill become much easier to see. So, how do you address the gaps to get from Point A to Point B? In short, you need to be SMART:

Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, And Time-Bound. SMART goals will provide the roadmap to your vision and keep you on track from making unnecessary detours.

Take, for example, the issue of talent management. Perhaps you have been running into difficulty securing access to strong in-house talent. If you set a SMART goal to obtain a targeted pool of in-house candidates (and have honed your needs through the gap analysis), you will have clear metrics to ensure success. When you have specific, measurable guidelines, you may find that you can more efficiently market to and tap into those attorneys who are best suited to your team’s culture and needs. You may also find that obtaining the help of experienced independent legal search consultants, rather than keeping the process entirely within the department, might be the more cost-effective way to target the best in-house talent.



Planning for and leading your legal teams’ vision and career evolution mapped to the vision is vital to supporting the company’s growth and success in the future. Analyzing the current state of your department, creating your vision, and filling the gaps will create overall synergy and build your department for the future. You have the ability to impact the prevailing culture and innovation of your organization. With all of this in practice, your expanded team will be in an excellent position for long-term success, no matter what challenges may arise