How should in-house lawyers and legal teams market themselves? Grania Langdon-Down speaks to some pioneers.

The conventional wisdom for in-house lawyers is not to dedicate time to marketing yourself and your activities when everyone in the company knows you are there.

But the cost of keeping a low profile can be high in times of austerity, when budgets need to be justified and you need your voice to be heard.  

So, how do you build your profile both individually and as a team? And what are the benefits in terms of defining your role within the organisation, nurturing external relationships and attracting good recruits?

The secret of good marketing is communication and relationships, says Geoff Wild, director of governance and law at Kent County Council. ‘Building and sustaining trusted and long-term relationships with the people who matter is a skill that should be a joy. But so many people want to market their services from the comfort of their desk.’

When you are leading a team, you get into many difficult situations and give a lot of difficult messages, he says. ‘If you don’t have people’s trust and confidence, however right you may be, that message may not be heard or accepted. But you need to bank goodwill. To earn the right to say “no” to people, you have to say “yes” to them at least 10 times.’

Building internal credibility also requires constant nurturing, he says. ‘It is like reputation – it takes a long time to create and a moment to lose. Never take your position for granted. The moment you think you are indispensable is probably the moment you get a rude awakening,’ he says, ‘so I say to my staff you must keep justifying your existence both personally and organisationally.’

It is important that colleagues understand ‘what we do, how and why, and that our team is visible across the business’, agrees Richard Tapp, director of legal services and company secretary at Carillion. ‘That way, professional relationships can be built which help to ensure we are included early and automatically in discussions, and our view is sought and respected.’

The in-house legal team at the Wellcome Trust has done a lot of marketing internally since its new general counsel Susan Wallcraft joined 18 months ago.

‘It sounds counter-intuitive,’ says the trust’s senior legal counsel Eleanor Boddington, ‘but your aim is to reduce rather than create demand. Yes you want to market yourself but you need to do it in a way which enables you to focus on what really adds value.

‘Legal teams shouldn’t be used as comfort blankets so you need to make sure your role and responsibilities are clearly defined. Most teams in the charity sector probably don’t know what they are spending their time on, but they need to stop firefighting and focus on priority areas. You can’t do it all.’

Your starting point, she says, should be a compelling vision of purpose. ‘We have a strapline which sets this out – “going beyond the legal detail”,’ she explains. ‘We want to work in partnership with the organisation. We don’t see ourselves in a kind of servant/master relationship or as a service department.’

Internal issues have the potential to go viral in seconds, so in-house lawyers must always be aware of the principles of protecting information

Nina Barakzai, BSkyB

Over the last year, Wellcome has changed the way work is allocated to a business partner model. Each lawyer works with between one and three different divisions so they develop a strong relationship with the team.

They also track what they do. ‘We record how we spend our time, not in private practice six-minute chunks, but to see what proportion of our time is spent on medium- and high-risk matters,’ says Boddington. ‘IT tools such as document management and time recording know-how platforms can also help identify trends.’

Paul Gilbert, former general counsel with two major UK financial companies, is chief executive of the consultancy LBC Wise, which specialises in coaching and mentoring in-house lawyers.

Gilbert is a big advocate of activity analysis and recommends that, once a year, teams should spend six weeks looking at what they do, who they do it for and the impact it has. This is to make sure they are not being diverted by unexpected issues or resourcing problems. ‘Without that data, how can you honestly say you are managing your resources efficiently? Don’t turn it into a cottage industry, but do an exercise once a year and get yourself some data.’

He is frustrated by in-house teams who complain about being inundated with low-level risk work and say they want to move towards a more strategic, high-risk activity role. ‘I ask, “what steps have you taken to do that?” Generally all they have done is to ask the business not to send them low-risk work. But influencing behaviour isn’t about being kind to people or trying to be their friend, it’s about making sure your organisation “gets” what you do and uses you properly. That takes constant effort.’

So what other practical steps can in-house teams take to get their message out?

Tapp says Carillion’s team uses a formal exposure plan, which is reviewed twice a year and sets out in detail how each team will interact with their businesses.

Ways to prove your worth

Articulating your value to your organisation in terms of how busy you are isn’t good enough, says consultant Paul Gilbert. There are three ways to prove you are providing real value, he says.

