Thought leadership

Creating Success In Your First 90 Days Leading a Commercial Legal Team

August 19, 2020
Kathy Zhu

Table of Contents

So you’ve done the hard part -- had a million Zoom interviews, crushed the take-home test, wowed the executives and landed that dream job running the Commercial Legal team of a fast-growing company. Now what? How do you set yourself up for success in the months and years to come?

1) Take Stock of Volume

It may be just you right now, or you may have inherited a team, but no matter what the circumstances are -- do your future self a favor and set up some basic processes that will allow you to track the in-bound requests coming into your team as well as the output. It can be as simple as a Google spreadsheet where you just log the tasks you receive, the dates, and matter type (Sales, Vendor, Marketing, etc.), and then the output in another sheet. If you want to get fancy, set up a Google Form to collect the requests automatically and at the same time, obtain answers that will also help you triage your request. Believe me, this step will pay dividends for you for times to come.

In just a few months, with the tracking that you’ve set up, you’ll be able to see what the average volume of requests are from different stakeholder groups and how much that’s changing month to month and later, quarter over quarter. This can help you to substantiate the need for more headcount or set thresholds in place to better manage volume.

2) Get Key Leaders On Your Side

In your first few weeks, meet the leaders of the teams that will be your most frequent customers or approvers in your process. Your tracking process may also reveal a few teams to you that you might not otherwise have been aware of that are high volume requestors. In order to build those relationships more quickly, double down on any requests that those team leads care about and respond to those as fast as possible. Use the momentum that comes with starting a new role to really lean in on this so you earn a reputation for being an accelerator.

When you meet with key stakeholders, talk about your vision for the new function that you are building. Ask about pain-points that they have experienced in the past, and give a sense of how things will get better. Position any asks that you make as a direct link to something that will also improve their interests or experience in the long run. And when you establish processes, also be in the mindset that sometimes you have to be fluid and make exceptions when necessary so that you don’t harm crucial relationships.  Often the Legal function has the reputation of being a black hole, and one thing that has helped my team’s relationship with the business tremendously is providing more transparency into where requests are in our queue and to allow the business to dictate prioritization where it makes sense.

3) Create Resources to Facilitate Self-Help

I strongly recommend that you start building a self-help resource as soon as possible. Every time you respond to a question more than once, consider whether it can be recorded in a document that can be shared publicly with that stakeholder group. This can be in the form of a Wiki-page or any knowledge-management platform that your company uses to share information.  I include a link to this resource on my in-bound request forms so that folks know to go there first before even submitting a question to my team. The Sales and Vendor resource that my team set up has been used hundreds of times, which means that has reduced the number of inbounds we have to field by the hundreds as well.

It’s also a great idea to create team playbooks to standardize how you respond to redlines to your form agreements. This will ensure that your team members are all on the same page on key fall-back positions, and you can capture how you draft comments to these positions so all you need to do is copy/paste them when these issues come up. This playbook can also record negotiation talk-tracks that have worked well. If this resource is comprehensive, it can be one of the most powerful efficiency drivers for your team.

The above recommendations can be put in place no matter how far along you are into your tenure. I have seen this approach succeed at multiple companies and have really helped to foster a stronger relationship between my team and the business.

Stay well,

The Streamline AI Team

Commercial Legal Team



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