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[Case study] Three steps for making the in-house legal department more valuable for the business

The legal landscape has been changing at an unprecedented rate. The most successful in-house legal departments have managed to take charge of their relationship with law firms and achieve a far more prominent role within the business.

Matthew Whalley joined HSBC Group’s Legal and Compliance team in 2006 as the first non-legal knowledge manager and helped to drive this exact shift.

Mathew’s primary goal at HSBC was to improve the efficiency and quality of the outputs from the in-house team.

His aim was to realise a scenario where “A lawyer, on the phone to a client, would have all the relevant information and context they needed to deliver the best possible advice.”

Here is how he did it:

3 steps

1. Making better use of law firms’ Professional Service Lawyers and advisory hotlines

One of the panel firms offered a research hotline to HSBC as part of their service. This was extremely valuable. “We estimated that the PSL was ten times faster at finding an answer than an average in-house lawyer. And the analysis they provided was top, top quality.

HSBC therefore persuaded other panel firms to offer similar hotlines. This meant that theburden(and the benefit) could be spread out between all firms on the panel, and HSBC’snon-UK offices could benefit from the same level of service.

2. Tracking the value-add services provided by firms

To improve consistency across the panel, Matthew focussed on evaluating law firms’ value-added services. “We created a value add scoring system. All the firms gave me a standardised quarterly report on what they were delivering”. HSBC then compared the volume of value-addedservices to the fees the firms were charging. The goal was to ensure there was alignment between the two.

The result benefitted HSBC.

We got much better consistency of service across our firms. Our in-house lawyers at all levels became used to turning to panel firms at the earliest appropriate point in a matter. Using the value-add services over an extended period of time definitely helped to cement relationships at a deeper level within the global legal function.

3. Making better use of templates

HSBC suffered from each individual lawyer using their own favourite templates. Matthew and his team improved productivity by locatingthe best templates and making them searchable.

HSBC eventually put thousands of templates onto their system, all accessible through a Google type search function. The result was a huge leap forward in productivity and consistency across the global function. “The offices outside of the key legal hubs in probably got the most benefit. The aim was make sure that our small legal teams could access the same quality templates and resources as our larger hubs.”