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In-house Access Insight & Commentary for In-House Counsel Worldwide

Ten Rules for Proving Your Value

Posted in Value & Innovation

Being valuable is like being a lady.  If you have to tell people you are, you aren’t.

– Margaret Thatcher

In-house counsel must be focused on providing value in today’s corporate legal environment. Failure to do so likely will have adverse consequences for your career. So, I offer these 10 “rules” to help you prove your value in the corporate setting:*

Understanding value:

1.         The client defines value, not the lawyer. You must align with the client expectations or educate the client to modify the expectations; otherwise, your efforts to prove value likely will fall short. Jeff Carr (general counsel, FMC Technologies), a frequent speaker on this topic, offers an interesting perspective to this rule: “What my boss finds interesting, I find fascinating!”

2.         Saving money is important, but value is more than just cost savings! Sometimes, you must spend in order to improve outcomes, achieve strategic goals or provide long-term value.

3.         Your legal contribution is only part of your value proposition. Many leading in-house counsel play significant roles on the management team, and provide strategic advice and guidance beyond answers to legal questions.

4.         As you move through your in-house career, you develop a progression of skills: first level: efficient, dependable and no surprises; second level: manage budget, manage people, and understanding and accepting accountability; and third level: judgment, strategic perspective and vision. All levels require the ability and willingness to communicate. The ability to communicate includes the ability to listen and to understand what your colleagues actually need.

5.         The value proposition for in-house counsel varies depending upon: A) where you are in the corporate hierarchy (GC, staff attorney or somewhere in between); and B) your audience (e.g., Board, CEO, CFO, CLO, supervisor, business client). You may be dealing with several audiences at any given time. Certainly, if you are a staff attorney with no supervisory or management responsibilities, the expectations will differ from those of the general counsel.

6.         To provide value, you must understand the business. To understand the business, you must understand how the company makes its money. To that end, remember what Yogi Berra said: “You can observe a lot just by watching.” In-house counsel frequently assert that they understand the client and its needs better than outside counsel. I believe that to be true but it will not just happen — you must work at it.

Using metrics to prove value:

7.         In a corporation, what is important gets measured. What gets measured gets done. You must understand the end game (or goal) in order to select meaningful metrics.

8.         Your legal department goals and metrics should align with and support the corporate goals. Your metrics might include legal spend as a percentage of revenue, number of lawyers per billion dollars of revenue and external spending as a percentage of revenue. Other examples include number of patents filed, average filing timeline and total patent application costs.

9.         Metrics should measure outcomes, not activities. As John Wooden once said: “Don’t confuse activity with accomplishment.” Just because you are busy does not mean that you are valuable.

10.       Use metrics to drive continuous improvement. Do more than just collect data. To this end, you should collect data that is actionable (e.g., cycle time). Then look for ways to reduce or improve it. You should understand why you collect data and then use the data or stop collecting it.

However, always keep in mind Rule Number One: The client defines value. As a recent blog post describes it:

accept “what is”… work within the current value perception of [y]our organization and stop fighting to demonstrate [y]our value in areas that are not valued. …

[F]ollow the money and you will be able to tell what the organization values. It may not be what we value, or even where we think we can contribute at the highest level, but if X is what the organization values, then X is where we must be. This means that there is no identical road map for everyone. We must each create our own value within each individual organization based on that organization, and not some preconceived notion. …

The ACC Value Challenge materials provide a wealth of resources and materials that can help you to provide value within your organization. I encourage you to check them out at  www.acc.com/valuechallenge/index.cfm.

*These “rules” are a revised version of the “takeaways” presented at the conclusion of a discussion on “Metrics and Proving Your Worth” that I moderated at the 2013 MCCA CLE Expo in San Diego. I would like to thank panelists Sandra Phillips (Toyota), Chris Shella (Shella, Harris & Aus) and Angel Shelton (Ingersoll Rand), whose comments during the discussion provided the basis for the takeaways.