  • Granular. What are you doing, who are you doing it for and what is its impact? You can do this through activity analysis, which doesn’t need to be bureaucratic, and good management information, which doesn’t need sophisticated IT support, so you can demonstrate you are not being pushed towards activity over value.
  • Policy process improvement. You can transfer knowledge into the business through formal training, process redesign and policy development. Use your influence – if you see a process isn’t working well and could cause legal risk, don’t be the ambulance waiting for problems to arise, be the engineer higher up the food chain who sorts it out. Leverage the fact that you can see things external lawyers cannot.
  • Leverage the skills of the team. Don’t see your team as property, employment or commercial lawyers. See them as bright people with creative, problem-solving skills who can be influential outside the legal remit in helping the organisation be more successful. The team then becomes a really clever resource that will be highly valued.

At the Wellcome Trust, the legal team works regularly with about 100 of its 550 employees. ‘We survey them to gather data on their experience of working with us,’ says Boddington. ‘Allied to that, we have put together some KPIs so we can track whether we are adding value to the organisation.’

This provides data for the general counsel to report to the executive board how the team has performed. ‘We are very aware of the need to be visible so we regularly hold catch-up meetings with our partners,’ she says. ‘We also hold monthly team meetings called The Knowledge, where we share know-how with each other and with lawyers from other parts of the business, such as the innovations team. We invite members of the business to relevant sessions.’

When it comes to your individual profile, you should start building it from the day you join the company, says Nina Barakzai, immediate past chair of the Commerce & Industry (C&I) Group.

She recommends a structured induction programme but accepts this can be hard to organise if the lawyer is expected to hit the ground running. However, she says a good way to start is to identify champions who can help get you embedded in the business and support you while you assess the key legal and commercial risks for your area of responsibility.  

Another benefit of building and maintaining a visible profile is in attracting good recruits.

‘We are very pleased to have an excellent response whenever we recruit,’ says Tapp. ‘People tell us they are attracted by the way we work and are perceived.  It also helps us attract lawyers who have worked with – or even against – us on projects or transactions.’

Boddington says Wellcome’s model of partnering with different teams helps make the job attractive. She partners with the culture and society division, which has responsibility for funding films with scientific content, so she has had to learn about film financing deals.

‘Being a generalist is enjoyable because of the variety of work, but it can be frustrating. So focusing on an area gives our lawyers the opportunity to dig deeper into a subject. It means we don’t have to “sell” our roles when vacancies come up, as we get hundreds of applications.’

Local government can be perceived as a ‘bit of a dead end’, says Wild, so having a certain standing is invaluable in generating awareness and encouraging good candidates to choose your organisation. ‘It has allowed me to recruit some extremely good people from all different backgrounds – private sector, in-house commercial as well as public sector. They come to us because they have heard about us and that is priceless.’

There are two sides to joining a visible in-house legal team, says Barakzai, who is BSkyB’s group head of data protection and privacy. A good internal profile means many business queries come in, so newly recruited lawyers can quickly build commercial resilience. If the team has a good external profile, lawyers who join may feel it allows them a degree of reflected glory. ‘But if you aren’t competent, that will soon wear off as internal clients will just bypass you,’ she warns.

Working as part of a bigger organisation means there are internal resources to tap into for soft-skills training.

‘We are fortunate to have an excellent communications team within the business that allows us to utilise their skills and knowledge on these issues,’ says Carillion’s Tapp.

Wild encourages his team to build on their skills in public speaking and to write articles to help raise their profile externally, though budgets are so tight this has to be on top of the day job.

‘We get ourselves in the media as much as possible in a positive sense,’ he says. ‘Being willing to appear in front of a camera or be quoted is a very important ingredient in raising our profile. It is how we have attracted a lot of our clients.’

Building an external profile

Innovation is driving some commercial and public sector in-house teams to look outside their organisation for work. But how do you market your team externally?

Kent Legal Services (KLS) was one of the frontrunners in local government in becoming income-generating. It teamed up with Wales and Midlands- based solicitors Geldards to provide a joint offering to public sector bodies through Law Public.

KLS’s next initiative is to look for a commercial partner to create an ABS law firm, jointly owned with Kent County Council, which will open up a much wider market. It has held open days for about 26 organisations, from City law firms to barristers’ chambers, to accountants and firms such as Capita, G4S and Civica. Kent Legal will hold a procurement exercise this summer with the aim of launching in April 2015.

