Working with business units: practical tips

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Tough economic times, coupled with ever increasing workloads, strained legal budgets and freezes on hiring mean it is critical that legal services be utilised in the most efficient manner.

General Counsels and Senior Legal Counsels are in a unique position, in that they’re able to influence business units to help ensure smart, efficient and faster delivery of legal services. It is imperative that general counsels capitalise on this position and put in place appropriate processes to ensure these objectives are achieved.

Evaluating the following areas and making improvements where possible can assist in this.

Ways of working with business units

When business units don’t provide context or give inadequate instructions, in-house counsels must spend time seeking further clarification, ultimately causing matters to take longer to be resolved.

To ensure efficient ways of working for both the business units and the legal team, it can be useful to develop standard terms with appropriate guidelines. A common instance where such guidelines would assist is when in-house counsel are asked to review marketing collateral from a number of different sources, and often with only hours to respond. Legal must appreciate that the short turnaround time is often dictated by the need for an urgent competitive response, while the business units should work to give legal more notice when time allows, clearly stipulate which matters require the most urgent attention and provide clear instructions and context.

Guidelines that outline the above and that dictate which process should be followed in ‘normal’ situations and a process in case of ‘urgent’ approvals will assist in saving time, resources and help to ensure efficient working relationships between the two divisions.
Contract approval form

In addition to having the above in place, developing a contract approval form to support this agreement can be highly beneficial. The form should be simple to follow in order to be used effectively, while also capturing the main legal and commercial risks. This ensures that all appropriate staff including the relevant senior executive have reviewed any documents prior to execution by the organisation.

For this arrangement to work, it must be clear who is responsible for completing the contract approval form. Is it the business unit or the legal department? Clarifying this early on will avoid unnecessary angst and confusion.
Standard contracts and terms and conditions

Having pro-forma contracts in place is a common and efficient way organisations save on the legal teams’ time and resources, particularly in larger organisations. Such contracts can include master services agreements (MSA), statement of works (SOW) and standard terms and conditions of supply and purchase. The aim of these contracts is to enable business units to use these documents without needing to seek legal approval.

For the implementation and use of pro-forma contracts to be effective and efficient though, it is crucial that thorough guidance be given to business units, as well as training where necessary. Perhaps one of the better ways of providing guidance is the “Playbook” model.

Some organisations develop these pro-forma documents on the basis of ‘one size fits all’.  This can become inefficient though when the same MSA (often more than 50 pages long) is used for the purchase of a complex system worth millions of dollars, as well as for the purchase of office stationery. Consider a short form agreement for the supply and purchase of low value products or services in order to limit unnecessary complexity.

While it can feel counter-intuitive to take the time out of your already busy schedule to analyse these different areas, by doing this and making improvements where possible, you can ultimately save the legal team and the business as a whole valuable time, resources and money.

By Anil Sharma, senior legal counsel at lexvoco.

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