The Brexit ready in-house team: four steps to take today

The UK is (still) in a state of uncertainty about the precise impact of Brexit. But that shouldn’t stop in-house legal teams preparing themselves, indeed the more uncertain Brexit looks the more preparation is required.  A resilient and efficient in-house legal team will be a vital asset both for defending businesses against Brexit threats and supporting them to make the most of Brexit opportunities. But the work of preparing needs to start as early as possible.

We predict a huge increase in legal work resulting from Brexit, a burden already materialising with the government’s publication of its No Deal Brexit advisory notices. In the future there is likely to be more regulation as the UK and EU regimes diverge, contracts and commercial relations will be strained and tested as the shape of Brexit takes form and, if times get tough, there will likely be an increase in litigation.  All of this will fall squarely on the shoulders of the in-house legal team.
What makes a Brexit-proof in-house team are the same things that make for a strong in-house team generally.  But many of us are so overwhelmed with fire-fighting that it is hard to find time for those strategic ‘important but not urgent tasks’.  In the absence of certainty about Brexit, these tasks need to be elevated to ‘urgent and important’, ensuring that your team is as resilient as possible to face whatever the future brings, no matter the type of Brexit we get.

This is an overview of four steps that should be on your list for making a Brexit-proof legal team.

Align with the business

When did you last confirm that the structure and priorities of the in-house team aligned with the strategy of the business?  Now is the time to check in with the business strategy and ensure that the in-house team is supporting it and prioritising the legal work which is most important to achieving the business goals.  If your legal strategy is up-to-date with the business strategy, then a watching brief may be needed, ensuring that as the business responds to Brexit developments, the legal team is also responding in the same direction.

This step is essential; because no in-house team can do every bit of legal work a business might need. In-house teams tend to be a thinly spread resource and prioritising that resource will become more vital.

For further information, see Legal operations: aligning legal and business strategy.

Control your knowledge

Many businesses only realise the importance of knowledge management when it is too late; relying instead on the memories of their employees. This is a particular failing of lawyers who often falsely conflate their value and skills with the amount of information they can remember. A failure to properly capture, store and transmit knowledge is a slow and steady drip of wasted money and resources. Perhaps you are settling disputes below optimum value because vital information is missing or maybe staff regularly waste time duplicating work or worse, paying external consultants to duplicate work.

Knowledge is a key part of the in-house legal team’s work and creating a strong knowledge management culture is a valuable investment regardless of Brexit.  Here’s  an overview of knowledge management to get you started.

Be lean, be agile

 I wrote in an earlier article about creating a more effective legal team. This is an important step in making a team Brexit-proof. Here are two comprehensive systems for improving efficiency which you may not have considered:

  • Lean This is a methodology which started on 1940s production lines. The key concept is the elimination of waste.  Work out what the value is in what you are doing, map the process of what you do and the find and eliminate the waste in the process. It has been used in this case study on litigation management to a powerful degree.
  • Agile working This is a method of assigning tasks across a team that originated in the world of software development but which is now taking off generally and has been successfully applied to in-house teams (such as the Financial Times). It breaks down team silos and increases vital communication within the team.  It also makes the workflow into the department more visible and involves the whole team in identifying the high priority, high value pieces of work. Because the work for the whole team is so visible and everyone understand the priorities, it is easier to re-evaluate and adapt when an unexpected, emergency piece of work arrives.

Review your panel of law firms

Law firms will not be immune to Brexit, it will affect their ability to retain and recruit the best staff and operate across borders like any other supplier.  It is important to review the Brexit preparedness of your legal supply chain. Ensure that they have sufficient contingency plans in place so that the delivery of services will not be interrupted and prices stay relatively static and predictable.

Consider reviewing both the robustness of your individual panel firms but also the panel generally. Is the panel fit for purpose? Does it align with the wider strategy of the business or should it be expanded to include more choice and wider experience? Perhaps you want to reduce the panel in size to create bigger savings by concentrating a greater volume of work amongst a smaller number of firms.

A few corporates still don’t have panel arrangements. They prefer to award work ad hoc or channel work exclusively to one legacy law firm.  These are rarely the most efficient arrangements and now is the right time to review and amend them.

This is a whistle-stop tour of just four areas that will help to Brexit-proof an in-house legal team. We would love to hear your thoughts on what you are doing to get ready?

Becky Annison