A staffing firm’s legal department is in a unique position to be a strategic, value-add essential with the power to have a direct, positive impact on the bottom line. Unfortunately, often our perception is not that.
If you’ve ever spent any time working within an in-house legal team, you’ll have heard the internal rhetoric that the legal department’s role is to say no — a lot. Worse still than a reputation for standing in the way of progress is the outdated view that the team is simply an overhead. However, with 12 years’ experience in staffing firms, I know first-hand that a legal department can shift this antiquated perception to one that recognizes the value we provide. Here’s how.
Beyond managing contractual risk. Managing contractual risk is an obvious benefit of a legal department, and the number one reason companies usually choose to bring lawyers in-house. However, reimagining the role that legal counsel play in building and maintaining relationships can be crucial in securing additional business opportunities – and therefore profit.
Contract negotiation, for example, is one area where legal expertise can really add value. Keeping a partnership mindset, drafting contracts that are mutually beneficial to all parties, being fair, and advising on the difference between commercial risk and regulatory risk are all things that we, as lawyers, bring to the table. And I’ve seen the proof. When everyone walks away feeling like they’ve won, it helps to cement a long-term partnership based on trust.
Leveraging relationships. Typically, in-house lawyers tend to shy away from sales-type activities. However, the more you get to know the needs of your organization — and your customers — the more solution-driven you can be. Get to understand their staffing needs by delving into the detail. Are they staffing a large project? What are their main concerns about the project and resources required? Then apply your legal expertise to highlight the possibilities.
Further, networking with other in-house counsel also goes a long way. A few years ago, a relationship I’d fostered through networking events paid dividends when trying to agree on terms. While business folks continued to go back and forth, I gave my contact a call, and we were able to resolve the matter within minutes. Building these types of relationships is not only good for the business, it also enables the legal department to add value.
Becoming strategic business partners. Attending client meetings whenever possible is an effective way to become a strategic business partner — both inside your organization, and to the customers you serve — as it’s an ideal opportunity to educate on pressing legal issues within your industry.
A couple of years ago, I attended a client meeting to discuss the importance of classifying and paying workers properly, and the potential impact of misclassification. Armed with recent case law and articles, I quickly educated one of our largest clients, who surprisingly was unaware of the recent increase in misclassification cases. By meeting the client in person, I was also able to build a relationship that resulted in spending many months discussing their staffing challenges — and how we can help address them. Clients and staffing firms can be jointly liable for various claims; thus, they must work together to educate and resolve staffing issues. This is where the legal department can be an extremely valuable commodity.
Staffing is a unique industry with a multitude of parties and issues. A valuable legal department needs to be an enabler of business and needs to understand the business wholly in addition to the above. Further, to have the greatest impact, it’s important to believe in your company’s purpose. I believe in mine — bringing skilled people together to build the future. By keeping this purpose in mind, the legal department can help its client fulfill its purpose and enable the business to grow and be profitable. And that’s how we’ll stop being considered the “deal-killer” department.