When it comes to marketing, Geoff Wild, director of governance and law, says Kent learned the ‘hard way’ what works and what doesn’t when it first set up KLS as a trading entity.

‘Hard-selling doesn’t work in the public sector,’ he says. Local government isn’t impressed with glossy brochures or foot-in-the door salesmen, while leaflet drops, cold-calling and blanket emails ‘singularly failed’.

‘I quickly realised that what did work was building up good relationships with colleagues by getting out of my office and meeting them,’ he says. ‘You need to become a familiar face, a trusted colleague, because once one person uses you and tells their friends, the work grows organically.’

Wild takes full respon-sibility for marketing as there is no separate budget for it. ‘One of the reasons for setting up a joint venture,’ he says, ‘is because we need an injection of capital as well as additional skills such as marketing and business management to enhance our offering. I simply can’t do it on my own anymore.’

In the commercial sector, Richard Tapp, director of legal services for Carillion, was named the most Innovative European In-House Lawyer in the FT Innovative Lawyers 2013 Awards. This was for launching Carillion Advisory Services (CAS), an onshore legal resource providing legal support services to Carillion, its network of law firms and other major companies.

He has also developed a pioneering partnership with law firm Clarkslegal, to provide full-service employment law services to businesses, organisations and individual clients, with CAS teams providing back-office tribunal and project support as well as direct contact with clients.

‘At the moment we do little outside marketing,’ he says. ‘But as we grow and develop CAS, there will be a wider focus.  We promote the integrated offering with Clarkslegal through their channels and our own business.’

C&I Group board member Nina Barakzai says that, for most in-house teams, there has to be a real business need to market externally. ‘The difficulty is that you can find yourself besieged by external lawyers wanting to help, without having a clear view of your business.’

However, following the liberalisation of legal services, an external profile can have unexpected benefits, she says. In-house lawyers are now getting more sophisticated approaches of support from global service providers offering flexible solutions to legal and non-legal issues.

Consultant Paul Gilbert says it is ‘rare’ for in-house teams to market for business outside their own organisation.

‘I can see for the public sector there is a need for income generation to offset massive funding cuts. I suspect what may happen – and Kent and Carillion are in the vanguard of this – is that a new type of legal entity may develop which has something of the ethos of an in-house team but is looking after the legal needs of a bunch of companies or public sector bodies.’

Marketing, media and non-legal skills will always be of value, says Barakzai, but it is also important to stay true to your legal skills and deliver sound advice as an officer of the court and within your applicable code of conduct: ‘Internal issues have the potential to go viral in seconds, so in-house lawyers must always be aware, particularly in relation to social media, of the principles of protecting information, and being transparent and responsible, whether the interaction is with internal or external stakeholders.’

Gilbert says professional training is essential and probably under-resourced in most organisations, partly because budgets are tight, with about 80% expended on legal update training. ‘For me, that is a pointless waste of money,’ he says. ‘Spend it on presentation skills, thinking strategically, understanding how to plan change management, managing people, even managing meetings – which is shockingly poor in most organisations.’

Another way of raising your profile is to join special interest or lobbying groups.

Boddington has been joint chair of the Commerce & Industry Group’s In-House Charity Lawyers Group for six years. The group is working on plans to rebrand with more formal roles and structure so it can grow in influence.

‘From the Wellcome Trust perspective, we have achieved a lot through membership of the group,’ she says. ‘The Charity Commission is more likely to listen to an umbrella group rather than one charity with a particular axe to grind.’

Having a voice in national bodies and focus groups beyond local government is ‘absolutely vital’, says Wild, ‘in gaining recognition not only for your sector, but as an organisation and an individual.’

Raising your profile both internally and externally is very important, agrees Gilbert. But he shies away from the idea of ‘marketing’ in relation to in-house teams, because it makes it sound as though it is a separate activity.

‘You don’t hear of the finance team or HR team having to market itself,’ he says. ‘The work has to speak for itself and the quality of the people has to speak for itself. For me, it isn’t about saying “this is what I do and this is how I market it”. It is about being properly influential so people in all parts of your organisation understand and see the contribution you are making.’

Grania Langdon-Down is a freelance journalist