January/February 2020

Taking the Lead

Developing Legal Solutions Through Inside-Outside Collaboration

Linda Klein and John Hinton IV

Today’s corporate clients require innovative solutions, efficient service delivery and value-based billing—all specifically tailored to meet their needs. Companies large enough to have in-house counsel are finding that closer collaboration with their outside counsel and other professionals helps deliver results. They achieve successful outcomes by combining the best of two worlds to develop these solutions:  a breadth of multiple perspectives and solutions (outside) with depth of understanding and compatibility (inside).

We recently discussed this topic with an old friend, Charles Bowen, adjunct professor at Georgia State Law School. Bowen previously held several key positions within a large corporate organization and recently served as general counsel for a large family office. Here’s what we learned. 

How has your legal experience provided you insights on how law firms can better collaborate with their clients?

Bowen: I’ve been fortunate to have worked in both “inside” and “outside” settings, in particular within a large holding company where we had a line of sight into multiple business units but no direct revenue or P&L responsibility. In that role, our success metrics were in the nature of influence, support and connecting the dots between different businesses. You could be both an inside and, to some degree, an outside partner—i.e., being embedded but also objective. With those shared values and objectives, the work is almost always done “better together.”

I found this approach helped unlock latent knowledge within our organizations that tends to remain in individual silos—corporate departments, law firm practice groups, even people in the same office. McKinsey did a study in 2015 which found that 70 percent of change management initiatives fail, and the top reasons were employee resistance and knowledge siloing. So your organization might have substantial knowledge, but it often takes a law firm or external partner to help you identify and apply it.   

I hear a lot about the concept of the “T-shaped” professional, popularized by IDEO in the design thinking field. For legal, the idea is that you have a professional with deep expertise in a specific legal area but also with a breadth of experience in multifunctional areas like strategy or technology. You can see this happening in large organizations. When you can develop team members with aspects of both, breadth of expertise and depth of knowledge, you have a T-shaped advisor, whether contained in one person or collectively through an inside-outside approach.

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